The extraordinary Rainer Becker, chef turned international restauranteur talks to us about ZUMA, what makes a good restaurant and where in London he likes to hang out in!
WITH 11 ZUMA RESTURANT AROUND THE GLOBE AND NOW WITH THE THIRD LOCATION IN THE USA, LAS VEGAS – TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF ZUMA AND HOW EACH RESTURANT HAS ITS SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES?
When I opened Zuma London, I knew exactly what menu I would introduce, how I wanted the restaurant to look and feel and even the designer I wanted to work with. As Zuma became more popular and the demand to open in different cities arose, I decided to keep the ‘Zuma-style’, but embrace the spirit of each location. The concept is authentic Japanese cuisine but is not traditional. My inspiration was from the easy mix of Izakaya, which was perfect and allowed for an atmosphere of informality and fun. A place you could enjoy dining with friends or family, in an environment that is relaxed. but is still sophisticated and elegant. Although every Zuma restaurant is intrinsically different echoing the culture of the different cities, there’s certainly a familiarity between the sites and the menus. Take Zuma New York, for example. We wanted to ramp things up a bit design wise using iron, metal and glass to convey more of that urban New York feel. It’s a large site – almost 3600 sq ft of private dining room space alone – but the design and layout allows for privacy too in the lounge, restaurant and bar and it still feels like ZUMA. We opened with a Sunday Brunch menu as well, as that’s a bigger thing in the NY than here. Same but different – the difference being in the detail.
2. DO YOU THINK YOU WILL CONTINUE TO EXPAND OR IS THERE AN UPPER-LIMIT OF HOW LARGE THE COMPANY CAN GROW?
If you asked me back in 2002, when I’d just opened Zuma in Knightsbridge, would I open another Zuma, then the answer would have been no. But we’ve grown a loyal following of valued guests over the years and the trigger that often starts the journey of looking at a city, is those people who say “Hey, you guys should open in…wherever”. So I guess there’s no limit because who knows. We just opened Zuma Rome in March and next stop this winter will be Las Vegas.
3. WHAT MAKES A GOOD RESTAURANT?
Consistency. Every single effort: each and every single service. And that’s with everything – service, food, design, drinks. It’s always the same – regardless of location – detail, detail, detail.
4. BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN?
Follow your own path.
5. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE HANG-OUT SPOTS IN LONDON?
I live in Barnes in SW London and I love just hanging out in local places within walking distance of home. I eat a lot of Japanese food at Zuma, which I love, but I really like places like Riva, which is a favourite local Italian haunt on weekend.
6. WHAT WOULD YOUR IDEAL SUNDAY BE LIKE?
Sundays spent at home with family are my ultimate luxury. I have a beautiful wife and two fantastic daughters, so cooking and just really hanging out with them and some close friends.
Portrait taken by Nyla Sammons