x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Zuma restaurant wants to set up on Abu Dhabi's Sowwah Island

Zuma, the Japanese cuisine brand favoured among Dubai deal-makers, is considering a branch on Sowwah Island.

The Japanese restaurant Zuma, which has a branch at the DIFC, is looking to open in the capital but not in a hotel. Randi Sokoloff / The National
The Japanese restaurant Zuma, which has a branch at the DIFC, is looking to open in the capital but not in a hotel. Randi Sokoloff / The National

Zuma, the Japanese cuisine brand favoured among the deal makers of Dubai, is scouting locations for a new restaurant in Abu Dhabi.

The group opened in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) in September 2008 and is now considering Abu Dhabi's financial centre on Sowwah Island as the venue for its next opening.

The company is keen to avoid a hotel location in Abu Dhabi, said Ajaz Sheikh, the director of operations for the Middle East.

"One of our success stories is the valet, the elevator, the sense of arrival, and you're not walking through a hotel lobby," he said. "We do not want to be in a hotel."

Sowwah Island, which is being modelled on Manhattan, is designed to become the capital's new business district.

"It will be a free zone so we're obviously looking at a site over there," said Mr Sheikh. "Most probably it is the best site for us because the model works. It is a financial centre and if it works in Dubai, it will work in Abu Dhabi."

The aim is to open the restaurant at the end of next year or by early 2013, he said.

Spending in full-service restaurants in the UAE has grown from more than US$1.4 billion (Dh5.14bn) in 2005 to almost $1.9bn last year, according to estimates from Euromonitor International, a market research company.

Mr Sheikh believes there is limited choice for "destination dining" in the capital, with most of the major restaurants sited in hotels.

This is mainly because of alcohol licensing, but Mr Sheikh said restaurants could be "stand-alone" and still be licensed through a particular hotel, or they could operate through "free-zone" areas, such as the DIFC, and be able to serve alcohol.

There has been a marked increase in the number of upmarket London offshoots opening in Dubai's financial district. A Dubai brand of The Ivy last week opened its doors and the Chinese cuisine brand Hakkasan is scheduled to open nearby later this year.

The company behind Zuma also has plans to bring its sister brand, Roka, to Dubai, and was looking for a site, Mr Sheikh said. Zuma was launched by the chef Rainer Becker and Arjun Waney with a restaurant in Knightsbridge, London. There are now branches in Hong Kong, Istanbul and Miami.

There are plans to expand in the Middle East, with a restaurant due to open in Beirut next year in the five-star Le Gray hotel.

The unrest across some parts of the region has forced Zuma to take a step back from some of the projects it was looking at.

"We'll just wait and see for the rest of the Middle East," said Mr Sheikh. "We open our own businesses and we're our own investor. Obviously as an investor in the Middle East we're a little bit dubious with what's happening in Egypt and Bahrain and things like that.

"We're always looking at projects. Obviously Beirut and Abu Dhabi is a priority. We can only do so many restaurants at a time, because we still are a small independent-run business. We're not a chain, we don't franchise, we don't sell our rights all around the world. We need to control our brand."