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Wednesday 11 October 2017

Zuma - Celebrating 15 Years of Exquisite Japanese Cooking in London

Words and Photography by Greg Klerkx and Luiz Hara

In the jungle of London’s hyper-competitive restaurant market, claims to be the best of the best are as common as threats of a Tube strike. Few enough restaurants can make this claim in the first place with any hope for consensus; those that make the whispered short-list – ‘one of the best in the city’ – rarely stay there, whether done in by hubris, transient talent or just changing times.

It’s all the more remarkable, then, that Knightsbridge stalwart Zuma finds itself celebrating 15 years in business still among that happy few at the top of the pack. Pick your blog or guide; pick your year of review. There you’ll find Zuma, unwavering in its place as the go-to spot for inventively Japanese cuisine.

That’s something worth celebrating and we recently did just that at the invitation of Zuma’s founder Rainer Becker and his team, who’ve put together a 15-year tasting menu – an exclusive collection of the most iconic dishes from the past decade and a half.

Spoiler alert: there was absolutely nothing on this menu that was anything less than delicious. Not a duff note when it came to presentation, creativity or flavour. That makes for a potentially dull review, so we’ll work the thesaurus hard to find creative superlatives to describe what crossed our table.

First, like London buses, came a trio of starters. Suzuki no sashimi (thinly sliced sea bass with yuzu, truffle oil, and salmon roe) was so delicate that it practically levitated off its dish, the nearly translucent sea bass held in gravity’s check by a fine balance of tangy yuzu and earthy truffle oil. The salmon roe added that touch of the sea, and not a little complication to the balance, yet not a flavour was out of place.

The second dish, chu toro no osasshimi kousou fuumi (thinly sliced semi fatty tuna, chilli, coriander and sesame), was something like the sea bass’s cheekier cousin; the flavours turned up a notch, the spark of chilli held in check by aromatic coriander and sesame. It was almost a relief to tuck into the hourensou no goma ae (steamed spinach with sesame sauce), which hit our tastebuds like an earthy palate cleanser.

All three starters paired nicely with the Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve NV, slightly flinty but with a long finish that cradled each of our starters with loving care.

Next arrived a favourite dish of the afternoon, and how could it not be? Wagyu no tataki, kuro toryufu ponzu gake (freshly seared wagyu sirloin tataki with black truffle ponzu) was every bit as unctuous and complex as its long title suggests, the black truffle ponzu – a palate-dazzler all on its own – bringing out the wagyu’s notes of summer grass and, well, pampering. We had the thought that if an Earth-annihilating meteor struck at that very moment, this would be a fine dish to go out on.

As with the starting trio, the wagyu/truffle juggernaut was accompanied by a simpler, more restrained dish, in this case piri kara dofu to abokado salada (fried tofu with avocado and Japanese herbs). The Wieninger ‘Wiener Gemischter Satz 2015, an Austrian speciality a-brim with gorgeous grapefruit and stone fruit yet with sufficient acidity to ensure it wraps nicely around the decadent flavours and textures of the wagyu.

Zuma wisely shifted gears at this point in the menu, offering a selection of nigiri sushi, premium sashimi and ‘chef special’ maki rolls, all made to the high standard of everything that’d come before. This beautifully presented array was paired with Kimura Junmai Ginjo, a clear, crisp sake hailing from one of Japan’s most venerable producers. Taken alone, this combination would have made us happy at most other Japanese restaurants in the city.

Our final three savoury dishes felt like the last burst of fireworks at an epic Guy Fawkes display, where what’s left in the arsenal is lobbed into the sky in one, spectacular go, the intention to dazzle and amuse. Ainame no koumi yaki to kousou (grilled Chilean sea bass with green chilli, ginger dressing) and gyuhire sumbibiyaki karami zuke (spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chilli and sweet soy) seemed like a reprise of our first course, with that much more body, depth and punch. 

The straight man in this lively trio was shitake no ninniku fuumi (shitake mushroom with garlic and soy butter), so deep and flavourful it was practically another meat dish. Castello di Albola Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 made for a snappy, peppery match across all three dishes. It was a marvellous display, and we felt somewhat bereft that it was finished.

Becker surely anticipated such a let down, because the real sky blossom was still to come. Describing our pudding as merely ‘Deluxe Dessert Platter’ is somewhat like calling Big Ben a clock. Our recommendation is to savour the photo here, though you unfortunately won’t be able to savour the mango and raspberry sorbets, the carmelised banana cake, or the variety of tunnel-dark chocolate offerings; ganache and fondant and more. It was a symphony of sweetness in a playful suit, matched with Yume no yado, Yuzu shu, a cheeky, sharp sake reprising the yuzu notes we began with.

It’s hard to know what else to say about Zuma at 15, except perhaps the obvious: here’s to at least 15 more years of inventive, precise, exquisite Japanese cuisine.


  1. Fantastically written. Thank you for coming to play! It was a pleasure having you with us for the afternoon. xx


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