Itching for Japanese; Icho [formerly Benkay]

Dubai; Walking into the lobby of the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in Dubai (formerly JAL Hotel and more on that later), here’s what I encountered…Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dubai

Wow, wow, wow, what a magnificent pod-like piece of art. Modern interiors don’t usually impress FooDiva, but the light effects on what I soon found out was the conference facility just mesmerised me.

FooDiva was here to dine at Icho, the hotel’s Japanese restaurant.  Until the week before I dined, this property was managed by Japanese hotel management company, JAL Hotels since its opening earlier this year. And they should know a thing or two about Japanese cuisine, no? The name changed from Benkay to Icho when Radisson took over the operation, but I was reassured over the phone when I made my reservation, that the kitchen and service team were still very much unchanged.

Icho is split into three levels; 1. the bar for not just cocktails, but sushi, 2. the teppan grill and 3.  a so-called authentic Japanese restaurant – on the 49th, 50th and 51st floors respectively. Starting off in the bar, I asked the barman for a cocktail list. There wasn’t one he stated rather abruptly. And then suggested perhaps he could concoct one for me based on my spirit and taste preferences. Not one for letting others make my cocktail choices, “can I have a sake cosmo?” FooDiva suggested. He tried to convince me otherwise until I mentioned Hashi at Armani does a very good one. So he mixed what was an excellent sake cosmo. In the meantime Mr B was told they’d run out of Southern Comfort…quite shocking really for a five star hotel bar, so he had to settle for a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Point worth noting; we were pretty much surrounded by Japanese in the sushi bar. Always a good sign, but having said that, am pretty sure these were in-house guests booked in when the hotel was still JAL.

Icho GeishaPre-dinner drink fix over, into the elevator (the geisha print was worth a photo, no?) and up a floor, to the teppan grill with fabulous views of Dubai’s sparkling Sheikh Zee Manhattan skyline. Shame the cooking area interrupted our view slightly. Bar three diners, the restaurant was empty at 8.30pm on a Thursday night, so we picked our seats facing the cooking display and ordered some edamame to keep us going. Menus were brought over, but I had to specifically request the sushi menu twice even though I had been told on the phone that we were able to mix and match dishes irrespective of which dining area we chose.

We asked for the sake and wine list by the glass menus, to which we were told they had none. So the waiter tried to list what was available, to the point of pronouncing Pinot Grigio literally…GRI..KEE..OH. Enough said, you get the picture.

Anyhow with warm sake and chilled Caliterra in hand, we settled upon sharing a Premium Course Menu;

Deep fried soft shell crabSmall appetiser

Assorted tempura (prawn and veggies)

Fresh mixed vegetable salad

Grilled king crab and fish with a lemon butter sauce

Wagyu beef tenderloin with foie gras

Garlic fried rice

Miso soup

Ice cream


Plus a portion of salmon sashimi, fish and chips sushi roll and deep fried soft shell crab.

Fish & chips sushi roll and salmon sashimiWhen the ‘small appetiser’ aka amuse bouche rocked up, I asked the waiter what it was; beef teriyaki he explained, it was in fact a very tough chicken…The fish and chips sushi roll called out to the FooDiva in me, but the deep fried hammour was bland, whilst the chips were clearly cooked from frozen. Luckily the remaining dishes impressed balancing fresh, quality ingredients with flavour; in particular the king crab in lemon butter sauce deserves a mention. The Philippino chef, teppenyaki juggling skills aside, was very knowledgeable confirming all fish produce was imported from Europe, as is pretty much the case with all Japanese restaurants in this town currently.

Green tea ice creamThe other disappointment food-wise was the pretty inedible green tea ice cream topped with two slabs of emerald green jelly; way too milky leaving a sickly after taste. Call me biased though, as am not a huge ice cream fan.

Service was hugely intrusive throughout with constant interruptions, whilst at the same time our waiter had to check back with the kitchen on practically every single question. Absolutely no knowledge of the menu, let alone an understanding of Japanese cuisine. He was clearly no native, but that’s no excuse. We had to request the bill a couple of times before it rocked up. Icho – train your waiters otherwise find them a back of house job. Icho's Teppan chef

Dinner for two including our pre-dinner drinks, two carafes of sake and a bottle of vino; AED 916 but that’s thanks to a 20% Time Out Dubai City Card discount.


