With the “Zuma effect” taking the culinary world by storm, FACT ventures back to where it all started to see how Zuma’s London flagship compares to Dubai’s DIFC dining experience.
Rainer Becker’s Japanese juggernaut Zuma is a restaurant with a reputation. Heralded as one of the best in the business when it comes to modern izakaya-style dining, Zuma has more than stood the test of time. The flagship London location opened more than twenty years ago, with Dubai following suit a decade later. Now, as the brand expands across the globe to exotic locales such as Maldives, Madrid, Mykonos and Porto Cervo, we pay a visit to where it all started.
Premium real estate
Having been a semi-regular at Zuma Dubai during my time in the UAE, I’ve had the pleasure of more than my fair share of boujee business lunches at decadent dinners at one of Dubai’s most in-demand dining destinations.
While the Dubai location is certainly upmarket due to being situated in the Financial Centre (it was in fact, the first restaurant to open in DIFC), Zuma London is all about glitz and glam. Tucked away on Raphael Street, a stone’s throw from luxury department store Harrods, Zuma boasts an enviable location in one of the UK capital’s most esteemed neighbourhoods: Knightsbridge.
Style and service
A discreet arrival experience is to be expected at both locations. While Dubai segues into the upstairs bar and lounge before descending into the dining room, in London, you’re immediately thrown into the thick of the action.
Familiarity can be found across both restaurant spaces. Textured wood meets plush upholstery in passionate red hues, whilst latticed panelling provides pockets of privacy. But, realistically, you don’t come to Zuma for a quiet night out because the atmosphere is all about convivial celebrations.
Seated in the heart of the restaurant, close to the sushi counter, the culinary team led by head chef Stefano Cilia work tirelessly on plate after plate of sashimi, sushi and more. We’re in awe of the kinesis of the operation, where slick service and captivating cuisine are mastered on a grand scale across a jam-packed dining room.
Melding flavour and tradition
Zuma’s menu is pretty similar in the UAE and the UK, delivering authentic flavours from the east while respecting the traditions of the past. We certainly have our favourites, such as the chutoro tarutaru kyabia zoe of fatty tuna belly adorned with Oscietra caviar and slathered across a buttery miso bun that should never be missed. However, on this occasion, we opt for the Premium Tasting Menu (£178 per head), which delivers a steady stream of signatures to ensure a memorable meal.
Beginning with a firm FACT favourite, we remain enamoured by the flavour-packed wagyu no tataki kuro natsu toryufu, where thin slices of wagyu beef tataki are submerged in an aromatic truffle ponzu sauce. The hamachi usuzukuri pirikara, ninniku gake is another Zuma classic, plating delicate slithers of yellowtail with pickled garlic, a seductive drizzle of ponzu and fiery green chilli relish.
As the sharing plates piled up on our table, we were unable to pick a favourite from the selection that included crispy fried squid, a tartare of tuna with crispy rice crackers, and a selection of expertly sliced sashimi presented upon a towering ice sculpture (and that’s just the impressive starters). For the main course, we’re delighted with the spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chilli and sweet soy and the melt-in-your-mouth miso marinated black cod wrapped in hoba leaf. Both dishes excel in terms of flavour and preparation, guaranteeing that all-important Zumaconsistency that has us returning time and again for this memorable duo of dishes.
To finish, Zuma’s Insta-worthy take on a chocolate fondant is ceremoniously presented to the table amidst ice cream and exotic fruits. Decorated with the instantly recognisable Zuma logo in a golden font, this decadent dessert reveals an oozing caramel and praline interior when a spoon is sunken inside.
Consistency is key
Zuma has built its reputation upon cohesion, proficient service and accomplished cuisine. In the UAE, this modern Japanese izakaya proudly holds the most accolades in the history of the FACT Dining Awards (16 FACT awards and counting) due to the sheer consistency of the dining experience.
Dining at any of Zuma’s 20 global locations, you’ll be guaranteed the same fastidious food and smart service from a knowledgeable and charismatic front-of-house team. And whilst we much prefer the vibe of Dubai’s DIFC over Zuma’s London locale, both restaurants impress with their take on Japanese cuisine that is authentic but not traditional.
Vibes don’t lie.
GO: Visit https://zumarestaurant.com for reservations and more information.