Zuma is a fantastic place to relax and order a glass of wine after a tough day at the office. And as it is located at Hong Kong’s Landmark Center in the heart of Central, chances are it is even closer to your office than you would think. The sophisticated, elegant restaurant on Level 5, designed by Noriyoshi Muramatsu of Tokyo design firm Studio Glitt in collaboration with Tokyo design firm Super Potato, is reminiscent of a Japanese garden with an open plan natural stone kitchen. A dramatic spiral staircase leads from the restaurant to the bar and the lounge area on Level 6, where guests are invited to relax on a variety of comfortable sofa seating areas while enjoying the same lunch and dinner menu as that of Zuma restaurant. The lounge is also a perfect venue for private launch events and also features a late night DJ’s mix.
The cuisine offered at Zuma is defined as a “sophisticated twist on the traditional Japanese Izakaya style of informal eating and drinking.” Dishes are authentically Japanese but more bold and creative than traditional. Although presentation is simple, the ingredients used are top quality. Dishes are meant to either be shared or enjoyed individually.
The other day, I met with Kelvin Ziea, Sommelier of Zuma Hong Kong to discuss the restaurants wine list and any trends he may have had noticed in how his customers order wine.
Kelvin and I discussed the izakaya style Japanese cuisine offered on Zuma’s menu and how the restaurant’s wine list, particularly the lighter bodied reds and fruity whites on that list, complement their signature dishes. He let me in on which regions and varietals appear to be most popular among Zuma’s guests and on how these consumption trends change with the seasons. After our interview, we also discussed the reasons behind why dessert wines are so rarely ordered in most of the restaurants in this city and why a large portion of Zuma’s clientele prefers sake to grape wine.
Our interview follows:
My name is Kelvin Ziea and I’ve worked here since the opening team and I helped to create and also to run the wine program here in Zuma, also included the sake. Zuma in Hong Kong has been open for 5 years and so far we have done quite a lot of events, and also we have a lot of requirements on different types of wine from all over the world. So our wine list is more like an international style and also we have an extensive list of sake. So, all included, we have around 400 different selections from wine, champagne and sake.
Please tell me a bit about the concept behind the menu at Zuma?
We are more like an international style restaurant, so of course our wine list is also includes lots of regions from around the world. Like, let’s say, French, we have Bordeaux, Burgundy and also we have wine from Italy and then German, Spanish, also Portuguese. And also, New World, we have American, etc. All the famous wine countries that you can name.
And how does the wine list fit the food at Zuma?
Our wine list…The range, let’s say the style, we have more our red wines on the lighter body side, let’s say Pinot Noir or Sangiovese. Because we are a Japanese restaurant, the food style is more delicate, the flavor is more fine, so we have to have more selection in the red wines which goes better with the delicate style of Japanese food. And also for the whites, we have a fruitier style white wine, let’s say a Riesling or some of the white wines from the South of France, let’s say Rhone varieties, like Condrieu or some of the Voignier grapes is more popular here. Of course we also have like a full body, robust style Burgundy bottle on our list.
I know Zuma has locations in other cities as well, such as Dubai, Istanbul, Bangkok, London, Miami… Is the wine list at this Hong Kong restaurant different than those of the other branches or do they all pretty much have the same selection?
The selection is different everywhere, because it’s a different clientele, and also it just needs to fit into a different market. But the style and the structure of the wine list is pretty much the same, it’s more like an international style. You won’t find any Zuma wine list that has like only, 90% balance of just French wines or just particular country’s wine. It will be more equally divided between Old World and New World. And for sake also. Our list has to have….most of the sake could cover most of the regions of Japan.
And your wine list, how is it physically arranged? Is it arranged by variety or by region?
First, we arrange it by the countries and also the countries will start with regions from North to South and from West to East. And then we list it from Old World to New World. So the first page you flip on will be the French wines and then Italy, the biggest to the smallest countries also…the biggest selection sorry, the biggest selection country.
And which wine region seems to be the most popular? What do guests tend to order the most?
For the moment, I would say 50-50 if you’re talking about quantity, which is if you physically open the bottle and count…Every day we have like 50% New World and 50% Old World. But the customers tend to spend more on the Old World wines. But here the trend is more like a Burgundy and Bordeaux and some Italy also. Italy would be Piedmont and also some Super Tuscans are quite famous here. Our customers’ drinking habits here are quite, generally speaking, I would say is quite common from everywhere, but we have people looking for lighter bodied red wine, so that’s why our list was created like that and you can find lots of Pinot Noir and lighter bodied grape varieties on our list.
