Zuma Brunch – Brunching Like a Gentleman

In a city known for its numerous high-end brunch offerings, everyone has their go to spot.  Some like Traiteur in the Park Hyatt, while some swear by the Al Qasr Brunch.  Both, exceptional in their own ways.

Some like the rowdy kind, filled with a bus load of pikey types, double fisting Coronas while balancing a margarita or two under each armpit.   Not my scene.

Me? I like to roll with a little bit of panache – like a Gentleman….Which brings me to the Zuma Brunch.



This Brunch has become one of the hottest reservations for a Friday afternoon in Dubai.  It gets booked up super early, and you have to plan way ahead – good thing that I am a planner.  It’s a family affair – The upstairs private dining area is converted into a play area for the little ones.  My son, even though he is allergic to all kinds of seafood, loves the Zuma brunch.  Kids used to be free – but now, they are half price or something.


How it works is like so – All the favourites are laid out near the sushi bar, and downstairs, around the Robata Grill.  In the back, near the elevator, there is a desert station – so far, all buffet style.  You take what you want, and get to select a main course from the menu.  Pricing – three tiers – (1) Non Alcoholic, (2) House Beverages and (3) Champers.  The non alcoholic tranche includes unlimited samplings of Zuma’s famed mocktails, which are delicious and varied.

So, we sit down, and we are offered up some fried squid, steamed and spicy edamame, and some miso soup.  Drink orders are taken, and then we are free to get what we want from the buffet.  The favourites are pretty much all here – a very strong selection of sushi/sashimi/maki, some kobe beef shabu shabu, ramen noodles, the steamed spinach with sesame, seaweed salad, sliced sea bass with yuzu and truffle, various sorts of tartare, beef sashimi, gyoza, a brilliant mushroom risotto, the obligatory yakitori skewers – the list literally goes on and on.  If you love something at Zuma from the a la carte menu, it’s probably being served up in the buffet.  One of the most tasty things they do is they roast a large ribeye roast on the robata – slice it up a perfect medium rare onto your plate and give you a little pile of flour de sel – salty, crunch, moist – magnificent.


Steamed Edamame


 Spicy Edamame


Mushroom Risotto – This is lovely. The rice is cooked al dente (was a little underdone for some on our table, but I like it this way.).   The flavour is earthy and robust, and there is a hint of truffle that you can catch.  It can be a little tough to find for the first timers – here is a clue – look in front of the grill.  There will be a wooden serving bowl with a wooden cover – lift up the cover and help yourself.




The Maki Counter – Soft Shell Crab (my favourite), Spicy Tuna, California, Zuma’s classic Chirashi Maki, tempura, egg, eel, cucumber – if you can name it, the sushi chefs can likely roll it and serve it up.  Everything is freshly made – there isn’t an exorbitant quantity of few items, like at many sushi buffets, so it keeps turnover high and the servers are always refreshing the offering.  The rolls are tightly wrapped, the rice is subtly flavoured, and the main ingredients are left to sing their own glory.  A little dip of soy, and you are good to go.


The fried heads from the shrimp served up for the sushi – they may look daunting, but if you haven’t tried them, and like soft shell crab, you MUST!  They are crunchy and packed with the flavour you would expect from the heads of shrimp, crawfish, lobster etc.  At a crawfish boil, you pinch the tail and suck the head.  Try these ones too – they are surprisingly tasty!


This came from the robata grill – lamb riblets and seared scallops.  The lamb was outstanding – crispy on the outside and moist, fatty and delicious on the inside.  Scallops – of course, delicious.  Just lightly seared, so not to damage the delicate insides – still cool and sweet on the inside, like these gems should taste like.  People who over cook or over prep scallops need to be put on trial.


These may look simple but if you head to this brunch, make sure you get the grilled chicken wings.  These are delicious – nothing on the menu is over spiced, so if you are someone who loves overtly spiced food, this is not for you – ingredients are of the highest quality, and are left relatively un-assaulted.  You can taste individual flavours, layers and really appreciate what you are eating, rather than focusing on sucking air between your two eye teeth, because what you are eating is so darn spicy!  Back to the wings – charcoal grilled, crispy, moist – fantastic.


Beef Yakitori and Black Cod Gyoza – Superbly tender beef on a bamboo skewer and grilled – served with a sweet teriyaki type sauce.  Some on the table considered the beef to be vastly underdone – in all fairness, the temperature was close to rare.  Perfection for me is a nice medium rare, but I don’t mind if it skews more towards rare, and less towards medium.  I thought they were very nice.  Not a big fan of the gyoza (dumpling) however, as the black cod inside was a little mushy for my taste – I thought it was unfair to take such a firm, flaky flesh and turn it into mush.


