We visit the original contemporary Japanese restaurant as it celebrates its 15th birthday
Our trip to Zuma falls on a summer evening so hot that the asphalt on the Brompton Road is starting to melt and the air behind each double-decker shimmers with a hazy halo. It’s a day for rhubarb and fennel cocktails, slivers of sashimi on beds of ice and shavings of wagyu sirloin on chilled plates. The darling of Knightsbridge welcomes us into her cool embrace with open arms.
Founded in 2002 by Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney, Zuma offers a sophisticated twist on a Japanese style of restaurant called
izakaya. Traditionally informal, they can be anything from pubs to dining halls, with the common thread that they must serve both small plates and drinks. Zuma takes this one step further with a sushi counter, destination sake bar and robata grill, all moodily lit and clad in sleek natural materials. The brand is now as international as its clients, with a further ten branches across as many countries.
While the prices at Zuma may not be in keeping with the average izakaya (the tasting menu will set you back £76), the sense of community is. Izakayas are defined by their regulars and Zuma has just that vibe. Granted the regulars may be a little more glamorous (Miu Miu, Chanel and Bulgari sunglasses abound) but there is the same welcome by name from the waiting staff, the discreet position at the usual table and the murmured ‘no problem, sir’ when a favourite dish is requested that isn’t on the menu that night. In this case, it’s the sliced chu-toro (fatty tuna) with red chilli, coriander and garlic, seasoned with a zingy ponzu dressing. It’s a fabulously fresh mouthful with a pleasing, meaty texture.
Nobody could accuse Zuma of trading off its postcode. Every dish is a study in authentic flavours and artistic presentation. Pearly sea bass daubed in a delicious combination of truffle oil and yuzu is accompanied by a pile of peachy salmon roe perched on a shiso leaf. A charred hoba leaf reveals black cod marinated in a syrupy miso glaze. Lime-green wasabi root is grated against ‘shark skin’ (textured plastic) at our table. ‘We can get the real stuff in Japan,’ our waiter says wistfully. The whole thing is as extravagant as it is fabulous, yet excellent food remains at the core. Here’s to another 15 years. IL. 020 7584 1010, zumarestaurant.com