Descending Into East Asian Delights – Ukiyo Restaurant Review
Since 2004, Ukiyo has sat on the corner of Exchequer Street and Dame Court in Dublin’s creative quarter. Feeding our capital with some of the best sushi and Asian dishes, Ukiyo’s popularity has never wavered. This popularity is set to soar with a fantastic refurbishment downstairs.
Owned by husband and wife team Duncan Maguire and Lou Leahy, Ukiyo Lounge is the newest addition to this staple on Dublin’s dining scene.
As I head down into the stunning new lounge, I feel like I’ve been transported to a trendy New York hang out. The decor is slick, with soft lighting, comfy chairs and a long plush green couch running along the wall.
The vibe is relaxed casual dining with an elegant flair. The staff are extremely welcoming and make me feel right at home. Your waiters and bartenders are your first point of contact when dining and can be a definite indicator of what lies ahead. If their happy demeanour is anything to go by, I’m in for a culinary treat!
Sushi is served upstairs, however, owner Lou tells me this popular dish will soon be descending downstairs to the newly designed lounge due to huge demand. Ukiyo’s Sushi Bento Boxes are incredibly popular and are snapped up quickly by eager diners.
In the corner lies a set of DJ decks waiting to spin classic hits to merry guests. It looks like the inside of a trendy DJ’s home, lined with shelves of LP’s and the decor is very fitting seeing as there are live DJs seven nights a week, ready to get you in the party mood. Duncan regularly hits the decks as guests dine and dance the night away.
Beside the bar is an impressive looking piece of kit, one which reminds me of R2D2 crossed with a Dr Who Dalek. It is, in fact, a vintage Italian coffee steamer. Shining brightly, it awaits the delivery of a special part that will see this strange machine be used by the barmen to steam mussels in front of guests, bringing an element of theatre to the dining room.
The menu is divided into different styles of cooking: choose from the Raw Bar, Steamed, Tempura, Seared, Charred, Sliders and hearty dishes of Ramen.
For veggies, the options are equally as tasty – Beetroot Crudo, compressed melon and kumquat sound like a match made in heaven.
First out the doors of the kitchen are Steamed Mussels, Cider, Gochujang and Coriander (€8.00). The aromas drifting from the bowl are mouthwatering and the taste delivers also.
A beautiful broth of cider, the fiery red pepper paste gochujang gives a wonderful warmth to the dish without overpowering it with spice. My friend describes the mussels as the best she’s ever tasted, the empty shells quickly piling up in our extra bowl.
We also ordered the Beef Tataki, Black Truffle, Oxtail Vinegar (€12.00). Thin slices of seared beef arrived at our table, perfectly pink inside and full of flavour.
Resting on top are delicate beads of soy caviar. These flavoursome pearls are a game changer, adding a delicate saltiness to the dish. Dots of smooth and rich black truffle line the edges on the plate, marrying perfectly with the beef.
To wash down our Asian delights, we chose two handcrafted cocktails from Ukiyo’s unique cocktail list. Each drink sounded as good as the next, with a wide range of spirits sure to keep everyone happy. I went for the Ukiyo Lemonade (€10.00), made with Red Bush Whiskey, Triple Sec, Lime, Ginger and Soda.
I’m a whiskey and gin girl, so when I saw Bushmills Red Bush popping up on the menu, I had to try Ukiyo’s signature lemonade.
My cocktail is a light summer tipple, with aromas of ginger hitting my nose as I sip away. It’s so light and refreshing it almost feels healthy.
Sitting across the table, the Down in Mexico (€11.00), made with Jose Cuervo Tradicional, Lime, Ukiyo Special Syrup certainly packs a punch, but the alcohol is well balanced with zesty lime. A light dusting of salt coats the rim of the glass (usually this traditional salty rim puts me off, but here the salt is just enough to compliment the drink).
For a veggie option, our waiter recommends the Tempura, Shiso Leaf, Lotus Root, Garlic with Sesame Kimbap (€9.00). Here, salty samphire is coated in a light and crisp tempura with crunchy tender stem broccoli.
The lotus root is simply moreish and greedily I eat it all before my dining companion can nab a piece of this slightly sweet vegetable. It has a similar texture to potato and works fantastically with the tempura batter.
One of my favourite dishes is without a doubt the Salmon Belly with Liquorice Teriyaki(€7.00). The sauce is deliciously sticky and sweet and compliments the salmon which is perfectly cooked. Tender salmon flaking off in bite-sized pieces that are packed with flavour.
Coated in liquorice teriyaki sauce (said sauce was scooped up eagerly on our forks), this dish is the perfect combination of salty and sweet.
Next up is the Korean Bao Buns, Red pork, Slaw, Peanuts(€9.00). Juicy slices of pork trimmed with a red hue around the edge are piled into a soft bun that’s as light as air. After the first bite, I am in love. This delicious Bao is comfort food at its finest. The crunch of the slaw with the delicate bun is a wonderful combination and completely gratifying.
Our second tipple comes in the form of the Feel So Good (€10.00) made with Tanqueray, Chartreuse, Luxardo, Yuzu Sake, Lemon, Cherry and Cucumber, and the Sweet Pair (€12.00) made with Pear pureé, Tanqueray 10, Lemon, Yellow Chartreuse, Vanilla, Prosecco.
The Sweet Pair is my idea of cocktail perfection, sparkling with light bubbles from the prosecco with a wonderful citrus kick. The Feel So Good is ideal for those who like a sweeter cocktail with a ripe cherry sitting at the bottom of the glass.
Most would agree that when we indulge in much-loved Asian cuisine, we’re not expecting fanciful or innovative desserts, so when our barman suggests we sample the Petit Fours (€10.00), these mini treats sound like the perfect way to end our meal on a high.
My tequila fanatic friend swoons at the mention of the homemade tequila jelly and I am equally intrigued. A longboard filled with colourful treats is placed on our table and I don’t know which sweet to try first.
Fresh strawberries, truffles, coffee cake are brilliant tequila jelly are some of the delights we indulge in. In particular, I swoon over the three bright chocolate cups of pink, yellow and green, containing a terrific sorbet like filling.
Ukiyo truly has it all if you’re looking for a great night out – fantastic food, crafty cocktails and music to dance the night away to. Beside the lounge are the private karaoke rooms boasting over 14,000 songs for your inner pop diva.
When I ask Duncan what his go-to karaoke song is, he answers lightening quick with Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”. I’m very impressed with his conviction in his song choice, my choice is Cher’s “Believe” if you are curious.
He also tells me of a recent party in one of Ukiyo’s karaoke rooms, where he was wrangled into singing a few hits, much to the delight of the gaggle of girls inside. This sums up Ukiyo to me – it’s a restaurant that puts the fun into dining out. Yes, Ukiyo serves excellent food and tipples but they give their guests a dining experience that’s second to none. You’ll leave not only feeling full but wondrously happy.
From start to finish, our entire dining experience was full of laughter, stellar service and some of the tastiest Asian dishes I’ve had. For four cocktails and five dishes, the bill comes to an astonishingly good value €98.00.
7-9 Exchequer St
T: +353 (0)1 633 4071
REVIEW BY SINÉAD SMYTH