 Ramen – Take your noodles, get them freshly heated, add some toppings and enjoy – not my cup of tea, but people seemed to enjoy it.


Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu – An elegant take on what has become a fast food phenomenon.  A chef takes a few pieces of kobe beef, takes them lightly through a broth, and serves them up to you in a little bowl, with some sauce.  It was lovely!


A slice of the ribeye roast on the robata grill, with some flour de sel on the side.


On to the sushi course.  Sweet Shrimp (Ama Ebi) Nigiri in the foreground – Sweet Shrimp is served raw, as opposed to regular shrimp (you can see it at the back of the plate) which is served cooked.  A little slimy, but sublime. You see a piece of Salmon (Sake) Nigiri, and a Spicy Scallop Roll to right.  Won’t get into too much detail on these – Zuma is a highly rated Japanese restaurant.  Rest assured, all sushi is magnificent.

Octopus (Tako) and Tuna (Maguro) Sashimi


The Spicy Scallop Roll


This is what it all comes down to! The Toro.  In Sushi making, the most valued ingredient comes from Tuna and is called Toro.  This is the fatty cut of the fish (most likely from the belly).  There are two kinds usually – Otoro and Chutoro.  Otoro is the better, MUCH more expensive kind – obviously the kind of the buffet counter was not this type.  Regardless, melt in your moth delicious.  Compare the colour of the Toro with the Maguro (Tuna) a few pics above – the Maguro is a vivid red – almost maroon.  The Toro is a light pink, with clearly visible marbling.  Texture wise, the Maguro is fleshier, tougher, more rigid, if that makes sense (it’s still lovely!) – the Toro is tender, buttery, melt in your mouth, and so rich.  This is magnificent stuff, which you must put on your gastronomy bucket list!


What happens when you take a regular piece of sushi, and gently torch the fish?  You get the Aburi style of sushi preparation.  The taste changes – you are not cooking the fish here, but merely caramelizing the very top of it – this elevates the taste to another level.  You get the fish, and the seasoned rice, but you get a new dimension of smoke, sweetness from the caramelization, and an enhanced aroma.  Very, very tasty.


Salmon (Sake) and Maguro Sashimi

After eating all of the above, if you thought you were done, think again.  Zuma has a list of main courses for you to choose from.  The Adults get to choose from the main menu, and the kids get a choice of mini burgers/sliders, fish and chips, nuggets etc.  My lil guy picked the mini burgers.  On the main menu, you have your choice of (cut and paste from the Zuma menu):


Spicy Beef Tenderloin with Sesame, Chilli and Sweet Soy – A Zuma staple.  A beautiful, tender cut of beef tenderloin, grilled and served with a sweet, and spicy sauce.  Very well prepared, and hard not to like.


Miso Marinated Black Cod, Wrapped in Hoba Leaf – Zuma’s version of the Nobu classic.  Very good, but as mentioned in my Nobu review, Nobu is still number 1.


Jumbo Tiger Prawn with Yuzu Pepper – Firstly, apologies – the picture came after I had already started pecking away.  Very nice sized Prawn, with the meat already cut into bit size pieces that make eating it with a pair of chopsticks very simple.  The Yuzu Pepper sauce provided a very nice citrus backdrop to bring out the delicate flavour of the prawn.


And finally, the little guy’s mini burgers and fries!

I’m not much of a desert person, as anyone visiting our home will tell you.  We always seem to focus entirely on the dinner itself – desert, when it is remembered at all, is largely just thrown together at the last-minute.   That being said, I didn’t take any pictures of the desert station.  They have the obligatory chocolate fountain, cakes and ice cream, but where there seems to be a large line up for is the belgian waffle station – waffles are made up to order, and there is a smorgasbord of toppings that you can pile on – from chocolate sauce and whipped creams to berries and other fruit.  The chocolate offerings are present, but me, the non desert eater, would like to recommend two things:

1.  Green Tea and Banana Cake with Hot Toffee Sauce – The cake is cut tall and some hot sauce is poured over it to order.  Its fantastic.

2.  Chawan Mushi – The egg custard – Its rich, and smooth and just amazing.  There is a passionfruit foam they put on top with some exotic fruits and it’s just magnificent.

