Live cooking stations sit at the fiery core of this brunching outlier…

Some names carry a certain weight of expectation with them. Having your reputation precede you, invites a thief to the banquet of surprise and locks you into a life of unslippable standards. Abu Dhabi’s Zuma fits this profile with aplomb — part of a global network of gushed over gastronomic outlets, you don’t visit expecting mediocre. You visit expecting ‘wow’.

“No ceaseless unrelenting pressure then” we think to ourselves, as we pull the chairs into our window-bridged table. One full side of the restaurant floor is cleaved off by this giant glass wall, inviting sun rays in and lazy gazes of the Al Maryah Island waterfront out.

Much like the cuisine it provides a platform for, the format of the Baikingu Brunch, is a gentle fusion. There’s izakaya energy found in the fare forged on the live robata cooking station, tabletop togarashi edamame, miso soup and sharing sashimi plates; there is the incredible range of assorted buffet starters; the selection of restaurant signature dishes for your situ-served main course; and a dazzling trademark platter for dessert. All, priced from Dhs495.

Our debut expedition into the field of appetisers is cut short prematurely by an almost immediate lack of plate space. In lieu of making difficult choices, we defaulted to ‘a little bit of everything’ and it was absolutely the right decision. Particular glee is found in the nimbus-light puffs of shrimp tempura, fragrantly marinated shabu rolls, thick fillets of duck, assorted juicy nuggets of gyoza and robata-fired cuts of wagyu. A reputation for appetiser excellence, proudly defended, emerges unscathed. There is no doubt that this is exceptional brunching.

By this stage, main courses feel like deliberately spritzing perfume on the lily, a poetically-motivated sentiment, a logical continuation — sure — but perhaps a little unnecessary. Still portions of miso marinated black cod, jumbo tiger prawns, and grilled Australian wagyu ribeye with truffle mayo roll up to our table, alongside an iced carafe of sake.

“Oh what fools we were, back five or six minutes ago” we lament, tucking into the principle plates “fools to even consider skipping this part of the meal”. Regardless of our relative level of satedness, the mains are an absolutely essential part of the experience. They are spotlit solos for the festival that is Baikingu Brunch, turned out by a kitchen full of rockstars, with mastery over their individual metier.

The cod is raucous chorus of fencing umamis; the sear, char and provenance of the Aussie wagyu rib-eye — are amongst the finest examples of this craft in the city, and have us calling for an encore; and the jumbo prawn dish is a firestorm of competing flavour plateaus, that have us singing back to the chef.

It all ends with the sweet refrain of the Zuma dessert platter. Refreshing fruit, mounds of mochi, fondant cakes and soothing ice cream. Though with authored sighs of “we cannot eat another bite” — another bite becomes another, and another.

Verdict: Zuma’s Baikingu Brunch is practically faultless. We’re not sure there are any better brunches in Abu Dhabi. It scores highly on quality, on variety, on consistency, range and every other culinary credential you’d care to consider. It’s purist brunching, a must for gourmands — a brunch where the food is the only entertainment required.

The Galleria Al Maryah Island, Sat 12.30pm to 4pm, soft Dhs495, house including prosecco Dhs595, champagne Dhs695, kids four to 12, Dhs195. Tel: (02) 401 5900, @zumaabudhabi

Images: Provided