Whilst I always wanted to go to university, I never wanted to lead a student lifestyle. Share houses, greasy takeout and happy hour at an already suspiciously cheap pub? No thank you.
So while everyone else was out living their “best years” – which, quite frankly, sounded like my worst nightmare – I sought to find a job that would pay the bills throughout three years of full-time study and also keep me from reaching for those instant noodles…which I subsequently did towards the end of each pay cycle anyway.
Prior to attending lectures at the campus nearby, I found myself spending [a little too much time] perched up against the bar at one of Crown Street’s perennial favourites. Inevitably, I became quite friendly with some of the staff and eventually they offered me a job, probably tiring of the fact I was there enough to warrant being on shift.
And so it began. I shacked up in a one bedroom apartment in Surry Hills and soon found myself on the floor of one of Sydney’s premier Japanese dining establishments. I fell in love with the industry, fell in love with the family I had come to work with and fell more in love with food. Suddenly, my studies were playing second fiddle to my far more interesting forays into good food, good alcohol and good people.
Strangely enough, it was during this period that I learnt a great deal about another Japanese dining establishment by the name of Zuma. I guess it wasn’t so strange, considering our Sydney premise was teeming with alumni that hailed direct. Truth be told, the very concept was a replicated version of Zuma itself.
It wasn’t until the following year when I returned to Hong Kong for a visit that I finally got to experience Zuma for myself. Having heard so much about its greatness, I was relieved to find it lived up to my every expectation. New and exciting, it was also assuringly familiar in many ways, drawing direct comparison from my restaurant back home – only on a far grander scale. Everything old was new again.
Years on, I find myself living and working in London – a city which has a Zuma to call its very own. In fact, with rooting in Miami, Dubai, New York and beyond, this is the city where it all began. And more than that…I now work for the company. Gone are the days (/my ability) to work the floor and I now find myself holed up in HQ. Exciting nonetheless.
My most recent visit to Zuma was with a couple of good friends a few weeks back…what. a. meal.
The dining room does not carry the same dramatic effect afforded by the sweeping staircase that dominates the Hong Kong outpost, but it is elegant and follows the same distinguished layout found within each Zuma restaurant across the globe: sushi counter, robata grill and open kitchen.
We were seated at the sushi counter, which is arguably my favourite place to sit in the entire restaurant given you are granted dinner and a show. The concept is contemporary Japanese izakaya and the menu is designed for sharing. We nibbled on a serving of steamed edamame whilst we perused the menu and with the help of our friendly and engaging waiter we selected a number of dishes from the various sections.
We started with some small plates from the cold component of the menu. First was the predictably delicious semi-fatty tuna with chilli, coriander and sesame.
Followed by thinly sliced sea bass with yuzu, truffle oil and perfectly formed, undeniably fresh bubbles of salmon roe.
Crispy fried squid with green chilli and lime was next. Fairly standard, but crispy and moreish all the same.
…and then THIS. An amazing Chef’s selection of sashimi and expertly seasoned nigiri – coupled with wagyu beef tartare with black truffle, which proved to be my favourite bite out of the whole meal.
Fresh wasabi is my favourite condiment in the universe. Compared to the lurid green imitation wasabi you get at the supermarket, it has a softer, more rounded heat and an almost floral quality. I more or less squealed for joy when the root was brought to the table and grated on its shark skin plane in front of us.
Based on the preceding act, the fried langoustines seemingly fell short. Served with a sour dashi dipping sauce on the side, our little crustacean friends were cooked to a perfect level of doneness, with the kataifi providing a light and shatteringly crispy shell.
At this point we knew we had ordered too much – but ever the lover of mushrooms, I still enjoyed these king oysters with sansho pepper.
Last to the table (thankfully) was the Irish Angus tenderloin with fresh wasabi and yuzu cress. It was good, but not excellent. Next time I will go all in for one of the cuts of wagyu!
I was spoiled with a dessert platter that absolutely blew me away. It was so pretty I almost didn’t want to ruin it by eating it. Despite being beyond full, we made light work of all the piled high sweet treats. There were exotic fruits, as well as a selection of ice creams and sorbets (coconut, vanilla, roasted green tea, guava)…and then there was chocolate fondant and a green tea and banana cake with peanut toffee sauce. However, the unanimous favourite was the coconut and mango chawanmushi. So good.
I will happily be the first person to admit I am biased as hell when it comes to Zuma. It doesn’t take a genius to point that one out. But at the end of the day, I love it. I have always loved it and it has always held interest with me. Bias or not, I think it is a fantastic place that serves up some really great Japanese food in wonderful surrounds, and – as with the little spot in Sydney where I began my journey – a place that will always remain very special to me.
5 Raphael Street
London, SW7 1DL
+44 20 7584 1010