So obviously, I like this place.  A fantastic afternoon our with my family to our favourite brunch in town.  Would highly recommend this for anyone who hasn’t tried it – you really can’t go wrong – everything is delicious.  A wonderful way to try out all of Zuma’s wonderful offerings, without going through the a la carte menu, one by one.

Till Next Time


Nobu – Often Imitated, Never Duplicated (#Firstworldproblems)


For all the Zuma and Okku nuts out there, let me break the pecking order down for you:

  1. Nobu
  2. have to leave a spot
  3. Zuma
  4. Okku

WHAT??? But Zuma is so happening!  Have the seen the crowd at Okku?  My friends….this is mytastingmenu…..not mysocialdiary.   Bar none, Nobu wins the culinary battle 10 times out of 10.   I mean, talk about first world problems – don’t think you can go wrong with any of the above, but when it comes down to short straws, Nobu is King.  Zuma and Okku have more ambience and scenery – but Nobu has soul, depth, gravitas……..Nobu is Palm Beach……the others, Tampa (maybe Miami).

People have been hearing me rave about my love for Nobu – I inevitably end up eating at this restaurant, whenever I find myself in a city with a local Nobu.  I know the menu cold.  I know I’m going to get perfection, no matter what I order – there is no such thing as a bad choice at Nobu.  Everything is good.  So, here goes.  I hope my words in this entry do the love I feel for this restaurant justice.

So, we sneak out for a cheeky Nobu run last weekend – ordered the usual:

  • Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno
  • Salmon Sashimi with Dried Miso
  • Miso Eggplant
  • Scallop and Foie Gras Vanilla Den Miso
  • Miso Spinach Salad
  • Rock Shrimp Tempura
  • Miso Black Cod
  • Beef Toban Yaki
  • Beef Tenderloin with Dried Miso
  • King Crab Leg with Shisho Salsa

Everything was outstanding – not much of a review to really do.


Beef tenderloin with dried miso – if you like beef carpaccio, and you haven’t tried this Nobu speciality, you must.  The beef is melt in your mouth delicious and has a fantastic fragrance of truffle.  The dried miso on top provides a nice crack/snap contrast the the smooth texture of the beef.  Its melt in your mouth delicious.


This is a classic – Yellowtail jalapeño sashimi.  Nobu uses a lot of Yuzu sauce in its various cold dishes.  What is Yuzu you ask?  Yuzu is a tart Asian citrus fruit – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuzu.  This is a very simple dish if you break it down.  Beautiful, fresh yellowtail.  Tiny slice of jalapeño pepper.  1 little leaf of cilantro.  Some light, fragrant, sour sauce into which to dip.  Put it all together, and its wow.


First time trying this plate, actually – Salmon sashimi with dried miso.   At first taste, I wasn’t terribly impressed.  Salmon sashimi – fresh – nice.  But then the dried miso hits you.  The powder melts on your tongue – its beautiful.  I may be completely off base, but it tasted earthy, creamy and very rich.  It was a perfect sucker punch, when I was least expecting it.  Aaaah Salmon….POW – here is the kicker.  Very nice.


Seared scallop with seared foie gras – Was good, but not knock my socks off great.   Seared scallops – i like it.  Seared foie gras – i like it.  Put them together with some vanilla glaze – was ok.  Scallop was a little over cooked, I thought – a bit rubbery.  No repeat performance here, for me.


Rock Shrimp Tempura with Creamy Spicy Sauce – An oldie but most definitely a goodie.  Plump, meaty shrimp.  Creamy sauce covering the fried morsels of love – slight taste of spice.  If you like PF Changs’ dynamite shrimp – these are those, kicked up a notch.


I love the freshness of the salads at Nobu.  Usually i get the garden greens, because i love the tart dressing so much.  This time, we tried the baby spinach with miso.  It was wonderful.  Looking back – lots of miso was consumed during the evening!


One of my favourite dishes in Dubai.  Do you have a friend or loved one who doesn’t like eggplant?  Get them to eat this – they will be converted.  This is more candy and less vegetable.  The eggplant is covered in a sweet miso paste and then grilled in the over, so the flesh is super tender, moist and caramelised.  It melts in your mouth, and is one of the most delicious flavours I have ever eaten.  No sharing allowed for the Eggplant Miso!


