Tucked away at the top of a flight of stairs above a coffee shop, Izakaya is a hidden gem in the heart of the bustling dining scene at Al-Bida’a, that offers an oasis of calm and Japanese fusion cuisine.
In Japan, an Izakaya is part of the cultural fabric, much like the pub is to the English, the shisha café is to Arabs, and the bistro is to the French. In Japanese, the word “izakaya” is a compound word consisting of “i” (to stay) and “sakaya” (sake shop).
At Izakaya Kuwait, they obviously forgo the sake part of the equation and simply focus on culinary creations that will have you following the first part – to stay.
Entering Izakaya is like stepping into another land. You immediately feel transported to the cosy watering holes of Japan. The interior at Izakaya is a mix of curved spaces and layered structure. The bar you encounter as you enter curves its way through most of the restaurant, from behind the chefs prepare the food. When sitting at the bar, you can choose from high bar stools or low chairs with plenty of space to eat.
Seemingly carved into the wall are rounded booths with huge circular tables that encourage group dining and shared culinary experiences. The menu itself reflects this philosophy with most dishes made to share or small enough to order a few items and pick and choose with your group. As there’s so much to choose from, you’ll be thankful for this approach. Let each person choose two or three dishes and you’ll be more than satisfied.
The curved walls also serve as subtle illumination for the restaurant. Think not of bright, airy and modern, yet intimate and traditional. The cuisine is a pleasing mixture of both, fusing the old and the new, with the authentic and the international.
From the Raw Bar we tried the Yellowtail Sashimi with Watermelon and Orange Caviar, and a Salmon Sashimi with Jalapeño Relish which melted in the mouth as good salmon should. The Seared Tuna with Daikon Jam and Garlic Soy was delicious, as was the Rolled Wagyu Beef Tataki with Julienne Chives and Pears with Black Truffle Vinaigrette – I think we polished those off before the waitress even finished telling us what it was.
Like its namesake at the cinema always is, Popcorn Shrimp was polished off before the metaphoric movie began and the Crispy Lotus Root with Tomato Basil Jam was not far behind. It’s all about sharing at Izakaya and the To Share menu spans two pages. Spinach Gyoza with Black Sesame Sauce, Edamame Ravioli, these dishes just kept on coming – good thing there were four of us to share the in the feasting. We slowed down to devour the Oven-baked Honey Soy Mixed Mushrooms and time stood still as we tucked into the Over-baked Crayfish with Miso Béchamel – a pity there were four of us to share these!
The staff took the time and explained the names of each dish and answered any questions we had about unusual ingredients. So when we delved onto the Robata Grill section (think Japanese charcoal barbecue) for instance, we discovered that yuzu in Lamb chop with Yuzu and Cilantro Salsa, is an East Asian, rare citrus fruit. The Stuffed Jalapeño with Minced Lamb and House Made Ketchup was stuffed full of flavour and delivered a mild kick, and the Grilled Local Shrimp with Ginger Garlic Paste reminded us how good local seafood can taste. The winner from this section though had to be the Grilled Wagyu Tenderloin with Garlic and Mirin Jus. Served on a sizzling platter, the jus was poured over at the table wowing the senses with hisses, aromas and looking absolutely appetizing. It tasted even better.
What better way to cleanse the palate after all that protein than with some Maki Rolls? We tried Fugakyo, Crispy Shrimp and the Spicy Tuna, the latter being my favourite of the three. Served with wasabi, you can add a little kick to these, served with the traditional pickled ginger, which truly does cleanse your palate.
Our waitress recommended the Pain Perdue with Raspberry Shisho Jam but I insisted on the Yuzu Crème Brulee and so we opted for both and, following the theme of the evening, shared dessert. The Pain Perdue is Izakaya’s take on French toast and while it was delicious, I was glad I stuck to my guns on the crème brulee – the kick of citrus perfectly balanced the creamy richness of a fine dessert.
Finishing up with a cup of green tea, we shared a wonderful night at Izakaya. From the décor, to the food, to the great service staff and talented chef, there’s a lot waiting for you at the top of that staircase in Al-Bida’a.
Izakaya is located above Costa Coffee, to the right of the Movenpick Hotel in Al-Bida’a. For reservations call 2225 3133. For more information follow them on Facebook: Izakaya-Kuwait or follow them on Twitter @IZAKAYAkwt.