Chef Izu’s latest restaurant finds us at City Walk Dubai, in a space formerly occupied by Galvin in The Square. The name Aya translates to ‘beautiful’ in Japanese, and this idea is interpreted across not only the food but also the plating of dishes, and overall design of the venue. We’re delighted with the changes to the interior, which were originally quite dark, and find the lighter touch matches the tone of the space quite well. While the layout is nearly the same, the restaurant feels expansive and more welcoming. The private dining area has had an upgrade, and the outdoor space is also a welcome addition, in the cooler months this is an excellent spot to stop and watch the world go by. Guests can choose from the patio located near the main entrance, or, if in the mood for people-watching, outside on the main street of City Walk.
Given the beautiful weather, we opt to sit outside. With attention to detail at every turn, the chopsticks rest on stylized holders, and the physical menu is also a work of art. The overall theme is a bit eclectic but reads Asian, and really, why not offer a selection of international dishes? We’re in the mood to try a bit of everything, and the staff are quite accommodating in providing suggestions.
To begin, we’re served the Edamame, and, a particular personal favorite, Padron Peppers. The Edamame is perfectly salted, and, should you feel in the mood, arrive with aji amarillo emulsion for dipping. The Padron Peppers are exactly as I like them, blistered and a bit salty. The other starters follow in succession, an expertly sliced O-Toro, Wagyu Beef Tartare, Seaweed Salad, alongside a selection of Nigiri and Prawn Gyoza. The most unexpected of the appetizers is the Seaweed Salad, which is served on a bed of creamy tarama and served up with fresh baked nori kulcha bread. It’s a unique combination, and actually, we think it works. The Wagyu Beef Tartare also has its own spin, served with lighter than air (and wonderfully moreish) rice crackers. We’ve had better mixes of tartare, but Chef Izu’s version is a contender, and we would order this plate again. The Prawn Gyoza are well mixed and accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce. There has clearly been a choice to create a unique Nigiri selection, and for this, we applaud the chef and his team. The presentation and taste of the platter is sublime. Overall, the undisputed ‘winner’ of our smaller dishes is the O-Toro, which is served simply. The fatty fish does not need a lot of accoutrements, and the kitchen is wise to leave it alone – letting the protein shine on its own.
Sandos seem to be having a moment in the UAE, and while the rest of the menu is a knockout, the Wagyu Katsu Sando doesn’t quite hit the levels of our other favorites across the city. For us, the Aya barbecue sauce is just a bit too sweet and distracts from the protein.
Although there is a selection of sushi rolls, we decide to instead try some of the heartier main dishes. While there isn’t a lot of room left, we are served Miso Marinated Black Cod and the absolute star dish, the Spanish Octopus. While the Back Cod certainly meets expectations, it is the beautifully marinated Spanish Octopus that we would order again in a heartbeat. While the inclusion of coriander emulsion is a bit much for the portion of octopus, the plating is beautiful. Sides arrive in the form of delicious Japanese Mushrooms and a generous portion of Broccolini.
If you only have one dessert, please make it the Brown Butter Ice Cream. The portion is massive, and it’s the perfect not too sweet finish to the meal. We both comment on the originality of the dish and can already see this dessert being instantly popular and becoming one of the signatures at Aya.
Overall, what we love most about our visit to Aya is how guests can arrive in a group and have choices for all palates. Dishes can easily be shared or enjoyed individually. We do think there could be a few more dishes for vegetarians, although there definitely are options. We appreciate the light touch by the service staff, who are professional but unobtrusive, a delicate balance we genuinely appreciate. Prices are a touch high, but with quality products and luxury proteins, a bit of mark-up is expected.
Would we go back? Well, it would seem rude not to. And Chef Izu has been busy! We’re also keen to visit Fika and see what he’s cooking up over there.
Edamame, AED 25
Padron Peppers, AED 60
O-Toro, AED 140
Wagyu Beef Tartare, AED 145
Seaweed Salad, AED 80
Nigiri (6 pieces), AED 200
Prawn Gyoza (5 pieces), AED 80
Wagyu Katsu Sando, AED 150
Miso Marinated Black Cod, AED 200
Spanish Octopus, AED 175
Japanese Mushrooms, AED 55
Broccolini, AED 55