What: High end Japanese restaurant, Zuma, have just launched a new Spring menu with a focus on cocktails.
New? Zuma no, it has stood the test of London time opening back in 2002, but as the name suggests the Spring menu only launched a few weeks ago
Where: Tucked away by Harrods, you’ll spot it by the row of supercars lining the street outside: 5 Raphael Street, Knightsbridge, SW7 1DL, www.zumarestaurant.com
On the Menu: Bar manager Pawel Rolka (formerly at Coq D’Argent) has created a series of new cocktails for both the Nomikai (contemporary) section and the Kurashikku (classic) section, which blends together traditional cocktails with flavours of the East. Their take on a Tom Collins is the The Rhubarb and Fennel Collins made from Silent Pool gin, rhubarb and fennel cordial, yuzu juice and Mediterranean tonic water, whilst in the Kurashikku section you’ll find the Ishigaki Cooler made from Zuma’s home-infused spiced rum, velvet falernum, fresh ginger, lemon grass and mango soda. If it’s floral cocktails you’re after we suggest the Hokkaido Blossom, an aromatic blend of Tanquery no.10, Lillet Blanc, plum sake, lemon sherbet, orange blossom and Champagne.
First Impressions: Zuma was packed. So packed that you’d think it was 9pm on a Friday, not 7pm on a Tuesday. Glamorous ladies relieved us of our bags before leading us over to our table which was laid with plates, napkins and chopsticks. Despite it being busy, staff were attentive and the ladies smartly dressed in black skirts and red tops.
The Look: Not as big as I’d been expecting, Zuma is spread across the ground floor with a huge central bar the focus. Spotlights illuminate slats of wood, chunky stone walls and a sake-laden bar making it the type of moody place you’d want to visit on a particularly sophisticated date night. Despite the tables being packed in, should you want a hushed conversation or dinner where you go unnoticed, Zuma is the type of place that can offer that.
What We Ate: Whilst we were there to try the cocktails, we couldn’t not order a few dishes to go with it – you’ll need to after a cocktail or two. Highlights included thin slices of seabass topped with salmon roe and drizzled with yuzu and truffle oil. Simple, but a real hit was the sweet popcorn tempura, their take on popcorn and again making the use of yuzu, this time in the form of salt, there’s also classic vegetable tempura if you want to order more. Chunky beef skewers were drizzled with soy, garlic, ginger and acho chilli, whilst a meaty jumbo tiger prawn with yuzu pepper was bordering on the size of a lobster. A trio of fat scallops were topped with ume boshi, shiso and mentaiko and seared salmon was to be dipped in lime shiso soy.
We were, however most taken aback by the pudding, fitting into the category of food that isn’t what it seems (think Heston Blumenthal’s meat orange) a red velvet cheesecake is easily mistaken for an oshibori (one of the hot hand towels). How they’ve managed to mould something so light and delicate to appear as towel rolled up and to still have a real red velvet flavour is a thing of wonder. If you order one to share be prepared to fight over it.
What We Drank: Although the food was amazing it was really all about the cocktails. They had a tough job matching the food but Zuma prove that a coherence between bar and restaurant can indeed be achieved. For a refreshing take on a Moscow Mule try the Wasabi Mule, made from Ketel One vodka, lime, wasabi and ginger soda. Ginger is also used in the Rose Petal Martini so that it isn’t sickly, instead it bridges the gap well between refreshing and sweet – made from Crystal Head aurora, rose petal, ginger syrup, lychee, rose and Champagne. Fans of an Old Fashioned need to try the Japanese Old Fashioned, with Japanese whisky – nikka from the barrel, bulleit bourbon, plum sake and koguto. The most intriguing cocktail we tried was the Tokatzu Margarita – which replaced tequila with its smokier counterpart mezcal amores and added shiso, lime juice, apple, green tea, wasabi salt and avocado – those who add it to their smoothie will know that avocado just make drinks wonderfully smooth and creamy. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
Go With: Zuma is somewhere you’re going to want to dress up for, whether you’re trying to impress a date, a future date or need to host clients.
Final Word: Knightsbridge restaurants don’t always have the best reputation, often being seen as over priced and more concerned about its clientele than the food, Zuma proves that isn’t always the case. Yes, you aren’t necessarily going to be a regular here, but the service was impeccable, the atmosphere was lively, the cocktails were just right and the food was so good that we didn’t even look at the people around us.
Zuma: 5 Raphael Street, Knightsbridge, SW7 1DL, www.zumarestaurant.com
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Fran can be found sipping espresso martinis by night and, by day, on the hunt for London's best brunch. Bonus points for a runny yolk and the perfect flat white.