Probably one of the most surprising restaurants you can discover in the bustling city of Dubai, is REIF Japanese Kushiyaki of chef Reif Othman. The small, casual restaurant is serving incredibly tasty dishes of which the taste would perfectly blend in the menu of top fine dining establishments around the globe. Kushiyaki is the Japanese word for grilled meat that is served on bamboo skewers. Obviously you can find skewered meat in REIF Japanese Kushiyaki, but the fabulous dishes full of umami that Othman is serving, are much more diverse than the name of the restaurant hints.
Concept & Location
Reif restaurant is located in the Jumeirah Dar Al Wasl mall at Al Wasl road in the heart of Jumeirah district. The mall that opened in 2017, is next to Safa Park and the Dubai Canal in a residential area where you find trendy cafes, shops of famous interior design brands and designer fashion.
The interior of the restaurant is very minimalistic, clean and Japanese influences are very obvious. The place is characterized by white walls and wooden tables. The only strong color in the interior comes from a huge Astro Boy manga on the wall. If you don’t look outside, you could perfectly be fooled that you are sitting somewhere in a restaurant in Tokyo. The tables are standing in an L shape around the open kitchen and have drawers in which you can find the menu and cutlery in case you are not able to eat with chopsticks. From every seat in the restaurant you can see the chefs at work in the open kitchen. The restaurant is rather small and has only thirty-nine seats.
The Chef & the team
Chef and owner of REIF Japanese Kushiyaki, is charismatic Singaporean Reif Othman. The mother of Othman had a hawker stall in the little red dot, selling Malaysian food. As a toddler, Reif was kicked out of bed early in the morning to join his mother on her visits to the wet market, where she bought the ingredients for her hawker stall. Othman got fascinated by the fact that the simple, raw products they bought in the morning, were transformed in great and tasty dishes by lunch time. Absorbed by famous chefs with cooking shows on television, Reif was convinced that becoming a chef would be a cool thing to do.
However, the ambition to become cool, collided with the goals that father Othman had in mind for his son. He was convinced that a future of wearing a suit in an office environment, was a better horizon. Reif tried to please his father, but office work made him very sad. Without his father knowing, and financially supported by his mother, he decided to join culinary school in Singapore. It was only after graduation, that his father found out. Disappointed by what happened, father Othman cut all financial support of his son. Reif had to find a way to survive and he started a broker business in Singapore, selling pork belly and oranges. And thus eventually doing business, exactly as what his father wanted. But this broker business did not make the aspiring chef happy.
Desperate to make his culinary dream come true, Othman decided to combine his broker business with a job in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant at night. Here he learned how to make pizza and pasta. But he wanted more. Much more. He succeeded in getting a job in the kitchen of Les Amis in Singapore, one of the most famous and renowned fine dining restaurants on the island. At the same time, he also got involved in the local gangs and his life was drifting in a very bad direction. This did not remain unnoticed for Justin Quek, who was the chef of Les Amis at that time. Worried and concerned about the future of the young chef, Quek had a fatherly talk with Othman in which he explained to him that he should not waste his life and career for the wrong friends who could not give him a future. Probably shocked by the strong message of his mentor, Reif decided to change his life and to focus completely on his culinary career. After his stint in Les Amis, he gained experience how to run a franchise concept in California Pizza Kitchen before joining the Raffles hotel in Singapore, where he became member of the kitchen brigade of Raffles Grill.
After one year of traveling in Europe, where he worked in the kitchen of Gordon Ramsay in London, and also in restaurants in Lyon and Paris, in 2004 he moved to Dubai for the first time, to work in Al Mahara, one of the restaurants of the famous Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel. But one year later the chef moved back to Singapore. After a short tenure with One Rochester there, he opened his first own restaurant, serving Italian food. A restaurant which he closed three years later to become executive sous-chef of Zuma in Dubai. Soon he became the executive chef and was responsible for the opening of Zuma in Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Miami, Rome, Hong Kong and Bangkok.
The six years he spent in Zuma would enable the chef to create his identity as a chef and a business man. He was ready to open his own restaurant in Dubai and started Play, where he served food which was a mix between Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. Two years later, he would close Play to join Billionaire Mansion, helping them to open a Japanese restaurant in Monaco and in London.
In 2019 he decided to open REIF Japanese Kushiyaki in the Jumeirah Dar Al Wasl mall in Dubai. From the start, people where queuing to get a seat. Within one year, a second location just opposite of the first one, was opened. In the meanwhile, Othman has several restaurants in Dubai, a franchise version of Reif in Egypt, and talks going on to bring the concept also to Europe and to the US.
The team of Reif consists out of many nationalities with mainly people from Japan and Southeast Asia. Apart from the normal restaurant operations, they also serve what they call “Experience by Reif Othman”, where Othman himself cooks an omakase menu for a few diners, based on a theme that changes every week.
The chef has a unique, charismatic personality and that is also reflected in the dishes REIF Japanese Kushiyaki is serving. What comes on the plate is rather unconventional and combines Japanese cooking and Southeast Asian inspiration with traditional French techniques. In every dish, the focus is clearly on getting the umami level as high as possible. Dishes are very rich and full of delectable flavor. Even though many of his dishes are inspired by Japanese cooking, Reif also deviates from the clean approach that is typical for Japanese cuisine. His dishes are more in your face. A traditional teriyaki sauce is made richer by using black pepper, inspired by Malaysian black pepper crab. In that manner, the dishes the chef is serving, look easy and straightforward but are always surprising and sophisticated on the palette. Aligned with Japanese cuisine and maybe still inspired by the visits to the wet market with his mother as a young kid, Othman is always searching for the very best products. Most of the produce he is using, is imported directly from Japan, because he is convinced this is the best guarantee to secure the strong, original taste profiles he is always striving for.
Some of the dishes we tried :
- Singaporean style chicken rice
The chef mainly draws his inspiration from trips abroad. After eating local food, the creative process starts to translate those dishes into the typical REIF Japanese Kushiyaki style. That process happens most often during the night. He writes the ingredients he wants to use on a piece of paper and then thinks how to turn them into a dish. After the creation of the dish, he tastes it while sitting in his restaurant, as he is convinced that food tastes differently if you try it sitting down as a guest in the restaurant instead of sampling it in the kitchen.
Service & Wine
As the restaurant is casual, don’t expect stiff and formal service in REIF Japanese Kushiyaki. The staff is very engaging, courteous and not pretentious. As they are serving more than two hundred covers for dinner with only thirty-nine seats, the pace is fast at all times, but as a guest you don’t experience any negative impact from this. Service is flawless, friendly and attentive, in a manner that makes perfect sense for the type of restaurant this is.
REIF Japanese Kushiyaki has no alcohol license so they are not serving wine or beer. But they have a great offering of mocktails, juices and teas.
REIF Japanese Kushiyaki is the place to be, if you want to indulge in fabulous dishes that find their origins in Japan or Southeast Asia, but which have been elevated in taste and texture by charismatic Chef Reif Othman. Expect top quality products from Japan, which are cooked to perfection by chefs in front of your eyes and then served at surprisingly affordable prices in a casual setting. Comfort food does not often come higher in umami then here. Serve this food in a fine dining restaurant, and it will work. Serve it in the casual REIF Japanese Kushiyaki at affordable prices, and it works even better. Othman clearly understood that very well. If you have a chance, catch the chef for a talk. Next to being an amazing chef, it is truly a great guy.