After more than a decade of leading the way and with increasing competition, is Zuma still at the top of its game?

Fun fact: Zuma was the first restaurant I went to when I arrived in Dubai. It was October 2015, and I asked the one contact I had in the city to take me somewhere that really showed what Dubai was about. Zuma was the perfect choice. I still remember the electric atmosphere of stepping through the big wooden door, the buzzing bar, the pumping music, the glamorous crowd.

In the years since, I’ve witnessed first hand restaurants open – and close – in DIFC, all after a slice of the ‘Zuma effect.’ It’s undeniable that Zuma has paved the way for both international exports and homegrown concepts to cement DIFC as the city’s culinary capital. But with more big hitting restaurants setting their sights on the financial district than ever before, I’m curious to see if the Zuma effect is still has the same gravitas.

It certainly looks that way when I arrive on a Sunday night. Despite Zuma Dubai being more than a decade old (the restaurant opened in 2008), there’s a queue of people patiently waiting for their turn to ride the glass elevator two floors up from the valet parking to the restaurant reception.

An army of hostesses equipped with ipads efficiently usher guests to their tables. Those after a more formal dining experience head one floor down to the restaurant, where a sushi counter manned by chefs takes center stage. But we forgo that show for a seat upstairs in the lounge, where plush chairs in shades of ruby and crimson surround low-lying dining tables, that are thankfully still big enough for dining. It’s got a more relaxed feel, and animated chatter quickly fills glass-walled room.

While Zuma’s flight through contemporary Japanese cuisine is one draw, its extensive beverage menu is certainly another. The punchy chili and passionfruit martini (Dhs58) is a staple on Zuma’s heritage cocktail list for a reason, and it’s hard to decide whether we prefer this or the Japanese Paloma (Dhs63), served long around a huge ice cube, it blends tequila with yuzu & hibiscus cordial and a half-rim of Himalayan salt.

The team are quick to recommend dishes based on our likes and dislikes, between friendly conversation that feels unforced and friendly.

From a selection of gyozas, we pick gindara to ebi no gyoza (Dhs82), effectively a prawn and black cod gyoza that gets the ratio of slightly crunchy gyoza wrapper to melt-in-the-mouth middle just right.

A seabass ceviche (Dhs82) – slivers of seabass with yuzu, truffle oil and salmon roe – is tasty, but eclipsed by an eternal Zuma favourite: wagyu no tataki kuro natsu toryufu nose (Dhs205). It’s a flavour-packed, taste sensation that will forever sit at the top of my wish list for my final meal on earth. 

Our next round of dishes includes the divisive tenaga ebi no kataifi age to pirikara tsukedashi (Dhs149). Fresh langoustines are encased in Greek kataifi, to be dunked in a chlli broth, but the kataifi somehow feels out of place with the other flavours. 

For mains we return to more familiar territory, and the ebi no sumibiyaki yuzu kosho fumi (Dhs152) – jumbo prawns straight off the robata grill and lightly seasoned with yuzu pepper – are a perfect pick. We pair it with a side of grilled broccolini (Dhs48). If there’s one main that’s a must try, it’s the faultless, flavourful robata grilled ribeye (Dhs187) cooked to perfection and simply tossed in a homemade wafu dressing and topped with garlic chips.

Can’t decide what to order for dessert? Go like us and splash out on a dessert platter. It’s filled with lighter options like fresh fruits, mochi and sorbet, plus indulgent treats like the green tea and banana cake, passion fruit souffle and Zuma’s beloved gooey chocolate cake. It’s as sweet as it is photo-friendly.

By the time we come to leave on what should be the quietest night of the week, there isn’t a free table in sight.

Zuma Dubai might not have the city’s best views, table theatrics or a roster of record-breaking entertainers, simply because it doesn’t need it. The expert attention to detail in service and a standout menu that has kept guests coming back for more than a decade continue to make this one of the city’s best restaurants.

Zuma Dubai, Gate Village 6, DIFC, Restaurant 12pm to 3.30pm Mon to Fri lunch, 1.30pm to 4pm Sat lunch, 12pm to 4pm Sun lunch, 7pm to 12am Sun to Weds dinner, 7pm to 1am Thurs to Sat dinner, lounge 12pm to 2am daily. Tel: (0)4 425 5660,