Zuma has established itself as one of the most successful restaurants in London since opening in 2002. A quiet lunch may see 150 – 200 covers, while in the evening the large dining room and bar are jam-packed with customers, whether early or late. The wine list was extensive and had some excellent growers, with mark-ups that are not as high as one might guess: Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2009 was at £45 for a wine that you can pick up in the shops for around £14, Vina von Siebenthal Montelig 2005 from Chile at £80 for a wine that you can buy in the shops for £31 and Morgan Double L Pinot Noir 2007 at £105 for a wine that costs £30 to buy retail, though for those with the means and desire to splash out there are rarefied wines such as 1982 Latour at £3,750 for a wine that you can buy retail for around £1,575.
At a recent lunch I had a salad of seared tuna (£12.60), chill, daikon and ponzu sauce: the tuna (yellow-fin tuna from Spain on this occasion; Zuma have several fish suppliers) was lightly seared but the secret here was the very careful balance of the sauce: there was just enough acidity from the ponzu, just the right level of chill bite and enough earthy flavour of the radish to balance the richness of the tuna; this also showed a much more careful touch than a version I had tried on a previous visit (6/10).
Sushi of both eel (£7.80 for two pieces) and nigiri tuna (£8.20) had rice at the correct temperature, and nicely prepared eel (5/10). A salmon (£8.30) with lime shiso soy also showed the same care in flavour balance (5/10). Crispy squid (£7.80) featured non-chewy squid in a light batter, and enough chilli and lime to enliven the dish (5/10). It impresses me that the dishes here are so consistent, despite the scale of the restaurant. Zuma is becoming a global brand now, with Rainer Becker opening branches in Miami, Dubai, Istanbul and Hong Kong, with a Bangkok branch planned for later in 2011.
Below are notes from a meal in June 2009.
Even early on a Tuesday evening Zuma is humming with activity, with every table taken, every seat at the bar occupied and a throng of suspiciously good-looking people having a drink; it is almost as if you have strayed into an episode of “The OC", where all the girls are blond and all the men clearly work out at the gym every day. In a place as trendy as this, one might suspect the food will be a let-down, but it is not. Indeed if anything the food to me seems to be improving slightly with each visit.
Tonight we had “dynamite spider roll” (£10.80), essentially a soft shell crab sushi roll with a roll of cucumber, chilli mayonnaise and wasabi tobiko sauce. The soft shell crab was very nicely cooked, avoiding the greasiness that can sometimes happen, while the room temperature rice had excellent texture (6/10). Spicy tuna roll (£7.30) was a little less good, made with chilli miso and yuzo tobiko which for me rather dominated the tuna (4/10). Prawn tempura (£11.80) had a light batter and tender prawns (5/10). Grilled red piquant red miso quail (£13.80) was served on skewers and featured tender quail with lively spicing (6/10). A salad of seared tuna with chilli daikon and ponzu sauce (£11.30) for me was a little over acidic (3/10).
Salmon (£13.80) was served as a large, very carefully cooked fillet with teriyaki sauce and sliced pickled cucumber (5/10). Asparagus with wafu sauce (a mix of soy, sesame oil and garlic with a little mustard) and sesame was an example to others in how to cook asparagus perfectly (6/10). Pork skewer with yuzu mustard miso (£5.30) was the star of the evening, perfectly cooked pork belly with a beautifully judged dipping sauce with controlled mustard taste and a little acidity from the yuzu to balance the fattiness of the pork; I would have been very happy to have eaten this in a really top restaurant (7/10). We made it to dessert for a change, where I had superb lemon beignets (7/10) which were not quite as good as the near-perfect ones they used to do at the Square, but were again better than ones I have had at many a serious restaurant. Service was pretty much faultless, the waiter friendly and helpful, topping up good, and no trouble getting attention. No wonder the place was packed.
Here are notes from a meal in June 2007.
A particularly fine meal this evening. The wine list was surprisingly extensive and features several excellent growers such as Ata Rangi and Mas de Daumas Gassac; mark-ups are not generous, though. We began with mackerel rolls, excellent sushi with good rice and tasty mackerel filling (5/10). Tuna was seared and served with slivers of fried garlic and salad (5/10). Dynamite spider crab roll featured three excellent sushi crab rolls and two that had fine shell crab, cooked through properly (6/10). Prawn tempura was also good, with delicate batter and lovely prawns (5/10).
Particularly enjoyable were langoustines marinated with chilli, ginger and lime, then roasted (6/10). Asparagus was excellent, half a dozen spears of tender asparagus with sesame and wafu (5/10). Relatively speaking, the sea bass with burnt tomato and ginger relish was the least good dish, though it was correctly cooked; it was just a little bland (4/10). Salmon teriyaki had very tender salmon with classic teriyaki sauce (6/10), and rice was fine. Finally a chocolate fondant was also capable (4/10), and service was very efficient. The salmon was £13.80, tempura £8.80, langoustines £15.80. Ingredients are high quality and the technical execution of the kitchen is unusually capable.
For comparison, below are notes from August 2006.
Very trendily decorated, open interior looking into the large kitchen. The style is quite Nobu-like, with food a mix of approachable Japanese and fusion dishes, and the target audience very much the smart 30 something set. There is a large bar area, full of glamorous women and their escorts on this evening. Tables have no tablecloths. We started with seared tuna wrapped into rolls, served in a bowl with a soy sauce, a few spring onions and crisp shreds of fried garlic (5/10). My wife’s tofu was unusually good also (4/10). A main course tiger prawn was served in its shell but carefully removed and reassembled – the prawn was very tender (5/10). Similarly sea bass cooked with salt and then seared was fresh and well timed, served with a chilli salsa (4/10). Vegetable tempura was very lightly handled, the vegetables (carrots, okra, artichoke) fresh and crunchy (4/10).
Desserts were also classy – a hot chocolate fondant had a passion fruit centre, served with a tropical sorbet that had melted just a little (4/10). The only thing that was a little disconcerting was the remarkable hustle of the service. We arrived just after 19:30 and had eaten our starter and main course by 20:10. This makes the legendarily rapid Mandarin Kitchen service seem positively laid back. There is a wine list with some respectable growers, but markups were quite high, so best stick to beer or sake.
A more recent meal began with a starter of tuna sashimi that was of very high quality, served just with a few leaves and some soy sauce (5/10). A mackerel roll was also excellent, simple but having clean taste and good texture (5/10). Best of all was beef, very thin slices cooked rare with a chilli and citrus sauce; the meat was of high quality and the tastes worked very well indeed (7/10). Teriyaki salmon again featured good salmon cooked so that it was extremely tender, served with a teriyaki sauce that was perhaps less intense than the one at Roka. Soft shell crab roll had deep-fried soft shell crab wrapped in a rice roll (5/10). Jumbo prawn was served in its shell, but the meat had been carefully removed and then put back to avoid any need to fiddle around (5/10). Mixed tempura was pleasant (4/10). The ingredient quality was very high and there were no technical errors at all – a fine meal.