Last week I was invited by the Oberoi to experiment their 12 courses testing menu. I didn't know much about Hokkaido but I knew I loved the Oberoi Dubai so I was happy to RSVP. Umai, their japanese restaurant has a special place in my heart since I've always had great food and evenings. I love the cosy ambiance, the discreet design and the open kitchen, I like the unpretentious atmosphere of the place. And when Chef Dirk Haltenhof, Pro Chef's Innovative Chef of the year, shows up with my drink, just to say hi, it really feels like home! (note to self, work on a more flattering posture... the joys of cosy sweaters).
So what did I learn about Hokkaido? Very briefly: it is Japan's second biggest island at it's Far North frontier, and it is known for it's seafood cuisine. I will admit that I got intimidated by the 12 courses menu, or marathon rather.
We started with a sparkling strawberry with green tea jelly as a cool and sweet appetiser to wake up the palate. Then came the Kuzu starch Hokkaido milk tofu with smoked salmon and eggs. I am not the biggest fan of tofu but this one was creamy, almost like a burrata, it was surprising and a nice change from the usual chewy tofu (no offence to all vegetarian readers, I simply have a lot to learn about tofu, obviously).
The seasonal Hokkaido sashimi was pretty classic, but I didn't expect such a generous plate, at that stage I already felt dangerously full... But then the avocado and Hokkaido cheese spring roll and the cream croquette with crab meat showed up so the curiosity took over. I enjoyed the crab croquette very much, it is not something you have everyday, it was tasty, crusty and soothingly warm, a very nice mix after a few cold courses. I was looking forward to the sweet corn soup with Hokkaido king crab and white asparagus since I would have never imagined such a combination, but I couldn't really feel the asparagus. It might be because I just had the crab croquette, but I could mostly taste the crab and sweet corn, that was very nice, but it overtook the asparagus.
I loved the grilled scallop with wasabi mayonnaise and sea urchin spuma. I want to thank the chef for taking time to explain what an urchin is. I did know what it was in french but I didn't know the english translation. I just love the fact that he took time to draw me an urchin.
When I reached the grilled salmon with salt and Hokkaido kelp, I started wondering how I would finish that dinner, my stomach was struggling. I had never had fish or meat cooked in a proper salt crust so I was happy to try it. It is a tricky one since the heat travels through the salt you don't really have control over how it spreads, so you have a nice, tender, slow-cooked piece of fish that can be unevenly cooked. That didn't bother me since I don't like an overcooked piece of fish.
I remember looking at the charcoal grilled miso marinated cod manga and thinking I would have loved to pause the dinner and come back the day after to allow my stomach to reset. It was delicious, soft, not too much seasoning so you could really taste the fish, just the way I like it and the plate was a real piece of art, but my little appetite just couldn't handle it.
My stomach and I can, unfortunately, barely remember the teppanyaki beef with Hokkaido stew. In my food coma, I remember a very tender piece of beef in a white sauce. I might have to come back to investigate more!
Last but not least, the Hokkaido musk melon was perfect to freshen up the palate and ease digestion! Followed by the green tea ice choux, that was obviously going to be a hit since I love green tea ice cream (or any ice-cream really, just not strawberry)!
So a big thank you to the Oberoi for their warm welcoming, I definitively have a crush on their team! I loved spending an evening in Hokkaido, just wish I had brought a bigger appetite in my suitcase! If you feel like a gastronomical escape, you have until the Friday 23rd May to book you 12 courses dinner at the Oberoi. I usually don't mention prices but for AED 390, my stomach and I can assure you it is a good deal.
More information here.