Kiku is the newest entrant to Islamabad’s Japanese food scene and it’s a winner

Kiku is the newest entrant to Islamabad’s Japanese food scene and it’s a winner

Chef Mario is bringing authentic but simple luxury to the Marriott's newly-launched eatery.
Updated 22 Feb, 2024

The invite to review newly-opened Japanese restaurant Kiku at the Marriott in Islamabad was by itself too appetising, as lately the city has been seeing a mushrooming growth of Japanese-Pan-Asian eateries in posh locales that lack authenticity. So, the challenge to taste something authentic away from the land of the rising sun still continues.

Nestled in one corner, away from the Chinese and Italian fine dining institutions, is Kiku’s. The interior is entirely industrial grey, with two giant murals with a touch of gold and black sprinkled in. The furniture is of solid oak wood.

The eatery has seating for 50 guests in all — a semi-private room capable of entertaining 12 guests at a time adjacent to the main area, a sushi corner and a beige marble teppanyaki counter accommodating eight to 10 diners in one sitting.

When the menu arrived, it seemed as if nothing had been lost in transition. The black booklet had a wide-ranging selection, taking in salads, soups, grills and, of course, sushi and sashimis. From traditional entrées to creative contemporary fusion, an unrivalled choice was on display.

Kiku-no-hana, from which the restaurant’s name is derived, is Japanese for chrysanthemum. The restaurant itself, which is basically a replacement of the Marriott’s old Japanese traditional cuisine restaurant Sakura, has now been transformed into a ferociously contemporary outpost, complete with a robata grill, marble sushi counter and high-gloss monochrome furniture.

Having said that, although the look of the place is bang up-to-date, its culinary approach remains focused on harmony and balance, which is exemplified in the food and drink matching opportunities offered by an array of infused mocktails such as the Angel Retreat, Cherry Blossom and Apple Daiquiri, among others.

There was precision cut classics like nigiri, ethereally flavoured sushi and sashimi, finely crafted yakitori and greaseless tempura, as well as more modern creations like spicy seafood miso soup, octopus tempura, grilled mix kushiyaki and tempura ice-cream to name a few.

The classic dishes were begging to be ordered. The legendary Maki rolls, Ramen and Shrimp Gyoza simply could not be ignored. As our indecisive minds jostled, chef Mario came to our rescue. The chef, sensing our love for the classics, blended the order well with the contemporary. So, when the service started, our tastebuds were in for a treat.

Spicy seafood miso soup was just right for our Pakistani palettes. A well-balanced portion of bok choy, finely sliced spring onions, morsels of salmon, calamari and sizeable prawns floating in the green seafood broth shielded by seaweed leaf indeed enhanced the aroma of the soup. It carried a price tag of Rs1,300 for single serving.

The good old prawn tempura was accompanied by a new partner which Chef Mario insisted we try — the Octopus Tempura. Both tempuras were crispy and fluffy, but the contemporary octopus outscored the classic prawn. The chef used imported tempura powder to deep fry the prawns whereas for octopus marinade was his own creation and it left us wanting more. The octopus tempura can be the all-time winner for seafood aficionados but for others it might be an acquired taste. Having said that, two pieces of prawn tempura were priced at Rs3,500, whereas six octopus tempura meatballs were for Rs4,500.

“My motto is to make luxury out of simplicity and bring bespoke craftsmanship to this art of culinary,” said Chef Mario, who has more than 20 years of experience under his belt.

The mix kushiyaki was our choice from the BBQ section. The robata grill was fired up to welcome raw chunks of beef, chicken, red snapper, thinly sliced onions and capsicum, and a pair of prawns. The preparation is usually simple — the marinated raw meat is cooked on a robata grill for 10 to 15 minutes. Once charcoaled, it is covered with teriyaki sauce and put on to the mini skewers — the presentation was visually arresting and the meat slathered in teriyaki sauce melted on the tongue.

By all counts, the melt-in-your-mouth beef was the showstopper amongst the mix kushiyaki competition and it was the best value for money. Priced at Rs3,100 it was a complete meal amongst other a dazzling array of dishes.

The dessert section looked a bit deserted since there weren’t too many options available. Tempura ice cream priced at Rs1,500 and signature matcha ice cream for Rs1,900 were the best choices.

The matcha ice cream was the usual whereas the tempura ice cream was a unique experience. Fried tempura batter, stuffed with homemade vanilla ice cream cut into slices. The crunch from the tempura and the cold burst of vanilla ice cream taking the centre stage was just divine.

To wash it all down, ocha tea was served in the traditional Japanese style.

Kiku can surely succeed in stripping the mystique out of Japanese gastronomy and serving it up in a befitting environment in Islamabad but judging by the prices, this experience is not for everyone.


Yaseengoawala Feb 22, 2024 11:29am
We are interested in opening Japanese cuisine outlet in high end area of dha. We have background of brand running by the nane of Cocochen/
M. Emad Feb 22, 2024 01:32pm
Kiku -vs- Sasta Roti.
S. Q Feb 22, 2024 02:27pm
Over the past few years, Dawn has seldom done any restaurant reviews for Lahore
Ahsan Feb 22, 2024 02:56pm
Syed Hasni Feb 22, 2024 04:01pm
Priced at Rs3,100 for the whole meal- sounds fishy to me !!!
Khazima Feb 22, 2024 04:11pm
Nice details.
M. Saeed Feb 22, 2024 05:13pm
Nothing beats our own Mughlai dishes.
Taj Ahmad Feb 22, 2024 05:20pm
I loved Japanese foods, always great taste.
AKK Feb 22, 2024 10:14pm
Why does this sound more like a press release, and less like a food review?
NYS Feb 22, 2024 10:27pm
Tempura croc-kery
Sahba Omair Feb 23, 2024 07:27am
Octopus meat !!! no thankyou
daaku Feb 23, 2024 07:43am
And people cry that Pakistan is in debt and a poor country, when you can't eat bread eat sushi