With interiors by Philip Starck, Katsuya is certainly stylish. But does the food live up to the look?

I have to be honest and say that it’s taken me a while to make it along to Katsuya by Starck. I love Asian food, but with such a huge range of high-end, globally-recognised celebrity chef-helmed eateries serving up top-notch fusion, sushi and Japanese cuisine across Dubai, getting through them all can be a challenge. And can one rock shrimp tempura really stand head and shoulders above another?

In a word, yes. Katsuya by Starck’s rock shrimp is the first dish brought to our table, and it serves as a statement of intent. Despite being slathered in deliciously spicy, creamy sauce, the thin tempura batter remains noisily crisp, the shrimp so hot and juicy you have to juggle them around your mouth. My reticence over visiting another high-end Asian eatery evaporates in one crunch.

Checking they’re not an anomaly, we order another starter that is ubiquitous in restaurants of this ilk – yellowtail with jalapeño. And while it may have been Nobu that originally made the dish famous, this is no poor imitator, with a light, clear ponzu sauce enlivening the soft, meltingly fresh fish. Rounding off the starters, we also order one of chef Katsuya’s own signature dishes, crispy rice with spicy tuna. What arrives is something of a revalation – four crisply fried two-bite blocks of sushi rice, still soft and tender inside, and topped with a messy tumble of raw tuna, sauce, chives and jalapeño. We quickly forego chopsticks and greedily hoover them up with our hands. This is not a dish you want to eat while wearing white…

Miso-marinated black cod, from the mains menu, is another dish that has been done time and time again. Here, it is everything fans would expect – the fish is soft and moist, the marinade is the perfect balance of sweet and salty, and the flakes are greedily guzzled up. It’s not original, but it’s delicious. Our second choice, a striped bass dish described as Chef Katsuya’s “most dynamic”, is equally delicious and the fresh fish, despite being filleted, breaded, crisply fried and slathered in a sweet and spicy Szechuan-style sauce, remains the star of the show.

We also order one of the restaurant’s signature bop bowls, a type of sizzling rice hot pot that comes in a variety of incarnations. We choose the braised beef short rib bop, opting to add chilli, and what arrives is a huge, sizzling bowl that the waiter then tends to table-side to ensure a mix of crisp and soft rice, muddled through with tender meat, veggies, chilli and the signature sweet soy ‘bop’ sauce the dish is named for. With just the right amount of heat, the end result is comfort food with a kick.

Now, until this point we have ordered the number of dishes advised for a table of two. But we find ourselves too full to do justice to a pre-ordered round of sushi rolls and have to admit defeat, asking the waiter to call off our remaining dishes. Unlike many restaurants with a sharing concept, portions here are surprisingly generous. Also unexpected is how relaxed the restaurant feels. Yes, it’s a design space, but on the night we visited, the terrace, overlooking Jumeirah Al Naseem’s turtle lagoon was full of families sharing dishes as their children played spot the wildlife.

All of which means that while, on paper, Katsuya by Starck could easily be dismissed as another five-star dining experience suitable only for an expensive adults-only evening out, in reality, it is a crowd-pleaser of a place, serving up top-class food without the ubiquitous side of stuffiness. We have already been back – and my son loved it as much as I did…

Jumeirah Al Naseem Hotel, Madinat Jumeirah, Beach Road, Dubai, daily 11am to midnight. Tel: (04) 4190676. Taxi: Jumeirah Al Naseem. katsuyarestaurant.com


Ricardo Bojador, executive chef at Katsuya by Starck, on responsible sourcing

Tell us about your sourcing methods for Katsuya?

We partner with the host brand in the United States to source the highest quality from suppliers with best in class, state of the art facilities. Our seafood is sourced from all over the world and is flown into Dubai on a weekly basis, based on availability and quality. I’d say about five per cent of our produce is sourced locally, and the rest is imported.

Sustainability is a big concern in seafood – how do you balance sourcing responsibly with ensuring the best quality?

Our goal is to partner with reliable and responsible suppliers, utilising farmed methods that ensure the health of fish and quality of pens. A huge portion of the fish we use is imported from Japan, the US or Europe. It is flown in fresh and delivered to the restaurant based on our requirement – fresh fish is the most important element in a Japanese kitchen.

Are customers becoming more questioning of where their food comes from?

We receive more enquiries about product origin than about sustainability, but I think what is important to customers is that we ensure every one of them is treated with importance and served delicious food – consistency is a core value at Katsuya and every guest will be treated with the same excellence in guest service, regardless of who they are.

You have restaurants around the world. How does Dubai compare when it comes to ease of sourcing?

When it comes to the challenges, it’s similar to many other demographics – at times suppliers will run into shortages based on a normal day to day events such as the weather or seasonality of produce. But Dubai has become a world hub and you can source almost everything here, with fresh ingredients and produce coming in from all over the world.