Tanabata (七夕, meaning “Evening of the seventh”), also known as the Star Festival, is a Japanese festival originating from the Chinese Qixi Festival. – Wikipedia.
Legend has it that on this day, two besotted lovers, Altair and Vega, reunite on the cosmic plane. In Japan, Tanabata is a National holiday. Streets are decorated with colorful paper mache, and special wishes are written on tanzaku paper and hung on trees for good fortune.
Toko, the multi-award winning contemporary Japanese restaurant hailing from Sydney (Australia), offers modern ‘izakaya’ style dining in an impeccably designed setting. We were there last night, and yes! We even got to place our wishes on the wishing tree!
Toko Dubai is located in Vida Downtown, The Boulevard – Downtown Dubai.
With dimly lit interiors highlighted with rays of rouge, the restaurant consists of a lounge and bar area followed by an expansive dining space.
Quirky contemporary Japanese art take up every nook and corner of the restaurant, and make for interesting conversation starters.
The dining area features an open kitchen, and gourmet chefs can be seen preoccupied in their culinary creations.
For the Tanabata festival, Toko Dubai has created a special set menu. At AED 420 per person, the set menu allows customers to taste the most popular dishes in the restaurant.
We had the Tanabata set menu, and our meal started off with a serving of Edamame.
This was followed by the Okaki Maguro. These dainty appetizers consist of raw tuna infused in truffle oil. The tuna sits on a crispy rice cracker which adds a delightful crunch to the dish.
Then came a show-stopper; the Sake No Miso Tarutaru. Engulfed in a bed of ice sits a bowl of salmon tartare spiced up with wasabi miso with a serving of crisp sweet potato chips on the side. The ice serves two purposes. Not only does it look aesthetically pleasing, but it keeps the salmon cold and fresh, thereby keeping food safety in mind as well.
For drinks, I went for the Miyagi-San, a delightfully refreshing mocktail featuring strawberry, cranberry juice, hibiscus tea and soda water. Being a fan of lychee, Hubby chose to have the Zaksan, a lychee drink infused with pink grapefruit and green tea leaves that gave the drink a bold, slightly bitter zesty twist.
Being a huge fan of sushi, my heart gave out a little yelp of joy seeing the next dish that hit our table. Below is a beautifully presented set of Omakase Osashimi (an assortment of salmon, tuna and Hamachi sashimi) and Toko’s Signature Makis (California Maki and the Spicy Maguro Maki).
The Maki Rolls (seen on the top of the image above) were exceptionally good. Toko’s California Maki consists of cooked crab, avocado and tobiko mayonnaise, and the Spicy Maguro Maki is a tuna roll with a major kick of chilli mayonnaise. The Spicy Maguro Maki is coated with tenkasu (crunchy bits of deep fried flour-batter) adding texture and crunch quite unexpected in a maki roll. Delish!
You might have had tempura prawns before, but Toko’s Ebi No Chiisai Tempura is on a class of its own. Using the most flavorful rock shrimps, the prawns here have been deep-fried to a crisp, golden brown and are served with a decadently spiced chili mayo.
Next came the Hotate No Jalapeno Amazu Zoe. These are melt-in-the-mouth pan-fried scallops served with a sweet pickled apple, and jalapeno garlic. This coy looking dish is a flavor explosion in the mouth.
And what comes to mind when you hear of boneless chicken wings? That piece of sauced up chicken you might be thinking of just got a fancy, Japanese fine-dining makeover in the guise of Hone Nashi Tebasaki No Miso Butter Zoe, aka boneless chicken wings with smoked miso butter!
Below is the Avocado No Ama Jyouju Lime Zoe. The dish itself is far simpler than the name its been given. These are simply grilled wedges of avocado served with sweet soy and lime. It is dishes like these that go to prove that simple food made with the freshest of ingredients can be both nutritious and delicious all at once. The Avocado No Ama Jyouju Lime Zoe is something I am confident I can try out at home as well.
Next came the two mains. We were served the Sake No Aburi Yaki (smoked miso salmon with house-pickled ginger) and the Angus Grainge Rib-Eye (a 180 grams serving of 150 day grain-fed beef).
The salmon was moist, flaky and done to a medium-rare just the way I like it, and the crispy salted skin was an additional treat. The smoked miso on the side was robust and sweet; a delightful touch of Japanese to the salmon. The pickled ginger gave the dish an additional Japanese edge, and with a squeeze of lime, this was a decadent salmon treat.
The rib-eye was cooked to a medium-rare, and sliced up for easy sharing. I really enjoyed the Yuzu Koshu on the side; a Japanese mayo accentuated with the tanginess of yuzu, Japanese lime.
The size of Japanese dishes can be deceptive. We started off with bite-sized portions, and never thought we would be this full by the end of our mains!
We had hot cups of Jasmine Tea to help digest all this feasting. The warm, fragrant tea was a welcome break as we waited on the desserts round.
Between sips of tea, we contemplated on the wishes we were asked to scribble down for the wishing tree. The staff handed us a marker pen along with strips of colorful paper called tanzaku in Japanese.
My wish is pretty cliche; I wished for good health and prosperity for my loved ones. The past year has had its share of ups and downs, and I’m hoping for an upward sail this Tanabata.
The strips were then hung on the two bonsai trees near the entrance. To commemorate the Tanabata festivities, Toko Dubai will pick a wish off the tree and the lucky ‘wisher’ will win a meal for 4. Fingers tightly crossed!
Once our cups of tea were emptied, we were summoned to the drama of desserts at Toko. “Keep your camera ready” advised our host!
The dessert came in a 3-layered Japanese Bento box; each layer unveiling a decadent treat.
The first layer showcased an assortment of exotic fruit. A fume of dry ice shrouded the table arousing the curiosity of neighboring tables.
The fruit assortment includes star-fruit, dragon-fruit, pineapple, and berries. Three scoops of very fresh fruit sorbets take up one corner. The sorbets have been made from scratch on the premises. There was a raspberry sorbet, a mango sorbet and my favorite, a coconut sorbet. Not surprising the sorbet disappeared well before the fruit!
In the next layer of the bento box was a very rich chocolate lava cake served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. Just look at that ripple of warm chocolate lava oozing out of the cake!
The third layer housed a Yuzu Cheesecake and a Strawberry Coconut Panna Cotta. It’s hard to decide which of these we liked better. The cheesecake was rich and creamy with a pungy zest of yuzu (Japanese lime), and the panna cotta was light, airy and refreshingly fruity.
Overall, we had a very memorable experience at Toko Dubai. The stylishly contemporary ambiance coupled with great service and even more amazing food makes it a must-try for foodies who have an inclination towards Japanese cuisine.
I for one am already planning a trip back. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if my wish got picked off the wishing tree?! I also hear they have ladies nights post-Ramadan offering girls 4 free drinks and 30% off the total bill!
For restaurant information and reservations, visit the Toko Dubai website. Happy Tanabata!