It’s been a hot minute since Dubai has seen resident rockstar chef Reif Othman’s name emblazoned above restaurant doors, but he’s finally back on the scene with his eponymous REIF Kushiyaki. Quite the departure from his previous establishments, REIF has none of the Dubai glitz and glamour of Zuma, Play or Billionaire Mansion – quite the opposite, in fact. It’s located in a quiet, suburban strip mall, seats a mere 25 or so diners as opposed to hundreds and serves mocktails as opposed to cocktails. Are we surprised that this is the first venture to bear his name since the sublime degustation-only The Experience by Reif Othman? Most definitely. Being a long time fan of Othman’s food, we simply had to head down to REIF to see how this new concept delivers when it comes to signature Reif cuisine.
We thankfully arrive to REIF at the off-peak hour of 3pm, just as the lunch crowd is finishing up their meals. We say thankfully, as REIF is known to have queues out the door waiting for a seat come evening, and we prefer a little peace and quiet. REIF’s menu is overwhelmingly alluring, and we have to show serious restraint to not order 95% of it. We’re a table of two, with one diner no seafood (myself) and one diner no beef (@msihua, fellow fabulous 50 Best Tastehunter and Japanese cuisine aficionado), so we join forces on the chicken and vege dishes but order the pick of the crop from our own protein designation. Thankfully REIF has no shortage of amazing wagyu dishes, so no FOMO was had.
I’ll focus on what I tasted on the day, starting with their chicken gyoza (4pcs, 42dhs). Topped with pieces of chicken skin, the gyoza are definitely flavourful, but we found the wrappers to be a touch on the thick side and the filling to be a little solid and kofta-like – we’d have liked more fatty unctuousness. On the side we order some of REIF’s pickles, the daikon and yuzu (16dhs) being utterly fabulous and just so refreshing (the cucumber were also a hit).
Our attempt at a healthy-sounding dish, the Kale 3 ways + kurogoma dressing + crispy avocado (42dhs) is probably our only outright miss of the night – it’s drowned in an overpowering black sesame dressing and we just can’t get past the oil-slick like look of the dish which is rather unappetising. Yes, this dish was a miss – but don’t be put off by that, read on – for there are some seriously stellar dishes at REIF, one of which is the Raw Wagyu with sweet chili soy and lotus crisps (85dhs). This dish is so good it could be right out of the pages of Othman’s previous swanky establishments, Play and Zuma. Top-notch tender beef tataki with seriously umami truffle yuzu dressing and delicate lotus crisps for a textural contrast…we just wish we had had the stomach space to devour the entire dish.
As excellent as the tataki is, it’s not the only beef dish that shines at REIF – his signature Sanchoku Wagyu Sando is the ultimate showstopper. 145dhs might sound pricy to some for a casual restaurant, but this is Reif we’re talking about – and hey, that’s pretty normal pricing in Dubai for a main course. The charcoal panko encrusted wagyu is juicy and flavourful, the tonkatsu sauce rich in umami, and surprisingly, I even enjoyed the white sandwich bread outer. Don’t attempt to indulge in all this richness by yourself, however, this delicacy is best shared between at least two eager diners. It’s a must-order dish.
Next we tackle the ‘kushiyaki’ part of the menu that the restaurant is named after. We choose teriyaki chicken thigh (42dhs), chicken skin and sea salt (38dhs) and baby corn (30dhs). Whilst we enjoy the flavour of the thigh, it lacks a little of the juiciness we expect from the cut, and we’d prefer our chicken skin a little crispier. That being said, our dining partner thoroughly enjoyed her portion of the chicken skin so we think this one just comes down to personal preference. The baby sweet corn is carefully tended to over the grill, dressed in a corn espuma and yuzu-sesame sauce. It’s tasty, if a touch confusing on the palate.
I Hua dares to push through to dessert, opting for the board special of Taiyaki. She informs me it’s quite different to the traditional Japanese Taiyaki, a red bean-or similar filled pancake – at REIF, however, it’s more of a hollow, dense croissant-style pastry (in the classic koi fish shape) accompanying a matcha soft serve ice cream sundae (38dhs). I think the jury might be out on this one.
REIF shows no sign of its popularity waning – so be prepared for queues of eager Othman fans if you choose to dine at peak times. Should you visit? Absolutely, the Wagyu sando is worth the trip alone. There’s so much of the ever-evolving menu we are yet to explore, and we don’t doubt it’s full of gems. Chef Othman has proven himself time and time again to be a master of modern Asian cuisine, and his latest venture is no exception. We’ll definitely return, and we imagine once you’ve tasted the delicacies on offer, you will too. Personally, as we prefer licensed venues, we think REIF Kushiyaki is best for a casual lunchtime catch up. We can’t wait until the master of umami opens another licensed venue, and we have no doubt he’s got something (or maybe a couple of things) up his sleeve…