It’s about time a new Asian fusion restaurant has bloomed in Riyadh once again. There have been a lot of Japanese and Chinese restaurants around but there’s nothing in my recent knowledge that can really pride itself in Asian fusion cuisine. Welcome, AGUS — a “cute” space, as one of its managing chef’s put it, tucked in the midst of Tahlia St. The restaurant is named after its Executive Chef who hails from Indonesia (Hi Chef Agus!)
As we entered the restaurant (Janelle and I apparently were the first ever customers to set foot in it; t’was an honor for us), we found the place to be more than just cute. It was actually beautiful. Sure, the floor area wasn’t as huge as most restaurants but I could easily deduce that the space was maximized in a classy and modern way. We were welcomed by the live cooking station situated on the right side and the dining area on the left side, which composed of booths, tables and chairs. The decor was juxtaposed on red and black with oriental accents of wood, china and other asian tokens.
We were led to our table, got seated and had Chef Ben Chavez relay to us a brief story of the restaurant, its concept and which dishes we could try. After listening to Chef Ben, I glanced at our table and noticed the craftmanship of the cutlery they had. I also ended up noticing one amazing thing in our table, something that I have never ever seen in ANY restaurant I have ever been to in Riyadh…there stood beside the chilli oil and soy sauce condiment was a glorious bottle of Sriracha sauce (cue halo music and singing cherubims here). To those of you who are loyal readers, y’all know I have this obsession with all things spicy, especially spicy condiments. And I’ve always seen Sriracha in the Food Network and have searched high and low on where to find it in Riyadh and alas, the search is over. I hope my enthusiasm about this bottle of tasty, spicy goodness is obvious by my allotment of three to five sentences to it in this entry. 😛
Okay, I’ll try to move on from the Sriracha sighting. On to the food!
We were treated to a wonderful array of Asian-inspired cooking that my 9-meter long digestive tract could only muster with an unashamed burp afterwards. Their menu is composed of dishes from six countries: China, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and USA (although one of those countries is not Asian). I will let the photos below do most of the talking.
Let’s start with the starters:
Hands down, this starter got me asking for more. It’s a unique take on the taco with the just the right kick of spicy in its sauce. The wonton tacos were definitely crunchy and nestled the strips of crab well. It may appear to be tricky to eat but its actually fun. I, for one, likes a good finger food. This item comes in as highly recommended.
I finally got to use the fancy cutlery as I dug into this dish. Presentation was very appealing with a towering layer of noodle-like crisps. Taste-wise I thought it lacked a bit of a “punch” as I like to call it and since it was called Dynamite Shrimp, I was kind of expecting an explosion of flavour in my mouth Maybe it was a bit too mild for our liking. Thank the heavens though for that Sriracha sauce by my side, dipped a bit into it and voila! it tasted better. (For the record, everything tastes better with Sriracha sauce. LOL. Di talaga ako make-get over).
Now this one I loved! I still have dreams about how tender and crispy that duck was both at the same time. The hoisin sesame dressing worked wonders in marrying the greens with the duck and I almost didn’t want my waiter to take the plate off our table after we were through with it.
I found this to be a generous serving of smoked salmon happily embracing a handful of rocket leaves drizzled with spicy sauce. The combination is common but the presentation is quite creative. Salmon lovers must not miss this.
Similar to the Crab Taco but with diced shrimp. For some reason, I didn’t find it as tasty as its sister taco.
A fun presentation made from diced shrimps and shiitake mushrooms. There is a hint of ginger to every bite.
A very basic yet the signature salad of the Agus restaurant. There are five kinds of greens involved in this dish with an overall citrus-sy twang. For 19SR, it’s value for your money.
My personal favorite from the starters: Crab Tacos, Smoked Salmon and Crispy Duck Salad.
Moving on to the entrees, we heartily selected from the items on the “Robata Grill” and a couple from their Wok Selection and Soups. The Robata grilling is one of their distinctive cooking methods (Rabata is Japanesse for ‘fireside cooking’) which is basically similar to barbecue-ing but makes use of a special kind of charcoal. You can even view the whole cooking process through their open kitchen. We ordered the following:
Their black cod is by far the most expensive item on their menu. The taste of the fish meat was very similar to that of a ‘bangus belly’ and it was tender and fatty but all in a good way. It was well-seasoned and lay down on top of a bed of green pea puree – which I also enjoyed for its texture and sweetness. It really balanced well with the softness of the fish. My one irk about the dish was that there were soft fishbones inside. Good thing they were not the sharp kind but it just took the elegance out of taking a bite from it when I had to extract the fishbones myself. I’d have this again but would ask it to be filleted (if possible).
This was a star in their menu as everyone we’ve asked to try this, liked it a lot. These lamb cutlets were also cooked over the robata grill and are packed with flavor. The pumpkin puree underneath countered the peppery taste of the gravy in a very friendly way and overall, the dish worked. Expect three slabs per plate.
Here we have a generous slice of salmon fillet cooked to perfection. I happen to like salmon in its most base and even primarily seasoned form so I guess I just felt like the teriyaki sauce overpowered the spirit of the salmon in this one. Although if you plan on having this with a cup of rice, then I think it would not taste as saturated.