Even though we couldn’t fault the majority of the dishes, dining out is an experience that marries food, with atmosphere, service and value for money. The last three were severely lacking at Icho, so much so, we couldn’t wait to dash out and cross the road to Zuma for some hassle-free cocktails, and of course that ever so important buzz. Icho, in a city which houses some top-notch licensed and dry Japanese restaurants, you’d better get your act together quickly if you want to survive. One things for sure Icho, am not itching to return. Here’s to a two out of five FooDiva knife rating. Grilled king crab & fish with a lemon butter sauce

Would love to hear your Japanese dining experiences – good or bad!

Icho at Radisson Blu Royal Hotel Dubai on Sheikh Zayed Road (between Fairmont and Crowne Plaza). Open daily for lunch and dinner. T; +971 4 3080000.

It certainly won’t be a bientôt.

FooDiva. x

FooDiva Rating: Knife Rating: 2
Reserve with RoundMenu
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    Dubai, Hotels, Japanese, Licensed, Restaurant Reviews, Restaurants, Sheikh Zayed, Sushi bars, Teppenyaki
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10 Responses to “Itching for Japanese; Icho [formerly Benkay]”

  1. Yiahni July 24, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    Dear oh Dear, somewhat harsh assessment but I have to say entirely fair. It is a great pity that what for me was a long awaited (a good five years!) food experience turned out to be such a damp squib. I hope that Rezidor are able to rescue something out of this mess – shutting down half (well OK at least one of the other restaurants and severely limiting this monstrosity) of the hotel’s F&B would be a start!

    The less said about the Tardis on the ground floor, the better. How on earth can one take a magnificent skylit area and churn out meeting rooms disguised as vulgar modern piece of art (sic) with NO WINDOWS!!!

    Good luck Rezidor – you’re going to need it.

  2. FooDiva July 24, 2011 at 9:22 pm

    Hi Yiahni. My expectations were very high given the previous JAL/ Benkay brand. I wonder what it was like earlier in the year. Quite right though, quality over quantity might help Rezidor a little. It’s a shame as I do like the Japanese interior design influence.

  3. Expat08 May 12, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    I still think that Kitade-san is the best Japanese chef in Dubai – used to drive all the way to JAL Fujeirah to eat. The trick is to call ahead to see if he is cooking that day and sit at the sushi counter – if not stay away. Tepan-Yaki is really americanized Japanese food…

    • FooDiva May 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      I’ll have to give him a try when am next in Fujairah. Completely agree – I always prefer the sushi counter so the chefs can recommend what to order. Have you tried Kisaku at the Khaleej Palace or Bentoya on the Sheikh Zayed? Both excellent and frequented by Japanese residents.

      • Expat08 May 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm

        they are all good. lots of choice at kisaku. Bentoya is great but no pork/sometimes weak sashimi and their rice needs some work. to clarify Kitade san moved from Jal fujeirah to radison dubai. He does a great seasonal menue on request.

        • FooDiva May 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm

          Oh I see! Clearly he wasn’t on duty when I reviewed!

  4. Drina C | Eaternal Zest January 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    hey diva,
    just realised you wrote this review a year and a half ago; I recently visited icho and fortunately for me (and the hotel) there has been heaps of improvements. For one waiters are attentive, not over zealous,know the menu inside out and the food… i definitely got my moneys worth.
    Me and my partner ordered for couple sashimi plates to start off with (scallop and unagi) and bless the heavens.. that scallop was just divine… gently drizzled with lime it was just one of the best sashimi dishes i have ever had.
    For our mains we went for the hotpot, quite a speciality and oh they nailed it!
    All in all i thought they turned out pretty fab.

    • FooDiva January 11, 2013 at 3:07 pm

      Great to hear Drina, need to give it another go. Ooh scallop sashimi with lime – very Peruvian ceviche style! Appreciate the feedback. x

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