Riyadh’s evolving food scene is mesmerizing. I’m not just referring to the elevation of overall taste, but even to the slow and gradual “permission” for open area dining and the establishment of an ambience that makes you forget for an hour or two that you are, in fact, in Saudi Arabia. With the addition of Nozomi to the roster of restaurants early last year, I’m quite sure that Riyadh’s fine diners are more grateful than ever to have such a glamorous and gastronomic refuge at least once week; with some even willing to be on a long waiting list, just to get in. I predict that it’d be even longer this year after having won the award for “Best Japanese Restaurant” by the Food and Travel Magazine Awards 2016.
Nozomi is a contemporary Japanese fine dining establishment that’s been a huge hit amongst food enthusiasts. It’s quietly located along Dhabab street, conveniently away from the traffic of Tahlia St. on the other side. We haven’t been there since it opened because we’ve heard stories of how long the queue was for a reservation (some needing to call two to three days in advance) and in addition to that, we’ve heard that it was extremely fancy. However, we’re The Pink Tarha so we like to experience things ourselves before writing about it. Fortunately, one of my mom’s friends (also an avid reader of the blog), Ms. S invited us to join her for dinner there a couple of days ago. She had a reservation and it was her treat to us, so yeah, I was very lucky that night. (Thank you, again tita!)
We arrived there just as the Isha prayer was wrapping up and I could see that there were several people already waiting outside for their doors to open. As we entered, I noticed that the crowd was mostly Westerners and Saudis and I had a feeling that we were the only Asian guests in the room that night. Inside, there was a lounge for guests who did not make reservations prior to that evening. They were fully booked on a Tuesday night, mind you, and some of the patrons had to wait until a table would free up.
We were ushered into our table at a function area that they opened up at a more private part of the restaurant since there were so many guests. I passed by the main dining area and it was busy in a good way. It was a very open space with no divisions in sight (it was still the family section, but during my time of visit, I didn’t notice any special “barricades” that I’d often find in other restaurants). It was the right kind of dim with a noticeable sound of house music playing in the background. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a photo because I didn’t want to offend any of the diners so I just admired the view of the open kitchen and headed on to our table.
The interiors were mostly nature-inspired, with a combination of wooden and leather accents. There were several attributes to the bamboo design and an overall lighting of yellow. The plate setting was casual and clean but I was a bit surprised that they served us with normal wooden chopsticks…for the hype of high-end restaurant, I suppose I expected more lavish cutlery than the usual. But then again, that may just be me.
Since it was our first time, I relied on the recommendations of the waiter to make my decisions. The menu was straightforward and aptly described each meal. They have a great selection of tempura, gyozas, robata grill items, sushi, makis and other small dishes. For starters, these are what we had:
These soya beans that are sauteed with chili and kimchi is a tasty alternate from the usual salted variant. It wasn’t overly spicy and was really savory. Great for munching before the real food arrives.
The duck used for this dish must have flown all the way from Japan because for a tiny dish, I was not sure why it warranted such a high price considering most of the ingredients I found in it (like the basil, cashew and watermelon) are all easily under 50SR in a grocery. I couldn’t distinguish the taste of the duck on its own because it was already drenched in the sweet soy dressing. What I can say is that, the concept behind the dish was very multi-layered. The chunkiness and juiciness of the watermelon paired with the crunch of the duck and cashews, along with the infusion of the fragrant basil made me want to keep coming back for another bite. And for 125SR for this plate, I had every desire to finish it all to the very last drop of sauce.
It looks like french fries, but they’re not! These fresh and crispy squid starters were sliced into thin strips that didn’t coil up, which leads me to assuming that they used cuttlefish instead of the usual squid. It’s well-seasoned and quite hard to stop eating…maybe because they do mimic the look and feel of a french fry that’s why you keep coming back for more. There’s a chili and lime dip on the side, but I didn’t find much use for it as I was already enjoying it on its own.
For our cocktails, we chose the Mixed Berry Mojito and the Mango Iced Tea. Ms. Sara chose the Mixed Berry Mojito so I wasn’t able to taste it but it comes very recommended by most Foursquare users. On the other hand, I tried the Mango Iced Tea and I didn’t get the taste of the tea as much as I did for the mango, so I think I’ll refer to it as mango juice instead. It was definitely made from fresh ingredients though.