To the meat lovers, hold your horses. When you read it off the menu, it may give you the impression that it’s as huge as the steaks that you usually order at your regular steak house. But this is a refined cut of beef in a conservative size. The sauce was delicious but unfortunately, we had a very well done piece of beef, so it was a tad chewy. It would have helped I suppose if the service staff asked us how we wanted it done, partly our fault as well because we didn’t specify upon ordering.
These skewers boast of thick pieces of chicken breast fillet drizzled with satay sauce (essentially peanut sauce). I wished there were more satay sauce to it to make it pop so instead I reached out for that bottle of Sriracha yet again.
This was a very basic Chinese-inspired dish but clearly did not live up to its name. I, being the spicy food fan that I am, asked for it to be extra spicy but when it reached our table, I’m not sure if any chilli powder was sprinkled on it at all. Maybe the chili in the name only referred to the strips of bell pepper all over it but other than that, I was expecting it to kick me hard, but it barely nudged me. The silver lining? It had a lot of big shrimps in it indeed.
Janelle and I are big fans of the laksa and we had big hopes as we first sipped into this soup. We weren’t jumping up and down for joy afterwards but if you’re looking for something mild and heartwarming, this would do. Plus, for 24SR, it was packed with shrimps, chicken and veggies.
Again, the pad thai is another dish that we both hold up to a high standard as we have tasted both the luxurious and street versions of this. It was filling and can feed two, but I was looking for more tastiness to it.
Between these two bowls of rice, the stir-fried vegetable came out as the victor. The coconut rice is reminiscent of our version of the “pandan rice”.
My personal favorite from the entree items: Lamb Cutlets and Black Cod.
Let’s see what the more Japanese route has to offer with their Maki selection:
Oh this was such a gorgeous and delicious platter of maki made with rolled up crab sticks, cucumber, carrots, sweet shitake and sushi rice. What makes this simple maki unique and memorable is the Oburo (aka Sakura Denbu) rolled unto its exterior which is the pink “powder” you see up there. Oburo / Sakura Denbu is a sweet and salty flaky fish condiment made from cod. We really, really liked this dish not only because it was yummy but also because it’s pink! 😀 Maybe we can have it renamed to The Pink Tarha Maki?
This one had the same insides with the Sweet Pretty Wahini but I’d say this would be for those who are less adventurous with their taste buds and like to stick with what they know. It’s a straight up maki, equally delicious and tasty thanks to the spicy crab salad added on top and the drizzles of spicy mayo on the side.
Leave it to me to praise bold flavors and taking it to the next level…the Samura Maki was awesome! This fried maki united the textures of crunchy and cushiony and achieved the right kind of savory by intertwining the teriyaki sauce with some spicy mayo. The tobiko was simply the cherry on top of this whole dish. I would gladly order this over and over again. Standing ovation and compliments to the chef!
Needless to say, their maki selection is a winner in my eyes. All good, all recommended for you to try. 🙂
On to dessert! And drinks! I almost forgot about the drinks.
You have read how I always look for the “punch” or the “kick” in my food, well it turns out it’s all in this drink! (Pun intended). Haha! It was sweet and tangy and I thought it was okay. We also tried some of their other drinks (not pictured here) like the Lemont and Hot Tea. The Lemont is a very good lemon+mint concoction which was very refreshing. I especially enjoyed their Hot Tea, not so much on the taste because green tea is pretty standard, but because of the presentation and use of a distinctive pouring pot that made it an experience. I’m sorry that I don’t have a photo of it here to give you justice but you’d have to see it for yourself. I did a paper on Japanese Tea Drinking when I was in college and I remember that tea drinking in Japan is big on experience so I think their serving of that was inspired by that idea.
Janelle ordered this one and I think she thought it was ‘creamy good’ (very good + creamy). You’d definitely not find anyone else serving this around town.
To bring us all this food bonanza to an end is the dessert portion. We were intrigued by the Stuffed Pancake on the menu and decided to try it. When it arrived, we were smitten with how it emulated the spring roll and we liked the pancake itself but we weren’t big fans of the shredded coconut that was stuffed inside it. It was sweet enough but maybe the texture was just not for us.
We also tried the Japanese Cheesecake and the Chocolate Molten. Between those two, we’d refer you to try the former. But above all, we loved their Tiramisu. The green tea flavors of it worked wonders in our hearts and it was a gentle and sweet ending to our gastronimical adventure there at AGUS.
As for the service, well they had just opened when we got there and honestly, they were still a bit shaky back then but I hope they’ve got it all settled by now. Generally, all of them were kind and courteous and I did notice they were trying their best.
Overall, there were a lot of things worth going back to in their restaurant (apart from the Sriracha sauce. Hihi.). What I can deduce is that those I liked where the ones with more precision to balance and emphasis on flavor. Some of the items were mild in nature, but I’d like to think they were maybe trying to make the dishes more approachable to the regular resaturant goers just to stay on the safe side, palate-wise. More importantly, I think their food is supremely value for your money. Where else can you get a delicious and unique four-piece maki on Tahlia St. that’s for only 18SR? C’mon. That’s too good to be true, but it is! If you review the pricelist on their menu, you’d be amazed too.
So there you have it. Welcome to the Riyadh Food scene AGUS! May you always fill us up this good. xoxo
Tahlia St. (After Chilli’s, right beside California Pizza Kitchen)