Restaurant review: Zuma Abu Dhabi
A restaurant with a big reputation…
Ah Manhattan — famed global epicentre of commerce, fashion, Bradshawism and culinary excellence. It is a true crucible of cosmopolitan class, and if it has a counterpart in our own fair Abu Dhabi, surely that place is Al Maryah Island.
Here, in the shadow of towering glass and steel shards, located a short waterfront stroll from each other, you’ll find a collection of the city’s most covetous fine-dining restaurants. And we’re checking in for a reservation at one of its most famous names, Zuma.
It’s been delighting diners since 2014, so we realise we’re not uncovering a potential hidden gem here — but as trusted custodians of the best things to do in the city we are duty-bound to periodically hype-check Abu Dhabi’s top restaurants. And to see whether reality, still matches up to Instagram.
You can’t enter the venue on the restaurant floor, you’ll need to head to level three and make your way down, which already gives this modern Japanese establishment the privileged air of an elite member’s club. The interiors too feel like they’d lend themselves well to low evening light, but even now, in the lunchtime glow, the dark timber, leather and stone still manage to charm.
Our mission today is to sample as much of the menu as possible, so please forgive us of our order — which amounts to an embarrassing quantity of food. “It’s a sharing concept,” we tell ourselves, with shallow intent of sharing anything at all.
The first round of dishes arrives — miso shiru (a tofu soup Dhs26), hamachi usuzukuri pirikara (sliced yellowtail with ponzu, green chilli and pickled garlic Dhs84) and suzuki no osashimi (sliced seabass with uzu, truffle and salmon roe, Dhs82).
Japanese cuisine is often saddled with labels like subtle or delicate, and whilst this miso soup in front of us is both those things, the crudo fish dishes are anything but. They scream onto the palate with electric audacity, razor-sharp citrus, fragrant-earth truffle and balloon-pops of deeply-fishy flavour from the roe.
A meaty-crab salad arrives next, with crunchy greens and avocado — impossible to describe without prefixing the adjective of ‘fresh’. It’s joined by wagyu beef tataki with shaved truffle and ponzu (Dhs258) – a signature starter, and one as rarely well-executed as it is here. It’s simple food, but the effort expended in ingredient procurement and presentation reaps just acclaim.
The impossibly light tempura rock shrimp (Dhs99) is served with a lime and chilli dip and it might just be the best we’ve ever tried. And as a piece of half-time theatre, our waiter arrives to grind Japanese horseradish at the table for the wasabi accompaniment to our course of nigiri. We’ve taken fatty tuna, uni and caviar (Dhs126); and salmon aburi, mentaiko sauce and lemon (Dhs96).
Here where Zuma stands with one, or perhaps two, other restaurants in Abu Dhabi. These plates of food are straight from the kuidaore fever dreams of Osaka — almost faultless. Although if you were to press us, we’d say the quick-fire-charring of the fish leaves it with a faint wisp of artificiality.
The signature mains, yes there are main dishes arriving now, of miso marinated black cod (Dhs196) and grade 7 wagyu tenderloin (Dhs410) land on the table with sides of oyster mushrooms with butter and garlic, and Japanese sweetcorn with shiso butter (Dhs59).
Despite starting to feel like a fatty tuna nigiri ourselves, there’s a rattled flurry of chopsticks picking through what must be our final frontier. For anyone with a fond appreciation of the elixiric compound of sweet and savoury, Zuma’s miso cod should feature in your death row dining bucket list. You’ll struggle to find such honey-toned harmony elsewhere. The tenderloin is executive class, and the sear brushes against perfect. The supporting cast of oaky, garlic perfumed mushrooms and deeply buttery, satisfyingly plump corn-on-a-stick, feel like they would be stars in any other show. But this is Zuma.
Verdict: Zuma passes the hype-check with flying colours, and whilst it might not be within the average casual date night price range, there’s a very good reason it tops the list of picks for those special occasions.
The Galleria Al Maryah Island, midday to 3.30pm and 7pm to midnight. Tel: (02) 401 5900, @zumaabudhabi