Friday brunch - Zuma, Abu Dhabi

Brunch launches are never smooth affairs. One expects teething problems at such an event as management and chefs alike evaluate the success of their concept. However, because the restaurant involved was Zuma, I had no fears of any start up issues surfacing. This is the restaurant that made such a splash in Abu Dhabi in its short time that a mere 3 months after opening, Zuma was named Best Fine Dining 2014 by Ahlan - an odd category it must be said, but it was clear that Zuma had already made a name for itself. It has also been awarded What's On Abu Dhabi 2014 Best Newcomer. A few months on, they are about to launch brunch. I arrive expecting to be wowed.

Lounge seating area 
Window seating - quiet and laid back. 
If you have not been to Zuma, it is like nothing you have seen in Abu Dhabi. Noriyoshi Muramatsu, charged with designing a chic and elegant setting that would speak to an upwardly mobile crowd while keeping the feel of an izakaya, has done a great job in creating a unique character that will ensure that people do not compare it to Zuma Dubai. 

As I walk in, I am greeted at the door by a hostess in a gorgeous one piece. Simple but stylish. We are shown to our table, and pass the lounging area that has also been converted into a dining area.  The sofa style seating options lend an even more casual and relaxed feel to this part of the restaurant. We are seated at the window, giving me a view of the water. Not long after, we meet our waiter for the afternoon, Jonathan. He talks us through the concept and introduces the drinks packages available to us. Slick, suave, confident and significantly, knowledgable. Very knowledgable. 

Followers of my reviews will know by now that with brunches all over the city, it is all about standing out from the rest. I am a huge fan of a la carte brunches because they awfully civilized and laid back, with no jostling for position around that chocolate fountain. Zuma, though, has read the brunch culture perfectly. Brunches usually scream abundance, and your average brunch attendee wants to see a display with a lot of food. Then, of course there is the likes of yours truly who wants that a la carte experience. They have combined both. It is something I have seen at only a couple of brunches in Abu Dhabi. A wide selection of dishes that would work on their own as  a buffet are spread out before me. In addition, there is an a la carte menu that offers every guest one main course. Needless to say, I am sold on this. 
Loved the choice of Tattinger!
Brunches also mean drinks though, and I opt for the Kyasha  or Luxury Package. The highlight - Tattinger NV Brut. A stellar choice, and one that tells guests immediately that Zuma is not your run of the mill Friday brunch. The Tattinger is crisp and refreshing, with elegant and small bubbles. As I hold it up against the light, I enjoy the golden yellow straw colour. A very nice NV Champagne, and in the context of the Abu Dhabi market, an excellent choice. 

Not a bad view. 
I start with the sashimi. Blue fin tuna, rare in Abu Dhabi, let alone at brunches, yellow tail and salmon make up my first dish. As I sit down, soy sauce is presented. Intuitive? Just watchful? That is the service here. I follow this up with oysters. Forget the usual vinaigrettes that you have with oysters. Here it is ponzu sauce, a citrus infused soy sauce is the best way I can describe it.  I try it, and it is ok, slightly overpowering though.  The thing is I usually have my oysters as they are or with a bit of lemon, but I appreciate the inventiveness of ponzu with oysters. 

The bluefin tuna in the foreground
Oysters and salmon tartar boxed. 
My daughter is offered fish and chips, but she is quite happy with the dishes on offer. But another check for Zuma who offer children something 'fun' but still able to make kids feel they are at a special restaurant. Incidentally, there are about 6-8 other children at the brunch who seem very happy. Again it is shown that children, if we as parents work hard at it, do not need clowns and balloons at a  brunch. Let them enjoy food for the sake of food. 

Early favourite for dish of the day is the wrapped yellow tail in garlic and ponzu sauce. I end up making two trips. I then try the Wagyu beef gunkan. Outstanding. However, while my tastebuds are basking in the aftermath of these flavours, I try the seabass, black truffle oil and yuzu. Wow! With truffle oil being so popular these days, it is easy to overdo it, but the chef gets its right - there is enough truffle to elevate the dish but not too much to rob it of its character. 
Seabass and black truffle oil
Beef tataki
As the afternoon moves on, I interact with another 4 waiters/waitresses and am surprised by the consistent knowledge they all show. In Abu Dhabi it is typical to have a head waiter or waitress who knows everything, and there is then a big gap between him/her and the rest of the staff. Not the case here. Refreshing. That is what you call hiring the right staff and investing in their development. 
Wagyu beef gunkan
The atmosphere is jovial, upbeat and just chilled. DJ Margo plays some wicked tunes, and even my 8 year old starts tapping a chopstick to the music. Some contemporary hits as well as some remixes of classic tunes are the order of the day. The remix of Tracy Chapman's 'Fast car' is a personal highpoint. The passion she exhibits as one passes the DJ box contributes so much to the vibe at the brunch. 
DJ Margo 

For my main course I order spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chilli and sweet soy. Again, impressive. This is the first time I have wagyu Grade 9+ at a brunch in the city. Delish. Simple presentation. It is all about the beef. No side dishes to distract. My daughter tries the miso marinated black cod, wrapped in hoba leaf . A beautiful fish beautifully cooked - another fine dish from the a la carte menu. I do not even look at dessert, a real shame. But next time. I just sit back, have a final glass of Champagne, and start my reflections. 

The tenderloin
If you look closely you can see the marbling. 
Black cod 
It is a brunch that I believe will set the standard for brunches appealing to the super trendy and chic crowd who are looking for a brunch with a glamour element and a fresh concept. Of course no restaurant wants to be pigeon-holed like this, but looking around, I cant' recall how many Coach bags I saw! There is no shame in being a brunch that appeals to a trendy crowd. There are enough family brunches in the city. But the great thing about Zuma is that while there was that fashionable element, it was relaxed. This is thanks to the waiting staff who have a down to earth and easy going attitude that sets guests at ease. I also think Zuma is challenging the old conception of the family brunch. Brunch is about a family having a good time, and that is what I saw with those who had children. 

It is sophisticated and classy, without being showy! Again, a brilliant balance. The food is exceptional with some of the best ingredients and sourcing I have seen at a brunch. The chef de cuisine leads a fine team of chefs including 6 hailing from  Japan and a very amiable Junior Sous chef from Malaysia. Finally, the pricing is competitive with other top brunches in the city. In fact, the Champagne package here is cheaper than quite a number of brunches in Abu Dhabi. 

All the elements you need to make a brunch a  success were here. The thought provoking thing is that this was their first brunch! 

The essentials

Sowwah Square,
Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi
02 401 5900


kitsu @ 345 per person
including non alcoholic beverages and zuma cleansers
kowaku @ 445 per person
including prosecco, sommelier's selection of wines/beer
kyasha @ 555 per person
incl champagne, sake tasters, sommelier’s selection of wines/beer 

Pictures thanks to Nokia Creative Studio on my Nokia 1520
Brandon Stoltenkamp