I know my sushi said the Lad from the planet cocky while perusing the menu at the Zuma, newly opened in Knightsbridge. This presumably is why he ordered hotate and o toro nigiri and then refused to eat them. I canÕt do the raw scallops (hotate) he said shuddering at their glistening lychee sheen, draped over a cushion of sushi rice. ItÕs delicious I said, popping one into my mouth Š or well, letÕs be honest, popping isnÕt what one does with sushi. Admit it, for any woman not into body-building, most sushi is usually too big to fit in your mouth elegantly Š less than two bites, more than one Š you either stuff it in and try not to smile, or bite it in two. Only the truly proficient try the second option because, invariably even the stickiest sushi rice will disintegrate. A sliver of food will be peeping from your mouth like the cat eating the goldfish, the rest of the rice will be all over the table and youÕll be trying to look nonchalant with one grain left the pincers of the chopsticks. ThatÕs why Japanese restaurants donÕt have tablecloths. The easiest sushi to eat on stilts are the thin maki rolls Š we had tekka maki (so called because the tuna inside looks like a red hot bar). I think thatÕs the real reason he couldnÕt face them Š he was worried about his technique, bless.
Well you ordered it, I barked, sounding like the mother I am old enough to be. I donÕt like the look of it, he said Š and indeed for the feeble sushiphobe there was something of the gastropod about it. We wonÕt even go into his thoughts on the belly tuna (o toro), flecked with fat and distinctly fleshy.
ThatÕs the thing about eating sushi Š itÕs an extreme sport enjoyed from a leather banquette. It allows you to feel virtuous and aesthetic - while simultaneously macho and fearless, like an edgy Anthony Bourdain swallowing pulsing cobra hearts, but without going anywhere that you need jabs for. Ha Š see me eat raw things Š cave man meets new man. Of course, IÕm dining with the exception to that rule Š young man. No prizes for guessing how heÕd end up in Lord of the Flies.
We ate an enormous amount, served by a sweet waitress who was helpful and knowledgeable. We asked for everything at once Š which, as the kitchen produces orders in batches of five, meant our last dish - aubergine in a fragrant bonito based stock with grated daikon radish and a pyramid of fierce ginger on top, arrived forlornly alone at the end. I loved the seared beef with soy that had no more than kissed the surface of a hot pan, and the sesame coated organic salmon reminded me how wonderful salmon used to taste before it became the pungent flabby horror currently available in supermarkets. The dynamite spider roll was also good - a creamy soft shell crab with jalapeno in one roll, the crispy legs, sticking out like drowning menÕs arms in the other, and the mixed tempura was delicate and merely dusted with batter.
The various technicoloured seaweed salad with miso dressing was, well, interesting Š piled on the plate like a tangle of frilled ribbons, with admittedly, the texture of slippery rubber bands. The lad informed me that they have the same pleasantly aggressive peppered chicken skewers (I like to think aggression is a positive character trait) on the conveyor belt at Yo Sushi. Ahem, I think not, laddie. Not that I have anything against Yo Š their Karaoke nights in Soho and Farringdon are the most fun you can have in public with your clothes on, but Zuma is a different kettle of raw fish altogether.
For a start the place is stunning. Many Asian themed restaurants look like an attack of the style clones. ItÕs a case of another week, another wok - but Zuma has carved a luminous space out of the dark cavern that was once the Chicago rib shack. The square bar is a made of milky green frosted glass, and the wooden blocked wall behind it looks like an Andy Goldsworthy installation. With walls of underlit glass, the overall effect is natural and light and yet still essentially glamorous. Of course, thereÕs a lot of blonde wood both in and on the seating Š we are in Knighsbridge after all.
ThereÕs a granite and marble sushi bar and ribata grill, the latter with three apparently fire-breathing chefs, complete with ninja headgear and big knives Š or maybe I made the knives up Š but you get my drift. The menu also features some enticingly described sakes at prohibitive prices Š which you drink iced. You only warm inferior saki to mask the taste. A shame it doesnÕt work for cocky blokes.