The fish that made Nobu famous.  The Miso Glazed Black Cod.  What is Black Cod?  Its not really cod actually.  It used to be sold as Sablefish – some marketing genius decided to change the name to Black Cod, mark up the price, and here we are today.  The fish is flaky and delicious and has a firm flesh that can be cooked in a variety of ways.  My pet peeve with miso black cod is when the chef leaves it mushy and underdone from inside (read review on Toko for more on this).  Nobu’s is fantastic – look at the caramelisation in the picture below.  It flakes easily with a fork, and a salty/sweet/rich and amazing. The marinate this fish for a number of days, prior to cooking it, so the flavours have made their way through every bite you take – which is quite a treat.  The red/white stalk is actually pickled ginger – perfect for a quick palate cleansing.



Beef Toban Yaki – Be careful of this one when it arrives to your table, as it is served sizzling, and a flaming hot.  Gorgeous rare beef, mushrooms, some greens served up with Sake, Yuzu and Soy.  Simple.  Complex. Delicious.  If your beef is underdone, just hold it on the sizzling plate, and cook it to the temperature of your liking.  Highly recommend this one.


Wow – look at the marling on that piece of tuna!  Delicate rice base – delightfully seasoned.  Tiny smear of wasabi under the fish.  Gorgeous piece of tune.  Art.

IMG_1634Sweet Shrimp Sushi – beautiful


Till next time.


Toko – Yet Another Black Cod In Town

We visited Toko, the new Japanese restaurant in the recently launched Vida Hotel, in Downtown Dubai recently.  Dubai has its fair share of high end, Japanese fusion restaurant, the likes of Nobu, Zuma and Okku, so I wanted to check out the new kid on the block, and see what set it apart.  My wife and I are very different in the way we rank our restaurants – she weights more towards the ambience.  I put more weight on the food and servicemore.  So, the way I rank the aforementioned restaurants, is as follows:

1.  Nobu

2. Zuma

3. Okku

After visiting Toko, I would put it somewhere in line with Okku.  Food was good – when you are talking about high end Japanese food, it can’t really be bad.  It’s all good – its the slight nuances that set one restaurant apart from the other.  Nobu has the food – its solid, every single time.  The service is on point, and there is no distraction with the loud music and crowd.  Zuma and Okku are more nightclub than restaurants.  Toko is calmer – like Nobu with the style of Zuma.  As for the food….in line with Okku.

I was starving when I visited, and only 1 dish really stood out in my mind, so please excuse the lack of lengthy descriptions – I should have written this immediately after eating here.

Lets start with what was outstanding:

Foie Gras Sushi


Foie Gras Nigri – this was outstanding.  The Foie was perfectly seared, placed on a delicate finger of rice, seasoned lightly, and infused with the fragrance of Truffle.  Amazing.  So good, we ordered an encore round.  Very expensive, however, at AED 50 per piece, but immensely worth it.

The rest of the food, as mentioned above, was good.  Pictures below.  Service was ok – drinks took too long to come, as did the edamame.  Drinks order was off when it did finally arrive.  Probably just teething problems, which won’t stop me from going back.  I hear they now have an Omikase menu, which I am actually looking forward to trying.  I hear its extensive and very moderately priced.  Till next time.

Miso Glazed Black Cod

Miso Glazed Black Cod – Beautifully caramelised and cooked perfectly through.  The flesh was flaky, moist

and delicious.  Very tasty.

miso eggplant

Miso Grilled Eggplant – Nice.  Miso was not as sweet as I, personally, like.  Nobu’s comp is like candy.  This was good, but no candy.


California Rolls, Spicy Tuna Rolls, Soft Shell Crab Spider Roll – Taste was good, but the rolls were wrapped a little loosely, so some fell apart when being lifted with the chopsticks and dipped in the Soy.

Grilled Mushrooms

Obviously, the Robata mushrooms were pretty good!

Seared Sirloin

As was the sirloin – it was served with a lovely, coarse sea salt, which provided a fantastic contrast in texture and a salty bite to a perfectly cook piece of beef.

sticky lamb ribs

Not my favourite – sticky lamb ribs.  They were good, but not my cup of tea.

Yellowtail sashimiYellowtail Sashimi – Nobu would describe it as new style.  Pleasant taste, and a very fresh fragrance.  Good.

Koi – Abu Dhabi

Koi – Abu Dhabi


While visiting the St. Regis resort on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, we were kindly invited to join our friends AMA and ZA at Koi, to celebrate AMA’s birthday.  Having dined at Koi in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, I was super excited to go (especially since I had no idea that the AD location had finally opened).

