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FACT Review: Contemporary Japanese eats at Virgin Izakaya

As the Ukrainian-born brand makes its Middle Eastern debut, we find out if it’s worth a visit. 

Virgin Izakaya has an unlikely origin story. Drawing inspiration from Japan, it was born in Ukraine and has restaurants in Kharkiv, Kyiv and Odesa. While the future of these venues remains uncertain, they have found a home in the Middle East. So, as the brand expands into the region for the first time, we decided to visit its new location in Bluewaters Wharf, Dubai.

First things first, don’t be fooled by the name. Even though it is called Virgin Izakaya, it does serve alcohol, especially at brunch. We visited its newly launched Saturday brunch, and opted for the Sparkling Gorilla Brunch package. Translated: unlimited Prosecco, cocktails and premium spirits.

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Virgin Izakaya is a modern izakaya-style restaurant, which specialises in traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine. While a typical izakaya is meant to be a casual dining spot, where you can share small plates, this is a more elevated dining experience.

When we visited Virgin Izakaya, the restaurant was empty and filled up for dinner time. If you’re after a party vibe, this is (currently) not the place. Even though the venue has an exciting line-up of DJs, which includes Andre Mayborn, Denis Agamirov, Manficha and Morgan Dope, these start at 8pm from Thursdays to Sundays. As the only guests for two hours in the middle of the day, we were able to request a quieter volume and hear ourselves talk. Music to our ears. 

Virgin Izakaya

Virgin Izakaya is a sultry spot with dim lighting, hues of deep red, earthy wood textures and leafy plants. The large space spans two floors, and offers indoor as well as outdoor dining on the terrace and balcony. We started off with a seat downstairs, which is a prime location, as it has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto JBR and a view of the kitchen with the robata grill.

Fans of Japanese food will dig the menu, as it serves classic sushi and sashimi. We started off with freshly prepared salmon and bluefin tuna sushi; salmon sashimi; bluefin tuna and crab open rolls; and eel and avocado hand rolls. The snacks included zingy crab tacos, crispy shrimp popcorn and a generously sized green salad. 

The star from the starters was the raw beef tataki, which was so thinly sliced that it soaked up the soy and vinegar sauce. The must-eat from the mains was the pepper beef, which was the right balance of earthy and juicy tastes. The brunch menu hits the Japanese highlights for meat and fish eaters, but vegetarian eaters will struggle. Guests may want to opt for the à la carte menu, which includes rice bowls, ceviche, tiradito, soups and kushiyaki.  

Virgin Izakaya

During our meal, we were not presented with a drinks’ list. Instead, a waiter recited the options to us and we had to write them down. The cocktails included classics such as an Americano (beautifully bitter), Cosmopolitan (watered down), and Gin Fizz (light and refreshing).

The brunch takes place every Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 4pm. Packages include the Virgin Brunch with unlimited non-alcohol drinks for AED 299; House Bonsai Brunch with unlimited house beverages for AED 399; and, of course, the Sparkling Gorilla Brunch for AED 499.

Virgin Izakaya is open from Monday to Wednesday from midday to midnight, and Thursday and Saturday from midday to 2am. Virgin Izakaya, we look forward to the next chapter in your story. 

GO: Visit for more information.

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Kohinoor Sahota - Deputy Editor
A sucker for a good story, if you invite Kohinoor to a gallery, comedy night, new restaurant, hiking trip, cycle ride, pool day or just about any activity, she’ll probably say yes – that is if she isn’t busy planning her next adventure.

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