Since its opening in 2008, London’s award-wining restaurant Zuma has become one of the most popular evening spots in Dubai - located in the heart of Dubai’s International Financial Center (DIFC).The genius behind Zuma’s achievements lies in an intricate balance between cutting-edge Japanese culinary inventions and the designs of Noriyoshi Muramatsu, managing director of Tokyo design firm Studio Glitt.
Muramatsu’s stunning portfolio includes the interior design of Zuma London, Hong Kong, Istanbul and Dubai as well as the Roka Restaurant in Hong Kong and the Taj Presidential Palace in Mumbai. My conversation with Muramatsu in Dubai revealed the designer’s aesthetic and philosophical inspirations behind the creation of one of Dubai’s most successful restaurants.
The origins of Zuma’s culinary creations derive from Zuma’s founder, German chef Rainer Becker. During six years spent working in Toyko, Becker was introduced to the informal Japanese dining style called Izakaya. When he returned to London he developed the Zuma concept of authentic and traditional Japanese cuisine with a contemporary international twist. The result was a restaurant made up of three different components: the main kitchen, offering a selection of contemporary dishes; the Sushi Bar, featuring master sushi chefs; and the Robata Grill, a concept which originates from the cooking style of northern Japanese fisherman.
When Noriyoshi Muramatsu was commissioned to materialize the Zuma vision he quickly became emotionally attached to the project. He incorporated his expertise both aesthetically and spiritually by creating a space that would have a contemporary feel yet hold the same welcoming ambiance as a traditional Japanese Izakaya. This is the charm of Zuma. It is a restaurant that is accessible to all.
Zuma’s design is created through the use of natural and commonplace materials that are maintained in their pure form. For example, the elements of antique pine, recycled from old Japanese houses, are used without a special finish or pre-determined format. The wood on the table-tops are not cut in straight lines; they are left jagged, and carry with them signs of wear. Similarly, hand-carved granite counters and salvaged rusted-steel walls are left in their original primal state. Time thus becomes the determining aesthetic factor for these elements of Muramatsu’s design.
The worn look creates a natural and inviting atmosphere. "It is the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi, explained Muramatsu.".This ancient Zen Buddhist philosophy refers to the natural beauty of imperfection. The beauty of Zuma’s design is derived from its natural and pure qualities that are at once real and permanent while also ethereal and fragile, thus imbuing the restaurant with a rare form of natural beauty.
Throughout the restaurant Japanese traditional emblems are combined with Arabic accents. One of the most recognizable décor elements are the light-infused columns which elongate the back windows of the upper floor lounge area. Muramatsu told me how during his first trip to the region he was taken with the Arabic-style lantern and decided to incorporate its function within Zuma’s design, but give it a Japanese feel.
The columns exude a warm amber light throughout the lounge area but are decorated with imprints from Kimono dress patterns. Glass walls subtly divide different areas of the restaurant, providing a sense of space and movement. Decorating the glass walls towards the back of the lounge are colored replicas of the Japanese coat of arms. They elegantly re-instate the restaurant’s Japanese heritage.
Zuma’s lighting is a pivotal design feature. It adjusts according to the time of day, thus changing the atmosphere of the restaurant according to the position of the sun. This simple feature adapts the restaurant’s mood and the display of the food to the client’s desire. The lighting also works to balance the six elements of fire, earth, water, air, wood and iron to achieve a harmony at all times. The element of water can be found in a bamboo sculpture created from 450 vines and 350 vines that transcend a central void while the element of fire can be seen in the clay plates that align the walls. A rusted steel wall on the right-hand wall of the lounge consistently shows signs of wear; its imperfect crumbling surface is further highlighted by the lighting.
Muramatsu’s design for Zuma Dubai appeals to the senses: sight, taste, touch, smell and sound. But the restaurant’s real genius is that it harmonizes the emotions. Zuma’s natural materials surrender to the uncertain hand of time; free-spirited and pure, their stunning physical changes reveal the imperfection of natural beauty.