A maki roll that has yet to meet its counterpart in the Riyadh food scene is this black cod tempura maki. Marinated in miso for full flavor, it is rolled and deep fried with green chili and spring onions. The delicate fish is not lost in the blanket of rice and tempura batter thanks to the miso marinate.
These selection of makis are great for those who are not really into the whole “raw” food experience. The Spider Roll (photo above) is made of deep fried soft shell crab, cucumber, avocado, tobiko and chili mayo. The popular, Chan San Roll, is made of Gulf prawn tempura, red pepper, avocado, sweet soy glaze and spicy mayo. Served in what I refer to as “food paddles” they are arranged quite creatively on top with the staple side dish of pickled ginger and wasabi. They were both adequately delicious for their composition but if I’m being honest, when it comes to trendy makis, these selection comes as no surprise to me. Perhaps the only difference I can pinpoint is the choice of ingredients (i.e., soft shell crab and gulf prawns).
If you want to talk about impressive entrances, the arrival of this Nigiri and Sashimi platter certainly did it. Inside an island bowl lay intricately-cut sashimi arranged in a iced-like garden with green garnish and a bundle of dried stalks in the middle like a tree. The show stopper of them all is the dry ice that comes along with it, creating this smokey whiff that would unveil the beautiful fish in minutes. It was such an artistic touch! Once the smoke settles, you will find four pieces of nigiri and nine slices of sashimi (tuna, salmon, seabass). Sourced from the best vendors available, every piece of fish is of prime quality, fresh and every cut is consistent with the other, showing attention to detail.
Elevating the evening further was the infamous Black Cod of Nozomi. This dish was so precious and delicate that every bite was as smooth as silk. Baked and served with their special house sauce, wrapped in a leaf, you would think this unassuming piece of fish was nothing to rave about…but it is the exact opposite. Its svelte pieces melted in my mouth and made me relish it for every second its worth. Black cod is known to be a very fatty fish, making it very succulent and the miso sauce complements it with a sweet, tangy flavor. If you’re looking for a treat to yourself, this black cod is a great gift to feed yourself with.
Just when we thought that we have reached the climax of this dinner with the black cod, we were served with dessert. And my oh my, this sweet ending to my dinner almost made me want to applaud my way out of the restaurant. The staff, upon learning that it was our first time in Nozomi, took the extra effort to give us this greeting in our final course:
Truth be told, we didn’t know if we would still have space for the sweets in our already satisfied stomachs. But they looked too good to pass up so we shared a delightful spoonful of each with a warm cup of Japanese tea.
Let’s start with these unique assortment of apple sorbet, Turkish delight ice cream and apricot ice cream. The apple sorbet was a balance of sweet and sour zest and the Turkish delight was an amusing cold replica of the Turkish desserts that are paired with tea. The apricot ice cream was another flavor that I’ve never tasted before so kudos to the inventiveness and originality of this entire plate.
Ok, let me just take a minute here and breathe before I talk about this cake right here. Now on the blog, I’ve only used the word that I’m about to use once and it was for Piatto’s Chocolate Fondant. It’s been a while since I’ve said this about food and with pride and sincerity, I summon this word once again to describe this decadent dessert: It. is. orgasmic! Like, seriously, my tita saw it on my face after I took the first bite and she even called me out on it so I am not lying nor am I exaggerating when I say it. The cake was soft and moist and the toffee sauce around was like the “oh-my-goodness-pour-it-all-over-me” kind. You just want to bath in its deliciousness. The portion size was just enough for you to enjoy it but not too much that you feel like you’ve over-indulged. It was a perfect ending to an already beautiful dinner.
Apart from the food, the service is something noteworthy as well. Granted the busy flow of guests, there were no lapses in the food delivery as it was timely and done very courteously. I felt proud to see that most of them were Filipinos and that they were doing an excellent job. For the price range, expect that it will be way above average compared to other Japanese places but for the overall value of food, ambience and service in terms of fine dining, I can confidently say that it is worth the expense.
Dhabab St, Suleimaniyah
Tel: 920009686 (Call for reservations)
Dress Code: Smart Elegant/Business Attire
Children Policy: Children below 12 are not allowed from 7:30PM onwards