Maki, in Sodeco, has not gone unnoticed during the past couple of years, when Japanese cuisine has inevitably become part of the Lebanese culture as more and more Japanese restaurants open. But just a few places have differentiated themselves with their style of cuisine, price and service. Maki is one of those few places which stand out. It's actually the only "fusion" Japanese restaurant in Lebanon, solely serving a variety of unique pieces.
Gathering a bunch of my friends, we decided to pay Maki a visit and experience the new items created by the group's executive head chef, Louis Kenji Huang during his visit to Beirut.
- You are welcomed with a large wooden facade that leads into MAKI's sign before even entering the place
- Greyish concrete and industrial ambiance which better fits a nightclub than a restaurant
- Concrete floor, concrete ceiling, concrete walls... Concrete is everywhere
- Square mirrors cover the main wall making the rectangular space look bigger
- A well lit bar at the end of the restaurant, with its five chairs welcomes walk-in clients
- Six beautiful modern chandeliers made of white twisted elastics are signature design pieces
- Black wooden tables
- Leather beige chairs
- Long sofas follow the glass facade
- Soothing and relaxing space with its high ceiling
The menu sections:
- Traditional Maki
- Special Salad
- Special Sashimi
- Special Sushi
- Special Mame Maki
- Special Nori Maki
- Special Ume Maki
- Gourmet Maki
- Fusion Temaki
- Specialities And Tepeniaki
- Special Yaki Udon
- Executive Lunch
- Alcoholic cocktails, Beer, House sake, Shooters, Digestives, Hot Drinks, Wines
- Edamame (green soya beans with sea salt flakes)
- Shrimp Ceviche (Baby shrimps, hot sauce, coriander, potato cubes, onions, black pepper, avocado, nuts and tobiko)
- Shrimp Fries and Vega Spring Rolls presented in a long white plate fitted with two square baskets, one black and another wooden one
- Crispy Shiromi (crispy white fish)
- Robata Chicken bites with quinoa salad on a shizo leaf
- Amer Maki, Sandy Maki, Osi Akami Maki, Fido Maki, Manayel Maki, Chili Crazy Maki, Maki Maki
- Seafood Fried Quinoa
- Salmon Sashimi
On their website you can read about the food:
"Maki'?s cuisine transcends the boundaries of culture and country. Maki embodies what fusion cuisine is all about. French, Italian, American, and Mediterranean, are examples of some of the various cuisines that Maki infuses with Japanese ingredients and cooking methods. The products of this fusion are wonderful, scrumptious, and healthy dishes offered to our guests. By no means is Maki a traditional Japanese restaurant, and for certain you will have a culinary adventure unmatched by another. You will taste the spicy, the tangy, the extravagant, and the exotic all in one bite, and only at Maki. Hence, fine, contemporary, fusion Japanese cuisine. Fine are the service, the elegant setting, and the ambience, while contemporary are the recipes that only Maki chefs dare to create. Come in, be at home, be entertained, and enjoy Maki!"
In my opinion, the information above describes food that is way too complicated!
Our dinner tonight:
- Started with an individual portion of wasabi and white ginger served on a ceramic plate
- The shrimp ceviche is a mix of Latin America and Japanese cuisine. A plate I liked for its extravagant idea and simplicity at the same time
- Shrimp fries contained cheese. I didn't feel the cheese hadn't the waiter mentioned it. They are simple spring rolls filled with shrimps with the tales left on one side
- Vega spring rolls is a condensed roll of bread and some cheese, covered with wasabi spices. Its too chewy and way too spicy for a cheese roll. Its a revisited version of our Lebanese cheese rolls with a fusion touch
- Crispy Shiromi is non oily, tasty and special, served with a cocktail sauce mixed with sweet chili sauce, Tabasco sauce and maki special sauce. What's bizarre in all these new plates is that onions, coriander and spices are found everywhere.
- The Robata -Japanese grill- chicken is tender and tasty, served with hot quinoa, gluten free, high in vitamins and fibers.
- The seafood fried hot quinoa are served with olive oil. A new kind of taste. Bizarre at first
- The Maki rolls are way too complicated for my taste: Too many ingredients, too much olive oil, too many spices, lot's of sauce... Wow! Please reconsider some simplicity!
- The Salmon Sashimi is just perfect: Generous, non oily and very tasty
- Coconut Surprise: (coconut parfait ball and desiccated coconut, passion fruit sauce center, pineapple, kiwi, strawberry relish, caramel orange, sliced strawberries, spring of mint and raspberry sauce). A tasty and unique dessert that comes with a funny cutting ritual, where the inner fruit sauce flows around the plate as soon as you cut it. It is not an ice-cream ball, but a homemade secret coconut creation. Eat it while it's cold before it turns into a spongy elastic substance
- Chocolate Lava Cake: (chocolate lava cake, banana caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream). Its the simple fondant known to be available in all restaurants, except this one has a mix of dark and white chocolate inside. It's overcooked and too sweet
The over all experience is way too complicated. Fusion is nice, contemporary is even better, but everything has limits. When you add that many complicated ingredients to food, the preparations tend to taste all the same. I left Maki feeling heavy and my lips burning from the hot and spicy ingredients. I salute your creations and the use of fresh premium ingredients, but please reconsider the alien sophistication.
Having a chat with the managing partner, he tells me about the concept, the Kuwaiti original branches and the special menu they propose. I wanted to know more about the idea behind the concept and why mainly all items include sauces and mayonnaise in them. He explains that Maki is a fusion Japanese restaurant and it's not like any other Japanese restaurant in Lebanon. They are not competing with anyone and they are not serving anything others propose. Arabic names plates are named after loyal customers in Kuwait who proposed these pieces.
- Aqua Panna and St Pellegrino water are available and not the plastic cheap bottles
- The iPad menu includes beautiful and mouthwatering pictures
- They do not used the cheap plastic grass separators others flood their plates with. Thank you!
- The water glasses are thin and of premium quality, pleasant to drink in
- A small plate is placed on the left - like bread plates - with the soy sauce bowl inside
- Table napkins make of your dinner a luxury one
- Bamboo coasters add a touch of finesse
- White printed napkins
- Jazz music plays gently in the background
- The decoration is too dull, too greyish, more of a nightclub ambiance
- I didn't like the iPad menu, it should be coupled with a printed one or transformed into an application where you can browse the items by price, name, alphabetical order, size, ingredients... The photo gallery menu, as proposed, is really an awful idea. Imagine how much time it needs to browse more than 290 pictures one by one. Unacceptable!
- The menu is very complicated. I didn't find a single normal order, a simple sashimi with no sauce and no mayonnaise. Please, between your 29 sections, add some pieces for people looking for simpler dishes
- Take a break from using olive oil. It's available everywhere and in big quantities. It adds an unpleasant slippery feel to the rolls
- Almost all dishes and maki pieces are spicy. Not everyone's crave. Go slow on the seasoning
To tell you the truth, I like this place, especially its creativity and the initiative for wanting to be different. Nothing in here looks, tastes or feels like the competition, if there is any... but to survive Lebanon's picky clients and their judgments, way too many things need to be reconsidered.
I would change and improve:
- Remove the metallic structure that block the customers view to the outside
- Add some colors and lights to the place. It's too dull and too dark
- Although we're in 2013, paper menus cannot be replaced. They are a must
- Stop using the iPad's photo gallery. An application has to be created as soon as possible
- Create a light section and another for simple non sophisticated items
- Go slow on the sauces and seasoning. You finish dinner feeling heavy and bad
I'll be back in a month or so to check on any developments made, meanwhile I would be happy to hear what your opinion is about Maki.