When I first visited Zuma, before it opened, I had wondered if perhaps it had set its expectations a smidgen too high. With more than 300 seats, filling the space seemed like an impossible task, and doing so during dinner seemed equally arduous, given that the restaurant is located in DIFC, a district built for the business lunch if ever there was one. I had an inkling I might have been wrong when the reservationist told me the only tables available were at either 7pm or 10pm, and as I started to ask my way around Gate Village, it occurred to me that the place had generated a bit of a buzz.

‘Do you know where...’

‘Zuma?’ The security man interrupted before straightening me out with directions. As I entered the two-story space, I started to feel, well, not exactly underdressed, just under-hip. There is something about Zuma that seems perfectly designed for models and businessmen with expense accounts. The brass tones, screaming modernist design and chilled out trance leaking from the speakers all seem stamped with the words, ‘Exclusive: Hoi polloi should not attempt entry.’ Naturally, I assumed the staff would be the pinnacle of snootiness, but they surprised me by being the warmest, most unpretentious crowd; while the environ may be undulating cool, they make you feel like you belong there just as much as anybody else. And you get the distinct sense that every single patron is given the same cheery, welcoming treatment.

But, while you don’t have to be a weight-conscious waif to dine at Zuma, a small appetite wouldn’t hurt, as some of the portions lean a little on the small side. Aside from the price tag, it was difficult to distinguish between starters and mains. A Dhs125 order of grilled scallops came two to a plate. Though the price was a bit steep, these meaty molluscs were so excellently prepared that I almost (almost) didn’t mind. The grill had brought out their full sweetness, and a topping of tart green apple puree traced with wasabi made the dish hit every corner of the palette.

A starter of crisp, buttery soft shell crab, by comparison, proved slightly meatier, and clocked in at a mere Dhs76, though the crustacean’s natural flavours collapsed when dipped in the accompanying horseradish sauce (fortunately, it was on the side, and could be avoided). An order of grilled rib eye was another hearty rendition, and came presented impeccably as several perfect cubes stacked in a neat pyramid. The morsels were exquisitely pink and marinated in a light jus, with hints of mirin, sesame and other Japanese ingredients. The dish was marred slightly by the presence of a couple of overly gristly pieces and a trace too much charcoal flavour.

Zuma prides itself on its contemporary Japanese menu, but it continues to offer the staples, like sushi and tempura, and even when preparing these basics, the chefs surprise with the high quality and fine cuts of fish. A selection of nigiri chosen by the chef included a piece of tuna belly so tender it evaporated on the tongue. And amid an order of assorted seafood and vegetable tempura, I bit into a piece of lobster so moist and nubile I barely recognised it for what it was.

I finished the meal with one of the most divine cakes I’ve ever had in Dubai: a warm, pliant, green tea-flavoured sponge topped with a fan of caramelised banana and a sprinkling of crushed peanuts. The bill, I knew before it arrived, would be pricey, but given the sheer amount of food my companion and I consumed, I have to say that Zuma was one of the most reasonable fine dining experiences I’ve had in Dubai to date. As I await a meal at Zuma’s main competitor, Nobu – which I’m sure will clock in at a similar price – I find myself wondering why I, or anyone else, should have to contend with the latter’s two-month long waiting list, when Zuma will take your reservation on the same day, and offer you a splendid meal for a very similar bill.

The bill (for two)
2x Bottles of Voss water Dhs56
1x Steamed edamame Dhs20
1x Softshell crab Dhs76
1x Nine-piece nigiri sushi Dhs185
1x Grilled scallops Dhs125
1x Grilled rib eye Dhs125
1x Assorted tempura Dhs88
1x Banana cake Dhs36
1x Assorted ice cream Dhs36
Total (including service) Dhs747