The location was extremely convenient to the resort – walk out the front door, cross the courtyard, down a short flight of stairs and literally walk into the restaurant.  At first glance, the entrance was impressive – muted lighting with the doorway flanked by two flaming torches.  I was expecting a full house, it being a Friday night, and Koi having the cache that it does – Dubai’s Zuma, Okku, Nobu are standing room only at 10 pm on a Friday night!  Unfortunately, it wasn’t – it is obvious that a significant sum of money has been spent on the decor, inside the restaurant – what a shame that there were only a few tables occupied, who could enjoy it.  We saw some friends who were also visiting from Dubai, and asked them how the food was – they said, with a smile, that we would be done in 25 minutes!  I was hungry, so I took it as a plus.

We ordered for the four of us (with my feedback for notable dishes in italics):

Seafood Miso Soup – Disapointing.  Nobu serves this incredible seafood miso soup, which tastes like lober/crab bisque, without the cream.  The way they extract the flavours of the shellfish is amazing, and the soup is light, frothy, fragrant, and delicious.  This was not.  This was stock miso soup with some clams and shellfish tossed on – the flavours were lacking, and tasted like an ordinary miso soup.  Lacklustre.


Grilled Japanese Eggplant

Organic Field Greens – Delicious dressing, fresh greens – exactly what I was looking for

Warm Baby Spinach and Mushrooms

Creamy Rock Shrimp Tempura – Well executed shrimp – they were crispy and light, and the sauce was creamy and just the way it should be.  The greens under the shrimp were not dressed or seasoned, which was a bit of a disappointment, as I like the acidic bite from the dressing to break the creaminess of the sauce on the shrimp.  Good, none the less.

Yellowtail Tartare on Cripy Wontons – The first bite was nice, as the mix between the crispy wonton and the soft yellowtail was an excellent contrast in textures.  As I ate on, I began to realise that there was no seasoning on the yellowtail that enhanced the flavours – it just tasted a little mushy and insipid.

Kobe Beef Carpaccio – Good

Miso Bronzed Black Cod – This was recommended as a signature dish by our waiter, and was, by far, the biggest disappointment of the night.  When I typically think of a well executed Miso Black Cod, I think perfectly cooked, flaky, buttery fish with a sweet, sticky  sauce, charred and caramelised with crispy, delectable bits – something I look forward to getting deeply involved with while at a high end Japanese restaurant.  The anticipation was similar when I saw the plate below come out – beautifully presented, well caramelised.  But, it was served skin side up, which I have not seen before – Was tough to get through the skin, and when I did, i got a hint of the sweet/bitter caramel flavours, but then was completely overwhelmed with salt.  Once that got onto my palate, there was no other flavour I could taste.  We left it unfinished.


Grilled Skirt Steak in a Sesame Sauce – I love a good steak, and really enjoy the non conventional cuts like skirt, brisket, oyster, hangar etc.  We ordered the steak cooked to a pink medium, but what we got, albeit beautiful looking, was tough.  I was expecting a more pungent, flavourful sauce, but, again, like other dishes through the night, this too fell short of the mark.  


Rok N Roll

Bay Scallop Roll

Yellow Tail Scallion Roll

Soft Shell Crab Roll

The Rolls left much to be desired.  Poorly formed little nuggets of nothingness.  I really hope they wok on getting these sorted in the future.  The Bay Scallop roll, rather than having a piece of soft, smooth, sweet scallop had something that tasted like boiled mush in it.  The Yellowtail Scallion roll was lacking the scallion.  Soft shell Crab felt like it had been cooked earlier, and wasn’t fresh, but came apart only after a long pull (if you know what I mean!).

Maybe my own expectations are too high, but I expect any restaurant that charges over $100 per person, with no alcohol, to have its service perfected.  We were not asked how our meal was and there were no smiles.  Because we were seated on a small table, in a restaurant that was virtually empty (I know – we should have asked for a larger table), our table was constantly crowded with plates.  The servers took it upon themselves to selectively pick up plates, regardless of how many rolls, or pieces of anything were left on them, and remove them to make room for more plates – hold on there!  How about consolidating the different kinds of Maki into 1 plate, and letting us finish, rather than just removing them entirely?  We were not asked if we wanted desert, coffee – our demand for the bill resulted in the bill being brought to us swiftly.

Our friend was wrong about the timing however.  We were not out in 25 minutes.  More like 45 minutes.

My review may sound harsh, but when eating at high end restaurants, I do tend to be extremely picky and critical – especially in the Japanese/Japanese fusion category where there are so many fantastic restaurants that offer food that can be used to compare virtually any dish on any menu.   In the category where Koi sits, I tend to rank Nobu Dubai as the class leader – if we assume (food being the only criteria) this is a 10, and the baseline, I would rate Koi as a solid 6.5 – 7.0.