Omakase at Tori No Su - Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi

The specially prepared menu, in Japanese and English, is elegantly simple, something that in many ways captures the Japanese psyche; the duality that exists, and something picked up on by Ruth Benedict in her seminal piece on Japanese culture, The Chrysanthemum and The Sword. It is an 8 course meal, and as I look at it, I cannot hep but feel a sense of anticipation. Unfortunately, I will be driving, so I will miss out on the sake pairing that has been arranged with it. Disappointing indeed, because the Beverage and Restaurant manager, Yuichi Hosoda, knows his drinks so well, from his early years as bar tender at The Hilton in Tokyo. Sigh! Next time, I console myself.

Gorgeous lampshades
Birds' nests shades.
The window seat gives me a view of the open kitchen and a bird'e eye view of the craft of Chef de Cuisine Takashi Ando. Chef's Omakase concept, or 'Leave it up to the chef' excites me. According to Chef Ando, "There is no greater joy for a Japanese chef than to provide guests with omakase dining experiences. Each menu is completely unique and personalised. Japanese cuisine is all about freshness, the natural integrity of each ingredient, taste and the visual beauty of each element. It’s about respecting each ingredient so that it can be savoured at its absolute zenith." This is all about personalizing dining.
The first dish is the Sakizuke, which is Hotate and salmon salad. Thinly sliced Norwegian salmon  and the scallops are from Hokkaido, the gourmet paradise of Japan, synonymous with freshness and purity of taste. On the plate there is a cucumber salad marinated with wasabi and mayonnaise. It is all very delicately done. 
Next up is the Tsukuri with a selection 4 different types of sashimi. The presentation astonishes. A hollowed out ball of ice serves as the back drop for the 'arrangement' of the sashimi. Inside the ice is a shiso leaf which holds some of the sashimi. In front of this is a little wooden container on white radish finely sliced radish strips. Sea bream from Norway, Yellow fin tuna from Nagasaki, Shikoku Katsuo (Bonito) and then the finest tuna I have had -  Toro, which is the the belly part of the tuna, from the US. It is highly sort after because there is such a small amount of it in every tuna. The toro just disolves in my mouth - overstating for effect here.  You will only believe it once you try it. This  reminds me how much time and thought has gone into the sourcing of ingredients -a  dish with different types of sashimi, from 4 different cities!

While I await the third course, I see a  family sitting down at the Teppanyaki table. Teppanyaki, a style of cooking more popular with foreigners than Japanese, is very theatrical. The family, with 3 children are transfixed as the chef creates his form of culinary theatre. 

Awabai and kani soup
Meanwhile, my third course is served - The Awabai and kani soup (abalone and crab). This is quite an intense dish in both flavour and texture. The abalone, originating from Ise on Honshu island, is quite delicious, as is the Canadian crab. Both of these are given a  peppery taste by the yuzokosho, a seasoning that is made from the yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, and chili peppers. It is a stark contrast in flavour to the Tsukuri I just had - complex vs all natural. 

Yakimono takes me on a different taste journey as I am presented with black cod and scallops. The black cod, pan seared to perfection, has that typical layered texture that falls apart effortlessly - reflecting just how well it was cooked. What I like about the scallops is that the terriyki sauce gives it a different taste to the earlier scallops dish I had, the Sakizuke. Even though Chef is more liberal with his flavours here, he does not over do the teriyaki sauce. Another winner. 

The bird (tori) motif is seen here in the origami style background. 
I drop my pen, and before I could move, it is scooped up by staff. Inwardly I smile. Three months earlier I visited Tori no su and was  underwhelmed by the service. I remember on that occasion that my daughter dropped her chopstick, and no one bothered to pick it up - if you have been to Japan and dined in the simplest of restaurants, you will understand my disappointment. Tonight the service is much better. Vineeth, one of my waiters, is able to explain the ingredients of my dishes and provide some background. Not an easy task with these dishes. 

Even before the next dish is served, Aizakana - Nasu foie gras with oyster Oba sauce, my own excitement has reached fever pitch. How will Chef Ando prepare one of my favourite ingredients, foie gras? To what extent will it have a Japanese twist? For the answers I do not have to wait long. It is a beautiful dish in which the subtle and the complex meet naturally. The foie gras and egg plant are bathed in soy sauce and topped with a solitary spear of asparagus. The sauce lends the dish a  sweet saltiness all at once, somewhat neutralized by the asparagus. 

As I finish the Aizakana, I cannot help thinking these dishes are building up to something very special, but these musings are cut short when the Tomezakana is served. I look over to my daughter, hoping she gets why I am smiling. It is a dish that immediately surprises because its seems so out of context tonight, and there in lies the strength of Tori no Su - an ability to surprise guests while keeping faith with serving contemporary food but still holding dear the past. When you see a kaiseki-trained chef create a dish like this, you cannot help but go 'Wow!" It is happiness on the plate. The presentation evokes innocence and joy. 

Fried Canadian lobster and fried camembert cheese make up the Tomezakana. The fried camambert is just divine. The contrast as I bite into it is there on two fronts.  The outside is deliciously crispy, giving way to soft melted creamy camambert. In its fried state the flavour is stronger. Add to this the sweet chili sauce, and you can apprecaite my delight. However, that is not all. Canadian  lobster as you cannot imagine - Japanese crackers in small, granulated pieces serve as a batter, creating little balls of lobster. Oishkata desu!

For the final dish I am expecting something special, and I am not disappointed. It is the Skokuji. A clay pot is brought to the table and I am served what looks like fried rice, but it is not fried. It has been cooked in the pot. This is a high point for me. It is a dish that, of all tonight, shows the typical Japanese characteristics - subtlety and emphasis on natural flavours. Because there is very little seasoning if any, I can taste the yellow fin tuna, kinoko mushrooms and leek. There is a bit of beef jus, but not obviously discernible. I have two servings. Sadly, in my enthusiasm, I forget to take a picture! I guess you will have to go and experience it, but be wanted it is really is about delicate tastes. 

One of the many virtues of Japanese  cuisine is that I seldom feel bloated, even after a hearty meal, and that is the case again tonight. 

Dessert is all simplicity. An oversized bowl with ice and topped with three desserts is brought. On a bamboo leaf, is mango and watermelon. I feel the beauty of nature as I have the fruit - sweet and beautifully textured. Perfect. I then have  a Green tea roll cake. Just the right size. Finally, Raspberry cheese cake completes what is a fitting dessert selection - not heavy but with enough elements to satisfy. Green tea, of course, accompanies my dessert. 

Tori no Su's Omakase concept offers an exceptional dining experience. With outsanding ingredients, and alot of them sourced from Japan, it is easy to see why the food tatses so good. That of course and Chef Ando's skill and experience. His contemporary take on Japanese cuisine does not flirt with too much experimentation, so even traditionalists will enjoy his creations. For novices to Japanese cuisinse, the omakase gives you an introduction  that goes beyond standard popular Japanese dishes. It is a chance to delve deeper into one of the world's most celebrated and beautiful cuisines in a stylish space. The Omakase is innovative and ever-changing,  and along with the Chef's Table that takes place once a month, shows how personalized dining is valued at Tori No Su. 

The low down

Tori No Su
Jumeirah at Etihad Towers
+971 2 811 5666

Omakase 400Dhs-600Dhs per person

Brandon Stoltenkamp