James Fryer appraises his own cooking at Sumibiya.
Most us are sceptical when it comes to the idea of DIY food. If you’ve dressed for dinner, gone through the motions of arranging to meet friends and are paying a decent whack for the pleasure of dining out, there are a few basics everyone expects. Buffets are bad enough, but being given the responsibility of actually cooking your own food takes the concept to a whole new level.
We soon learned, however, that not everything came uncooked as our enthusiastic, attentive waitress asked if we’d like our order to arrive at the same time. I certainly didn’t mind as sizzling, smoking and cindering ingredients at other tables filled the restaurant with amazing aromas – clinging to the low ceiling before vanishing out the door. The first arrival, a pot of garlic shrimps in a buttery sauce, wasn’t the dish of meaty king prawns we were expecting, but the nippers proved a juicy and flavoursome delight. Next came a row of delightfully crispy chicken wings that saw us abandon our chopsticks in favour of fingers – making it easier to gnaw every last bit of deliciously sweet and sticky meat off the bones.
Before long, an array of Japanese-cum-Korean staples covered the table, surrounding the now piping-hot circular griddle sunk into the centre of the pebble-dashed surface. My fellow cook for the evening had opted for the chicken set menu – a bargain at Dhs80 – including taster dishes of kimchi (a milder take on the traditional Korean fermented cabbage) and tangy white radish, a bowl of steamed rice, a hearty miso-type soup, a fresh green salad and pieces of uncooked but nicely presented chicken just waiting to be dunked in one of three marinades before being chucked onto the barbecue.
Said chicken (which proved succulently tender) had to wait its turn as my slithers of wagyu sirloin were given a quick 15 seconds on each side (although I had to scramble for the tongs to save them after our helpful waitress had started them off for us), just enough to trap the juices and exquisite flavour of the costly cuts. A traditional Ishiyaki Bibimba dish was the final element to arrive, a hot stone pot of moist rice and vegetables, finished off with an egg which our waitress mixed in at the table.
Across the now-cooling griddle a good quality scoop of chocolate ice-cream arrived while I went for the green tea parfait. Redcurrants, pineapple, strawberry and kiwi sat picture-perfect around a vibrant green and almost good-for-you tasting dessert – perfectly sweetened by a drizzle of chocolate sauce atop a crumbly biscuit base. Fantastic.
If I had any criticisms, they’re only minor. The latte wasn’t very latte-like, a pricey (Dhs34) bottle of Norwegian water didn’t seem to fit with the restaurant and cigar smoking needs to be banned (thick smoke unfortunately joined the restaurant’s more pleasant aromas on more than a few occasions). Apart from that, the funky Japanese-sounding pop and natural-themed dŽcor proved as much a hit as the food.
Sumibiya is playing with fire given Dubai’s melting pot of themed and fusion eateries, but it’s come out without burnt fingers. It is gimmicky (and that’s without even mentioning the black aprons doled out at the start of our meal) and it is a little unconventional. We loved it. No amount of scepticism could overshadow the great quality ingredients, well-trained staff and one of the most fun atmospheres I’ve encountered – perfect for eating out with a group of friends and enjoying dinner with a welcome cosy campfire twist.
Sumibiya, Intercontinental Dubai. Tel: (04) 2057333.