Restaurant review: Zuma at The Galleria in Abu Dhabi

When you’ve set the bar so high, as Zuma Dubai has done, expectations are skyscrapingly lofty, especially with a direct comparison 150 kilometres down the highway.
The dining room at Zuma in The Galleria, Abu Dhabi. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National
The dining room at Zuma in The Galleria, Abu Dhabi. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National

These are heady times for Zuma, the brainchild of the chef Rainer Becker. Its Dubai incarnation was recently voted the 77th best restaurant in the world, up 10 places from 2013. And its latest creation in Abu Dhabi is the next step in the expansion of what’s rapidly becoming a global benchmark for Japanese dining, covering seven cities and three continents.

Nobody could accuse its march into our capital of lacking gravitas, either. The cuboid above-ground entrance, just outside the main Galleria building, has all the hallmarks of an exclusive experience, with an illuminated staircase leading downstairs to the dimmer main dining and lounge areas. There’s a slightly rawer, more natural feel to the magnificent interior than in Dubai, thanks to lashings of exposed stone.

At our window table for two, the views across Al Maryah Island outstrip the DIFC equivalent. With a resident DJ fuelling a vibrant atmosphere and tables full of fashionable patrons, Zuma can’t help but convince that it is the new place to be (and be seen) in Abu Dhabi.

Naturally, when you’ve set the bar so high, as Zuma Dubai has done, expectations are skyscrapingly lofty, especially with a direct comparison 150 kilometres down the motorway.

We dived into the traditional-course-eschewing “izakaya” Japanese dining ethos of sharing that epitomises Zuma and selected a classic, two personal favourites and an out-of-left-field option. The pirikara edamame (stir-fried soybeans with chilli, garlic and ginger) made the perfect spiciness-dusted opener; while the satumaimo no sumibi yaki (sweet potato, sesame and teriyaki sauce) and the unagi bo zushi (grilled freshwater eel with avocado sweet omelette and gobo) maki rolls provided a nice vegetarian-versus-carnivore contrast. Our experimental whims weren’t as well rewarded: sure, the uni (sea urchin) sushi is a delicacy and likely pricey even at a fish market – but Dh175 was hard to stomach for two tiny pieces of slimy, leaf-clad orange morsels.

A pair of Zuma’s signature dishes acted as our “main”. The gindara no saikyo miso yaki (miso-marinated black cod) revelled in exquisite presentation, arriving wrapped in a hoba leaf, though, to our tastes, the cod itself was moist to the point where it could have benefited from just a few more seconds of heat. The lobster no oven yaki (roasted Boston lobster with shiso-ponzu butter), however, was perfect, plentiful and similarly beautifully dispensed.

Dessert continued the visual feast, albeit with varying effects on the taste buds. The almond and yogurt cake, with strawberry-jasmine ice cream, had the warm, comforting effect of a mother’s pudding transposed into avant-garde fine-dining; the caramelised white chocolate saikoro, with cocoa crumble, looked incredible, yet lacked chocolatey character on the tongue.

One area where quibbles don’t even begin to form was the service. It’s precisely what you’d expect from such a trendsetting restaurant, in that the staff are, by and large, hipper than the diners they’re serving.

When Hakkasan, arguably Zuma’s closest competition in Abu Dhabi, added Dubai’s Emirates Towers to its flagship at Emirates Palace, the general consensus was that the magic wasn’t quite replicated. There’s a case for arguing that a similar fate has befallen Zuma. When you’re paying this level of high-end cash, you want to be talking about the food for days, if not weeks, afterwards. And while there’s no disputing it is very good here, it needs to sing, rather than simply satisfy. All of which makes us ponder whether the extra X-factor of culinary flair of its Dubai cousin has been just slightly mislaid somewhere along the E11; an A grade from an A-star pupil.

• A meal for two at Zuma, The Galleria, Abu Dhabi, costs Dh980. For more information, call 02 401 5900. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito

aworkman@thenational.ae

Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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