Back to Life at Zuma Dubai

I’d felt perfectly fine in the dark cool spin room of The Platform DIFC with “Ayo Technology” blaring from the speakers and @anthony_a_d’s words of motivational wisdom about being a better version of myself this week seemingly aimed right at me. It wasn’t until I was in downward dog during the post-cycle Vinyasa Flow session, with blood rushing to my skull, that the hangover reared its ugly head and brought back memories of the night before in a sickening rush – face paint, mags of Clase Azul, a safe driver, a bottle of Penedes Macabeo blend and an unexpected calçotada with the bib and everything. As bodies around me lunged themselves gracefully into Uttanasana, I cowered in the fetal position with my arms around Block, hoping the instructor would understand and just leave us (Block and me) be. “It’s just a head thing” turned into an “Okay it’s an all-over thing now” in the locker room after and by the time we were driving to lunch in town, I was putting my index finger up as a warning for what I hoped would not happen. “I think I need their miso soup,” I offered breathlessly as the valet took the keys. “Yeah that’ll help,” said my friend as we glided up to reception in the glass elevator at Zuma in the Dubai International Financial Center.

The bird’s eye view of the dining room brought back so many memories of Hong Kong and afterwork cocktails at the Landmark Complex outpost of the brand. Here, a dramatic spiral staircase leads to a sleek if slightly corporate dining room with warm-hued wood and embellished steel finishes. Same concept as in HK: contemporary Japanese izakaya with a main kitchen, sushi counter and robata grill. The menu is the same as it’s always been too: sashimi, maki rolls, nigiri sushi, tempura, robata grilled veggies, seafood and wagyu, good salads, and some signature dishes, including their own version of miso black cod, this one wrapped in magnolia leaf. The business lunch vibe transforms into a finance-guy-afterwork situation, followed by a scene setting for a cocktail. We’d come back for a fizzy Paloma during a bar-hop a few days later between a Tomatini at LPM and a Causeway Bay Bloody Mary at Electric Pawn Shop.

But for now, a cocktail was the further thing from my mind and what I really needed was their misoshiru with silky bits of tofu, slick wakame and spring onion. It came in a smooth little ceramic bowl with a fitted wooden cover which already made me feel slightly better. The creamy clouds of nutty, toasty miso in golden dashi stock soothed my soul, its alkalinity balancing out whatever was happening in my belly.

One of Zuma Dubai’s most popular dishes came next, their Chutoro Tarutaru Kyabia Zoe. This is chu toro tuna belly minced into a smooth tartar and served in a little pool of soy sauce and sesame oil with a bright yellow raw egg yolk and some Ossetra caviar resting on top of it. These are whipped up tableside into a luxurious cream to spread DIY over buttery, miso brioche buns, served on the side. I loved the feeling of the chilled chutoro on my tongue, its rich fatty flavor complemented nicely by the earthy, nutty caviar and lifted by the soy. The miso buns could have been lightly toasted for textural contrast and a hint of caramelization of all the butter in the dough. Otherwise perfect.

I was craving the crunch of soft-shell crab tempura and ordered Zuma’s Dynamite Spider Roll which pairs the crab with crisp cucumber, a creamy chili mayo and a tobiko sauce made with briny flying fish roe and a touch of wasabi for heat. I relished the crackle of the deep-fried crab legs, hydrated by creamy sauces and held together by plump rice wrapped in seaweed, which stuck to my lip. My friend ordered a more classic sake maki with juicy, fatty shreds of salmon, soft avocado, tenkasu for crunch and pungent, sinus-clearing kizami wasabi.

My favorite dish was their Ankou Tempura – tender nuggets of monkfish battered, fried and served with a slightly spicy black garlic dip. The tempura batter was paper-thin, golden-brown and brittle, shattering into pieces around the moist, creamy-fleshed fish. The perfect juicy morsels to dip into the thick sauce, which had a funky, earthy sweetness from the black garlic and a piquant black pepper heat balanced out by fresh citrus juice.

By the time we’d finished, my pulse had come back and the haziness had cleared from my eyes. A lovely lunch before an afternoon of sightseeing in downtown Dubai.

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