Then again, even if it was snowing outside this Marina marvel, the fab food served up here could convince most tastebuds they had travelled a few thousand miles east.
In the case of Ikigai, ascending just one floor transports you from modern Dubai hotel lobby to what could be a cosy, night-time Japanese street.
In a city that thrives on creating experiential dining scenarios, the Ikigai attention to detailed decor is backed up by a menu that also delivers the real deal.
He partnered with The First Group to create a concept described as offering “Japan on a plate” - manifested in a memorably curated “resto + bar” seemingly straight out of an Osaka side street.
The brief says it is inspired by Japan’s famous taverns with a menu inspired by izakaya street-chic food.
Yet, while the Ikigai menu maybe lists a lot of what you might expect, the results are taken up a few notches and prepared with a flourish that blends authentic flavours with a delicious twist alongside some imaginative presentation.
If dining is a journey, this one begins with that elevator and is embellished with a playful and refreshing welcome drink, leading the way to some inventive and tempting cocktails.
With visual senses already on high alert, tastebuds are brought into the equation with a delicate but zesty amuse bouche of hamachi fish.
It’s a great introduction that starts to underline the surroundings and promises much of the dishes to come.
Its list of yummy goodies is largely a ‘greatest hits’ that could please Japanese food newbies right through to ardent Japanese food followers.
That begins with top draw chicken gyoza, a four-piece serving suitable for sharing that stays firm in a moat of chili ponzu sauce. The minced meat holds it own again a salty-sweet, tangy accompaniment to produce moreish mouthfuls with just the right level of heat.
Also from the ‘snacks’ sections, crispy squid is another winner. Where too many restaurants give greasy, chewy calamari, these bite-size morsels are lightly coated, with a slightly smoky seasoning that is enhanced by a smooth chili dip for moistness.
Where occasionally Asian menus can baffle with their maki rolls roll call, Ikigai’s is brief but promising.
With its yuzu koshu support, spicy tuna maki beckoned…and beguiled. This beautifully-plated sextet of flavour bombs has depth that fulfills the elaborate appearance.
While the sauce is maybe a tad generous, the citrus hit is subtle and enhances a serving that barely requires that sensible but welcome helping of ginger and wasabi.
By comparison, prawn tempura maki brings a simpler, cleaner contrast. It almost doesn’t require its chili mayo accompaniment, but gleans a gentle edge from the sauce.
One criticism sometimes leveled at Japanese cuisine beyond Japan is price, especially when compared with other southeast Asian culinary favourites, such as Thai or Vietnamese.
You could easily load your table with selections from that ‘snacks’ section for a filling experience packed with variety…or push the boat out with grilled black cod (one of the pricier items at AED180, beaten only by Angus fillet and Wagyu ribeye).
While the hot pots sounded appealing, stir fried spicy ramen with Wagyu beef presents a lighter option - it doesn’t come with the broth associated with most ramen bowls but packs plenty of flavour to keep your palate busy.
Burgers wouldn’t usually be my choice at a Japanese restaurant, but the spicy tori karaage here is too intriguing to ignore. And comprising crisped chicken thigh meat coasted in spicy seasoning and embellished with umeboshi jam, this is far from being any ordinary burger.
Ikigai’s dessert menu ranges from cheesecake with cherry blossom espuma and a comforting warm mango passionfruit cake with coconut ice cream through to the potentially epic Mount Fuji (japanese nama chocolate and orange lava).
Having loaded up on the superb savoury side, the simple but reliable sensation of mochi was called upon to round off this dining adventure.
Served as a trio, black sesame, caramel and matcha (tea) flavours were selected, each pitting silky ice cream centres against that inimitable elastic bean curd outer casing.
Throw in those surroundings, friendly staff and laidback, eclectic tunes, and this is an authentic, rewarding experience you’ll want to return to.
Ikigai is a deliciously playful, sassy distraction from hot and bustling Dubai…even when you place yourself on the venue’s outdoor terrace, an edamame throw from ever-busy Sheikh Zayed Road.
Reif Othman’s Reif Japanese Kushiyaki was recently named among 14 restaurants lauded by Dubai’s first Michelin Guide edition in its value-for-money Bib Gourmand category, which pairs food excellence with affordability.
IKIGAI Resto + Bar, First Floor, Millennium Place Marina Hotel, Al Marsa Street, Dubai Marina
FOR bookings, email Reservation@ikigaidubai.com or call: +971 4 550 8114
OPENING hours: Sunday-Friday, 5pm-1am, Saturday 1pm-1am
BILL: AED691, including two cocktails and sparkling water.
SUNDAYS: Unlimited Sushi, Sake & Wine - sake, maki & everything in between, 5pm-10pm, AED249 per person
SATURDAYS: Tokyo Mix Brunch - sharing style starters, desserts and choice of main, 1pm-4pm, AED199 (soft drinks); AED349 (house beverages); AED399 (sparkling)
WEDNESDAYS: Iku Iku - free-flowing wine, spirits & cocktails, plus three-course menu, 8pm-11pm, AED149 (girls); AED199 (gais); AED249 (beer package)
MONDAY to THURSDAY: Kanpai Happy Hour, 5pm-8pm - AED25 for beers, wines & spirits, or AED30 for draught beer