Wednesday, August 22, 2012

zuma vs. nobu

On my last day in Hong Kong, I decided to take the MTR to Central and see if 8 1/2 Otto E Mezzo Bombata at Alexandra House would take me without a reservation. Alas, they were fully booked. So I went to the next building, The Landmark, home of my beloved L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, and stood in front of the directory to choose a restaurant.

And there it was: Zuma. Cuisine: Japanese. A welcome change from all the Chinese food I'd been eating the past four days.

12 noon on 15 August 2012. The calm before the storm.

When I was a small DB, I used to read a Pinoy komiks series called "Anak ni Zuma". It was about a girl named Galema who had two snakes growing out of her... er, nape. Her father was the evil serpent- man Zuma. Obviously this restaurant has nothing to do with that.

"Antipodes" means any two places that are on opposite sides of the earth. It's also the name of a group of islands in New Zealand which is diametrically opposite Greenwich, England. You learn something new everyday.

I chose the Hotei lunch set which consisted of three courses for HK$480 (US$62) plus service charge. There were at least three options for each course. I took a picture so that I wouldn't have to take notes, and then today I found out that I shot the wrong lunch set menu.

Besides the voluminous ala carte menu, they also have two lunch sets. This is NOT the one I chose.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again for good measure: When I'm planning to have a meal someplace special, I much prefer lunch over dinner. It's usually cheaper, I have the rest of the day and evening to digest my food, and the light is better for photographs.

Sashimi omakase, four kinds of fish. I especially liked the fatty salmon that melted in my mouth, as well as the freshly grated wasabi.

Seared duck salad with fresh figs and pistachios. Nice combination. Could have used a bit more dressing, though.

Lamb cutlets with wasabi mashed potato. The lamb was wonderfully juicy and perfectly seasoned, but I couldn't taste the wasabi in the green mash.

Because all the tables were booked, I had to sit at the robata or grill counter. I've eaten in a few places with open kitchens, but this time was by far the most exciting. The bespectacled cook (Wonder Dog, isdatchu?) whose station was in front of me made the duck salads. Let me tell you, Zuma was packed that day and everyone wanted duck salad. And the white guy made all the staff tense. I found myself chewing faster and faster as my meal progressed, in agonized sympathy.

Executive sous chef Miguel Huelamo runs a tight ship. At first I was surprised to see a gweilo in charge of a Japanese kitchen, but then with at least a dozen Chinese and only a couple of Japanese cooks, why not?

After gnawing the lamb chops down to the bone, I was feeling quite full but I could not resist dessert. Actually, I was curious to see if they could match the excellent desserts I'd had the previous year at another Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong-- Nobu.

My server recommended the muy expensivo hot chocolate cake .

Amedei hot chocolate cake with espresso caramel. After all is said and done, there's nothing to cap a meal better than chocolate.

Verdict: I suppose I could nitpick, like with the amount of dressing in the salad which could have been rectified easily if I had said something to my server, but I really have nothing serious to complain about. All my dishes looked fabulous and tasted good. My favorites were the grilled lamb and the soufflé-like dessert.

But I must say that I like Nobu more than Zuma. I don't know if it's because Nobu is a Japanese-owned restaurant, but as a Japanese-cuisine restaurant it seems truer to the source. The food looked prettier and cleaner. The flavors and techniques were more authentic. And my bill was much lower.

Still, if you've been to Nobu, I would recommend you try Zuma. Using my own ranking system, I give it one star-- a good restaurant in its category. Just not the best.

Kabayan! Only Filipino parents would name their child "Jennyfer".

One of the most beautiful restaurants I've ever been in. But I'm not sitting at the counter again.

Zuma's website


  1. Hahaha! "Jennyfer", very Filipino indeed...

  2. That's one way we can identify our countrymen abroad. Just ask how he/she spells his name.