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Oni – Shangri La Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai

With a restaurant adorned with cherry blossom trees and a private sake bar hidden in the back, newly-opened Japanese eatery Oni, seems to be establishing itself as another strong addition to the SZR nightlife scene. A few friends have been and enjoyed, so what better way to see what the hype is, than heading down with my trusty wife to check it out!

Cherry blossom trees at the main bar

We arrived at 7pm to an empty restaurant other than a couple of folks sat at the bar. Our hostess asked us if we wanted to eat in the main room or private dining area (which isn’t really private, it’s just some tables and chairs under an arch next to the main area), but we opted to be in the heart of the restaurant. We were brought over a couple of drinks menus and mused over them.

The Private Dining Area

We couldn’t find the wine menu, so the wife politely asked our server if it was possible to have a look at it,

“You’ve been given it! It’s there….”

points at the two drinks menus on the table

“Umm, no we haven’t”

server rifles through our two menus

“Oh yeah, let me go get it for you”

*rolls eyes*

Nothing like a bit of warmth to start the night eh!

I ended up picking their take on an Old Fashioned and the wife selected a glass of wine which both arrived promptly whilst we looked over the food menu.

Fancy Old Fashioned

It’s quite a large food list, so our server came back to talk us through it and give us some suggestions. Despite constantly trying to get us to order salmon dishes when we told her my wife doesn’t like salmon, we finally settled on a few dishes from various aspects of the menu (sorry – missed out one page of mains from the images below!).

15 minutes to the evening and I went for a little wander round the venue, at the back is a very swanky, speakeasy-vibed bar that we were invited to go taste some of their singature sakes later in the evening and as mentioned previously the place is separated into the lounge area and the more private dining area.

To me, the restaurant has a more of a lounge-bar vibe than a restaurant – it’s kind of like an indoor version of Pure Sky Lounge. The music is absolutely thumping to the point where you lose where you are a bit. Am I in a high-end Japanese restaurant or am I in a club? This was exacerbated by the fact that it was still pretty empty at this point.

Maybe I’m just getting old but the music is way too obnoxious for somewhere to sit and enjoy a nice, far-from-inexpensive meal with your other half. It even has a live saxophonist walking around the tables, jamming along to various dance tracks later in the evening.

Our first dishes arrived; the beef gyoza, the wasabi tuna pizza and the hamachi crudo:

Gyoza

The gyoza was excellent. Perfectly formed with a delicate crisp and succulence in the middle, I could have sat with a plate full of them and gone home happy!

It led though, onto another frustrating aspect of the evening – as we had a few starters to share, we divided the dishes between ourselves on to our respective plates and the service team was OBSESSED with removing any empty-or-near-empty items from our table in an instant. They took away the dip for the gyoza without us noticing, as well as a glass of prosecco that still had a mouthful in it. We were constantly bothered with, “can we remove this? Can we remove that?” throughout the evening and it was extremely irritating. Just let us eat in peace!

Service-annoyances aside, the pizza was enjoyable as well:

The Tuna “Pizza”

Although not your standard pizza, it was a good mix of crisp, spice and freshness and it was soon gobbled up by the both of us.

Next up was the crudo – similar to ceviche, it was uncooked yellowtail marinated in wasabi compote and yuzu ponzu foam:

The Crudo

Whilst it looked pretty, it was probably our least favourite of the starters. Yuzu is a very powerful flavour and overall it seemed a bit imbalanced in taste and texture, although the yellow-tail was fresh and juicy. Not a bad dish by any means but not very memorable.

Despite my wife not being the biggest sushi fan in the world, due to her hatred of seaweed, our server insisted we tried some, so we opted for the “surf and turf” (shrimp tempura, wagyu beef, pineapple salsa and yuzu shiso).

The Sushi

At 85 AED, I didn’t think the price was too bad considering it was good quality wagyu beef. It was definitely elevated above the standard mall sushi, but I still felt it was lacking a little punch and texture. Enjoyable though!

After the sushi came the polarizing ramen! When I visited Oni, I’d just got back from London where I’d had arguably the best ramen of my life from Bone Daddies. From my perspective, Oni’s take didn’t match up at all. No spice, the noodles were more like packet ramen noodles and I just round it very rich and greasy. However, (other than the noodles) the wife really enjoyed it and found it very hearty!

The Ramen

As Asian desserts are not our thing and nothing on the menu seemed appealing, we decided to end proceedings with their take on the chicken katsu (despite the server saying to us {knowing that we were there to review the place}, “don’t get the katsu, that’s what Americans and Arabs order”
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ whatever that’s supposed to mean).

Chicken Katsu Curry

Thankfully, we didn’t listen to her odd comment and the dish was our favourite of the night. The chicken was perfectly cooked and seasoned with a fabulous crumb; the sauce was thick, rich, spicy and delicious and the rice was perfectly sticky as well. A belter of a dish.

By the time we left at around 9:30pm, the place was getting much busier so it definitely seems that it’s somewhere to go in the latter part of the evening. I asked one of the staff what he felt was the target audience and the consensus was that it was a place to come with a club-like atmosphere to have some good food and hang with friends before moving onto an actual club – probably a fair reflection of where Oni lies in the market.

FOOD: 11/15 – Some really good dishes amongst a couple of average ones. Ingredients seemed of good quality and the chefs were obviously skilled in preparing some visually-appealing dishes. A couple of courses were just a little underseasoned and understated for my liking.
SERVICE: 7/15 – Below average, unfortunately. Questioned our ability to read a menu two minutes after arriving, overly-fussing in trying to clear plates all the time and made a mildly offensive comment regarding who orders the katsu. Shame.
DRINKS SELECTION: 4/5 – Decent wine list and they have a few interesting cocktails as well as the nice addition of the sake bar.
AMBIENCE: 2.5/5 – Simply too loud for me to really enjoy dinner. Very club-focused dance music which is not what I want to listen to whilst tucking into a seemingly fancy dinner with my wife. The place did get much busier later on and the people there when we left seemed to be enjoying the atmosphere.
DESIGN: 4/5 – The design is elegant with dramatic arches and the cherry blossom trees by the bar are a pleasant touch.
VALUE: 3.5/5 – Compared to some places, I think the pricing is pretty fair – you’re in a 5-star hotel, so you expect to play a premium and the ingredients that are used are of high quality.

TOTAL: 32/50 – All in all it wasn’t a bad night – the food was enjoyable overall, but the noisy atmosphere and rude, fussy service ruined what could have been a more than satisfactory evening. It’s not really a fine-dining restaurant due to the ambience, but it’s not really a lounge-club due to the fact they’re serving high-quality, sit-down food – it’s a strange one and in all honesty, not really for me.

ONI - Shangri-La Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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