Ramusake may be priced towards the premium end of the market, but its food delivers the quality you’d expect of a high-end restaurant.
In many ways, Ramusake, the Japanese restaurant brand originally launched in London by nightlife entrepreneur Piers Adams, absolutely nails its brief. It’s designed around the concept of an ‘izakaya’ dining experience. In Japan, izakaya restaurants are casual gastro-pubs – places to meet for after-work drinks and good comfort food. And Ramusake Dubai, situated in a hidden corner of the Hilton DoubleTree at Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR), fits the description perfectly. Except in one crucial area.
In Japan, izakaya restaurants tend to be on the less expensive side. There’s certainly a premium end of the market, but on the whole, they’re supposed to be affordable places where friends can meet and socialise on a regular basis. Ramusake Dubai, however, can at times be eye-wateringly expensive, making it more suitable as a venue for bigger celebrations and one-off parties.
Perhaps that’s part of the appeal. The London restaurant may have closed down last year, but the Dubai branch has gone from strength to strength, garnering plenty of hospitality industry awards and the adoration of Dubai’s Japanese food fraternity. Ramusake’s prices may prevent it from being true to the casual nature of izakaya dining, but the restaurant more than makes up for that with its star status.
That status is well-deserved, too. The entrance is tucked away on the car park level of the Hilton DoubleTree – an outside area that’s a little less than glamorous. But walking through the heavy glass doors and up to the front desk transports you into a world of ultra-modern opulence that makes the drab greyness of the car park outside feel a million miles away.
“In Japan, izakaya restaurants are casual gastro-pubs – places to meet for after-work drinks and good comfort food.”
The restaurant’s design inspirations are ostensibly taken from the 1920s show era of Tokyo, and combined with a futuristic theme designed to evoke a feeling of science fiction. Whether or not you agree that the design brief has been met, there’s no doubting at all that this is a stunning venue. Dark, smooth wooden surfaces play traditional Japanese lanterns, while aged concrete slabs are juxtaposed against bright, incandescent-style lights. It sounds like a recipe for sensory overload, but the skill with which the materials have been brought together instead creates an effortless urban-Asian style.
The wall panels behind the front desk give way to a sprawling drinks area, with aged wooden slats above and the smooth marble surface of the bar running the width of the room. Behind the bar, large sake casks tower over the staff, while back-lighting illuminates an impressive collection of Japanese whiskies. At the far side of the room, all-glass doors open out to an even larger balcony area, separated into casual seating for drinkers, and more formal tables for diners. A picture-perfect scene of Ain Dubai, the largest Ferris Wheel in the world, atop the Bluewaters Island dominates the view. And while the cacophony of cranes and construction vehicles may jar the otherwise pleasant sea vista now, the view is sure to bring in crowds once the project is completed.
Move to the far end of the balcony, and you’re able to enter the main restaurant area – which is decidedly Japanese in feel and design. Light wooden panels surround the panoramic glass viewfinder into the kitchens, while simple, chic wooden furniture sits below a traditional-style wooden lattice-work. Aside from the style of the tables and chairs, the only modern touches are the concrete floor and the warm spotlights nestled between the ceiling’s lattices.
Like the interior design of the main restaurant area, Ramusake’s a la carte menu errs towards the traditional Japanese end of the spectrum – though there are modern twists to be found. The edamame beans served with yuzu and sea salt may be pretty par-for-the-course at Japanese restaurants, but the fried pepper squid is turned into a rare delicacy with its accompanying jalapeno dip. Likewise, the yasai sticks chive dip served on dry ice make for a fun and inventive take on what would otherwise be a standard Japanese dish.
Everywhere you look on the menu, it first appears that Ramusake serves reasonably standard Japanese cuisine, but dig a little deeper, and the stand-out dishes begin to reveal a more imaginative take on modern south-east Asian food. The spicy tuna maki rolls, for instance, contain chilli garlic, Togarashi, avocado and tempura flakes – familiar flavours that blend beautifully together to create something that amounts to more than the sum of its parts.
It’s the same story when it comes to the dumplings on offer. By a long way, the star of show here is the cheese and truffle gyoza, which is as wonderfully decadent as it sounds – with a half-crispy outer batter and a melt-in-the-mouth, gooey interior that sends pleasant shivers down the spine. It’s a cliché that Dubai food fans are suckers for anything containing truffle, but dishes such as Ramusake’s cheese and truffle gyoza are a profound illustration of how the ingredient works wonders when used in simple packages.
“The skill with which the materials have been brought together creates an effortless urban-Asian style.”
For those who’ve had enough of truffles, though, another inventive dumping comes in the short rib and foie gras nikuman with bulgogi sauce. This one’s steamed, with thick, airy dough wrapped around a succulent filling. Pour the sauce all over for an explosion of fabulous flavours and let the saltiness of the foie gras linger on the tongue between bites.
Other areas of the menu aren’t quite as daring. The sushi platters come as you’d expect, and while you can opt for up to seven different types of sashimi, the dishes themselves are nothing to write home about. They’re good, for sure, but they don’t offer the wow factor that some of the other meals do. The good news is that, if you’re a sashimi lover, you’re well catered for at Ramusake.
The mains menu does feature its fair share of zany creations, but it’s best to stick to the classics. The miso black cod with hijinki and apple salad is grilled and seasoned to perfection, while the teriyaki salmon is a masterfully executed take on a classic Japanese dish.
Ramusake may be priced towards the premium end of the spectrum – particularly when you throw its impressive menu of cocktails into the mix – but its food delivers the quality you’d expect of a high-end restaurant. That it’s a trendy and chic venue in which to hang out with friends is the added bonus that explains why the restaurant is one of Dubai’s favourite dinner spots.
Words by Tom Paye.
Photos by: Ramusake.