And have you seen these consumption trends that you’ve noticed changing over time? Do guests tend to over different things at different times?
Different seasons, yes. Different seasons, people tend to order different styles of wines. Let’s say summer time, people definitely order more white wine or lighter bodied red wine. Sometimes we get requests to chill the lighter bodied red wine to serve at the table. Let’s say…Right now we serve some of the Pinot Noir at a slightly chilled temperature and also white wine is more suitable for the summer time and also rose. Of course, we are doing the Sunday brunch and we have a free flow champagne so at the same time, you know, we encourage people to drink champagne as an aperitif, especially during the summer time.
We’ve found at most of our restaurants in the Hong Kong market, that wine lists tend to be dominated by red wine. Is that a trend that you’ve noticed here too? Do people generally order more reds than whites?
I would say, generally speaking, red wine…More people requested it to enjoy it by itself or have it with some grilled food here. I’m not too sure about the whole market of Hong Kong, but particularly in Zuma we have people who order red wine, it’s because they want to go more for cooked food or meats or something. But in here I don’t really see people just ordering red wine. Let’s say we have a table of 4. People tend to usually order both white at the beginning to start with and then red. Our guests are quite knowledgeable about food and wine pairings.
So they order different bottles for different courses?
Yes, they do. Right now I have more chance to recommend sake instead of wine because…And also our customers, they are from around the world, so I’m sure lots of time they have a good drinking habit already and they know what they want. We just need to recommend what is the most suitable and the best price range within which they want.
If you could pick 1 or 2 dishes from Zuma’s menu that best represent the restaurant, like a signature dish, what would it be and what kind of wine would you pair it with?
We have a lot of famous appetizers, good creations on the appetizers. Let’s say, we have a yuzu sea bass which is a thinly sliced sea bass with some truffle oil as a dressing and then with some salmon roe and baby shiso leaf. That one is one of our lighter body flavor dishes and you could go with some Viognier or some Condrieu from the Rhone and also lighter body white wine like the Gewurztraminer would also go with this appetizer. Also, sushi/sashimi…The best recommendation, I’d say for sashimi also goes with a small glass of sake or a half bottle for two people and then you can move onto a glass of red wine or a bottle. It depends on how many people you are with.
That sounds fantastic. Thanks so much for your time!
Later on I also asked Kelvin about sweet wine, rosé and sake consumption trends that he has noticed in Zuma’s clientele. He had the following interesting remarks to share:
We’ve found that in this market, not so popular the dessert wines. Have you noticed this in Zuma?
It’s about people caring about food and health. Some people say oh it’s too sweet, so they don’t tend to drink dessert wine with the dessert. Most people go for champagne with dessert. Not that heavy and less sugar.
And among dessert wines is there a variety that’s popular?
I find the more senior, older people like to drink Port wine and the younger crowd likes more Sauternes or sweet wines from Australia. Port wine usually for more senior people.
A bit about rose wines? Do you have them on your list and how often do people order them?
We tried to push rose. At the beginning we thought, ok we have a balcony here and we have a terrace and people may like to have a glass of rose in the afternoon, but it’s not the case at the moment. And we have tried different programs before. Let’s say we choose a bit of the red Pinot Noir during the afternoon time, it’s not the trend at the moment.
What percentage would you say order rose?
5% maybe. People drink rose champagne instead of rose wine.
And about sake vs. wine – what percentage of guests that order either one of the two order sake?
I think 5 years ago when I started to work at this restaurant, we had around, very little tables that wanted to try sake. Because before when they started to export sake from Japan, most of the time it was factory style sake and it really gave you a headache. Now they export good, pleasant sake with quality and the price is very reasonable. It’s now the summer time, sake makes you feel more relaxed. And it’s less sugar than grape wine because grape wine is made with grapes. Sake has a higher alcohol content but wine has a lot of sugar. Rice doesn’t have as much. It makes your skin a bit more shiny. That’s why people order it so much more. And it helps with hangovers too!
Landmark Level 5 & 6, 15 Queen’s Road, Central Hong Kong
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