Can Dubai’s prolific chef Izu conjure destination dining out of a hard-to-find department store corner? Don’t bet against him…
Whether you blame Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White or the Masterchef phenomenon, popular culture these days dictates we see chefs as bullying, insult-spitting, pot-bashing monsters. So when Izu strolls into his latest eatery during our dinner, a huge smile on his face, you’d be forgiven for thinking he was a punter popping by for a cup of coffee.
He certainly doesn’t have the harried look of a man who has just opened a restaurant bearing his name above the door (with more to come across Europe and the Middle East shortly, following the creation of his own company, Yseventy7) . But then, following La Petite Maison, La Serre and D3’s The Lighthouse, Izu Brasserie & Bakery is his least formal venture yet. Perhaps that explains the demeanour?
Incongruously situated behind the womenswear range at City Walk’s French department store Le BHV Marais, the brasserie is small and rustic, with chatty, relaxed staff front of house, a buzzy open kitchen and a concise, crowd-pleasing Mediterranean-infused menu that stays on fairly safe ground with a selection of pastas, pizzas, salads, meat and fish dishes. Izu says his aim was to create a neighbourhood eatery you could visit daily, where produce is king, and he insists the ingredients sing as a result of his speaking to them and “asking them what they need”. I’d say they sing because they’re giddy on the impeccable olive oil he now produces in Greece exclusively for his kitchens, but whichever of us is right, many of them do sing, and that’s surely the main concern.
A bruschetta starter underlines the statement of intent – so laidback is the kitchen, they just send you the ingredients and leave the song coaxing up to you. Turns out, given the right olive oil, an intense tomato purée, olives, garlic and chunky charred slices of the bakery’s own sourdough, even a kitchen novice can become a culinary conductor.
A salad of feta and tomatoes, and a Josper-grilled whole tomato topped with crisp herbs and more of that olive oil, are further proof that simplicity is king if you have good produce. But don’t let these dishes fool you into believing this isn’t a skilled kitchen – the squid ink ravioli, stuffed with prawns and sea bass and topped with intense blobs of tomato and a moreish butter sauce, are delicate but full of flavour. The most expensive dish on the menu, meanwhile, is a prime example of how veal Milanese should be – it arrives pink and crisp, with a simple salad, flakes of parmesan and a wedge of lemon that brings the whole lot together harmoniously.
Simplicity is admirably tossed aside at dessert, when the array of patisserie options is somewhat overwhelming. Having tried enough of them that we didn’t need to eat again for a week (we’re talking toddler alone at a pick ‘n’ mix levels of sugar high, primarily thanks to the ludicrously rich crème brûlée), we can highly recommend the passion fruit cheesecake and the deceptively light tiramisu, which packs a powerful espresso punch courtesy of local Ethiopian coffee roaster Boon’s specialty beans.
You could very easily walk past Izu Brasserie, but you shouldn’t. In a city chock full of gilded, mirrored OTT eateries, this unassuming little place is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t shout. It just happily gets on with being really rather impressive. A bit like the man himself.
DOING SOME GOOD
Chef Izu on restaurant responsibility
What has your approach been to sourcing?
It’s very simple – understand the produce and where it comes from. When you speak to your produce, say hello to your tomatoes, it allows you to understand the product – it speaks back to you. Keep it simple by understanding what you’re using.
How much of the produce is locally sourced?
I think the first question has to be, what is local? We live in a desert, so as much as we want to be ecological, the reality is that it isn’t the best environment for food the thrive. My sense of local is from the wider region. Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey provide much of what I consider my local produce. I also get a large amount of my produce from the local market, so a lot of our food is regional.
How do you ensure you avoid added hormones and antibiotics in meat?
I took a trip to Canada to visit the farmers that produce my meat and I went through the whole process of how they feed and care for the animals. And it’s very simple. When you know where the product is from you’re confident in what you are serving to your customers. Canada is very strict in its certification of products, so this improves quality. Being passionate about produce takes a lot of time, and costs a little more as well, but I really believe it is very important. That’s how I can be confident that I’m serving good food.
You’ve said a lot about your mission to reduce food waste. How does that work in your kitchen?
Food waste is something that is a social responsibility for everybody. We always look at the by-products of what we are using – if there are trimmings, we will make a soup for example. My food costing is simple – if I can have fewer bins that means I’m using everything that I am buying. Food is a very highly valued commodity which should be respected, because some places around the world don’t have it.”