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Freud postulates that all humans have a death instinct, “an innate and unconscious tendency toward self-destruction”. Critics scoff there is no proof. But there is. Brunch. That is to say, all-you-can-eat brunch with a free-flow option. Too often you have staggered home from one and collapsed in a brunch coma, clinging to life, swearing you will never eat and drink so much again. And then, vital organs rebooted, blood chemistry back to factory settings, you brunch again a week later. It’s not your fault you don’t learn – it’s Freud’s. You’re a victim of his death instinct (gluttony, says your wife). So you find yourself at Zuma, an architecturally stunning Japanese restaurant in Central, on a Sunday at 11am.
Because of COVID, the buffet is down and you are served course after course, any one of which you can order more of (except for your main and dessert). You get the least expensive “signature” drink option, unlimited fills of R de Ruinart NV champagne.
Like the first drop before the deluge, you start with edamame. And then the storm hits, mainly piscine. Everything is at least very good, and most items are excellent. A standout is a citrusy beef tartare served in a small sesame ice-cream cone.
Seared salmon with spicy ponzu is a hit.
Thinly sliced yellowtail with yuzu truffle dressing is extraordinarily delicious. You love the truffle scent and taste, which is perfectly balanced.
There are exquisitely decorated platters of sashimi and sushi. You particularly like the soft-shell crab rolls and the flounder sushi aburi, scored and charred lightly by blowtorch (which imparts a wonderful layer of taste).
The chicken karaage with chilli mayonnaise is outstanding, moist within, crunchy without.
Zuma’s pork gyozas with coriander and spicy wafu sauce are commendably made from scratch, including the skins. Somehow though even these exemplary gyozas do not equal good Chinese dumplings. Cruel to say, Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-fried Buns stomps these suckers. So do Little Chili’s and Wing Lai Yuen’s house-made potstickers. Liao Za Lie’s pork-dill dumplings deliver the kill shot.
All the mains are excellent. You have the spicy beef tenderloin with sesame, red chilli and sweet soy. You ask for it medium rare and it comes well done. You flag a waiter, who immediately replaces it done right.
Your wife adores her miso-marinated black cod wrapped in hoba leaf, as do you.
Another friend loves her grilled hamachi kama (collar) with lemon and sea salt, though you don’t taste it. You do taste another friend’s roasted Boston lobster with garlic, shiso and ponzu butter, and it’s scrumptious.
All the fish is pristine. Shiso, mint and basil’s precocious sibling, is amply used here. Zuma’s food might be the most beautifully plated in all of Hong Kong.
Dessert is a sculpture of ice and fruits, house-made vanilla and chocolate ice creams (which your wife thinks are exceptional) and a small chocolate lava cake. It’s a visual knockout including opaque crushed ice, transparent ice boulders and flower petals. You’d never order this for dessert at a typical meal, but for brunch, it seems to have just the right festivity, outdoing most other brunch desserts you can think of, which are usually bar-mitzvah level pastry.
Your champagne lacks finesse, no better than inexpensive Trader Joe’s Prosecco, best for Bellinis and mimosas. But given the price (HK$250 each) and the litres you consume, it’s a good deal. Glasses are swiftly refilled.
When you started the meal, the waiter told you they would bring all the food and you could simply request seconds of any item you liked. What he neglected to mention is that there were optional dishes you could order: cold udon with katsuobushi soup, sweetcorn with shiso butter, grilled pork ribs with spicy-and-sour sauce, shiitake mushrooms with wafu butter. You regret this because you would have liked to try these dishes. Also, your wife isn’t a raw seafood fan (and is allergic to shellfish) and the ribs and udon (which she loves) would have suited her nicely. Had you been told that iced tea was available at no charge, you would have foregone water, which came out to about HK$300 for four. Likewise, you would have enjoyed an Aperol spritz or an Asahi, but you weren’t informed they came with the signature package. Possibly your friends who showed up early had the menu fully explained, not you. You liked your waiter, who was personable (charming and sweet, says your wife) and quite attentive, but think this was a significant oversight.
Had a good microbrew been available, you would have chosen it over the champagne and other drinks listed. You had a Monkey King the other day that would have closed the deal with this chow. If Zuma feels local micro is not authentic, certainly there are Japanese micros they could showcase.
The meal came to a little over HK$2,400 for two including HK$500 for the drink option and a 10% service charge. Given the very high quality of the food, its notable beauty and the hogsheads of champagne consumed, the value for dollar was high. It’s the best brunch you’ve had in Hong Kong.
You return home mid-afternoon and, succumbing to an innate and unconscious tendency toward self-destruction, collapse. You wake up early evening, sleep cycle completely ahoo. It was worth it, but given the strength of your death instinct (gluttony, your wife repeats), perhaps you should avoid this sort of meal in the future. Your wife, Self-Restraint’s favourite daughter, responds by saying she loves brunch and intends to keep going. So you will too.
This is your imperiled restaurant critic, David Greenberg, signing off.
Rating (on a scale of 0 to 5)
Overall value: 4.5
In order to review objectively, David Greenberg does not solicit or accept comped meals and anonymously reviews restaurants.