Sure the name makes it sounds like the latest Latin dance craze or some high-tech video game, but make no mistake, Zuma, the new downtown Japanese restaurant in the Epic Hotel, is no passing fad. What makes this sexy London eatery different than any other hot foreign import is the consistently excellent quality of ingredients. That, and the fact that nearly every staffer from the valet parker to GM has been thoroughly trained. Imagine that. Snazzily dressed like Caribbean swells, the valet runners bring bottled water to drivers waiting for their cars. Smiling hostesses are quick to escort guests to a table — and remember their names. Waiters know the menu from the hand-grated wasabi down to the last rock chive sprout.
Owner Rainer Becker is not messing around. Since opening his modern take on the traditional casual Izakaya concept in London in 2002, he has successfully replicated it in Dubai, Hong Kong and Istanbul. Traditionally, Izakaya describes a sort of Japanese pub where working class guys go for tapas-like dishes served with drinks. Here, the concept is most definitely upscaled, perhaps a bit too much since dinner and a few drinks can easily top $300 a couple.
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On a recent visit with half a dozen friends, we tried nearly half the menu. The pacing of the dishes, the quantity and quality were like the perfect first date. With three kitchens (main, robata grill and sushi) firing on all cylinders, the food showed up in a steady stream with just enough of a pause to catch our breath in between. And, though it seemed like we were eating and eating, we never felt uncomfortably full. Of course when any handsome foreigner sidles up on our shores with such smooth moves, I get a bit nervous. It might not last. It happens all the time. For now, however, for those who can, enjoy this very high-priced Japanese fare in an elegant setting. For everyone else, Sugar Cane just a few miles away does a fine job with less at about half the price.
Ambience: The space is gorgeous, with soaring ceilings and fluttering paper lanterns that look as though they might have been handcrafted in a Florentine workshop. Like the London original, where I dined last summer, the effect of the natural stone and wood elements is spa-like, albeit a loud, hip spa.
- Exquisite, light and perky doll-sized bits of lime and chili calamari
- Crisp, hot, sweet and snappy rock shrimp and grouper with the sheerest veil of batter
- Salty, buttery, tangy king crab seared and replaced in its flame red shell
- Flaky, rich and golden hunk of oily black cod marinated in miso and served in the scorched hoba leaf it was cooked in (pictured)
- Subtle prawn and black cod dumplings in light pasta
- Intensely sweet eggplant with funky aka dashi miso
- Pristine yellowtail with a pencil eraser-size daub of green chili relish
- Seabass with yozu and truffle oil and salmon roe
- Seared scallops in pickled plum sauce
- Warm and sticky, homey brown rice and mushrooms hot pot
- Chawan mushi – custard layered with ripe mango, passion fruit and papaya and served in a little pot
- A pricey international wine list with lots of excellent and limited edition bottles that complements the food nicely