Zuma has left its mark across numerous cities since opening its doors in 2002 in London, and under the helm of Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney has regularly ranked in top restaurant listings. With venues in Hong Kong (2007), Istanbul (2008), Miami (2010), Bangkok (2011), Datca Peninsula (2013), Abu Dhabi (2014), New York (2015), Rome (2016), Bodrum Palmarina (2016) Las Vegas (2017) and Phuket (2017) – it’s Dubai outlet is celebrating it’s milestone 10th year this autumn.
Celebrating Japanese izakaya dining – a casual, sharing style featuring continuous plates – Zuma has long tantalised the visual and taste palettes of the diverse Dubai public with its nuanced appropriation of Japanese culture. “Rainer and I started working together in 2001,” recalls Tokyo-based designer Noriyoshi Muramatsu of Studio Glitt, or Nori-San, who is behind the Zuma aesthetic. While Rainer conceptualised the restaurant after six years working as a chef in Tokyo’s Park Hyatt, together they formulated an identity and philosophy that focused on evolution with subtle Japanese roots. “We build ideas together—Rainer likes to see Zuma continuing to move forward and we strive to achieve that in the design as well.”
Basing the initial inspiration on a traditional Japanese garden rather than the laid-back izakaya aesthetic, Zuma encapsulates the tradition of highlighting natural materials and landscapes, maintaining formal integrity in order to showcase the intrinsic beauty of texture, shape and colour. “But we also have functionality within the restaurant environment,” says Nori-San. Keeping his personal tastes in check – remarking if anything emerges it is subconscious – Nori-San notes that the materials consist of stone, wood, glass and steel. The overall tone, however, is sensual with warm hues and gentle lighting. “What makes them standout in Zuma, and which has become a key design detail, is the way we choose, cut and shape the materials,” he explains. “Chefs have a specific way of selecting and cutting fish for sashimi in order to compliment the texture and taste, and in the same way, I make the selection of natural products we use in the restaurant, how and where they are altered so that the most pleasing parts of the wood or stone are displayed. That is the real key to Zuma.”
The location also plays a role in the trademark styling of Zuma. “There are always elements of the city or culture we are opening in that we try to incorporate – a good example of this is in Zuma Dubai, with the column lanterns. This merges the famous Middle Eastern lanterns with Japanese culture by using very old Japanese patterns,” clarifies Nori-San. “There is an impact, but that doesn’t mean you have to dramatically change the design with each new city. I feel that the impact is greater when you only incorporate subtle elements.” The priority is creating a space with a timeless design identity. “In Dubai’s case the culture of the city is combined in the original design concept, but the restaurant is now 10 years old and the design has stood the test I think.”
While engaging a culinary approach marked by "quality, simplicity and taste," shares Executive Chef Pawel Kazanowski, Zuma’s sharing concept is also revealed through its distinct but open-plan layout, from the open kitchen and terrace through to the dining and bar-lounge areas. Each zone dialogues with the other, creating a rich, experiential ambiance. “Rainer’s philosophy was to make the restaurants inclusive,” Nori-San explains. “If you want to sit at the bar and have a beer and chicken wings you can, but at the same time you can still experience the energy of the restaurant or the counters or the lounge. Guests have flexibility depending on the occasion or their feeling.”
Zuma, through Nori-San’s watchful, precise and delicate eye, encourages a flow of energy throughout each zone, ensuring that Zuma responds to each desire, providing intimate spaces that converse within its sophisticated design.