Deanna Thomas prefers the food to go at this new Japanese grill
It’s fair to say that if someone mentions a Japanese sushi and robatayaki grill in Hale, it’s likely to bring to mind an interior decked out in sleek and edgy black lacquer, offset by a ubiquitous blossom tree in the centre. Victors settled into the village very well serving pan-Asian, globally inspired small plates to the local fizz-quaffing WAG population amongst a dreamlike abundance of faux wisteria.
Zumu, a bit further down Ashley Road from Victors, is actually nothing like that. It’s much smaller and comparatively basic with white Formica tables, some orientally inspired artwork and faux leather booths – although there was an upstairs bit we never got to see, so who knows?
It’s generally very good... but they know how to charge.
Zumu Hale only opened a couple of months ago and has an even smaller sister site in Wilmslow. It’s unapologetically casual. The kind of place where the locals can comfortably wear their third or even fourth best pair of designer jeans with absolutely no need to spend half the day in the hairdressers first. In fact, they could probably get away with just a satin negligée and matching robe, because a steady stream of continuously replenished brown paper bags lined up on the counter revealed how well it does from takeaway orders.
They describe themselves as ‘a relaxed yet elegant dining destination’ and the food as ‘modern Japanese cuisine that is famously authentic but not traditional'. It’s generally very good. Much care has been taken to source fresh ingredients and in the presentation, but they know how to charge.
I fancied starting things off with a livener in the form of a Fujitini from their Signature cocktail list. A lychee martini has all the right moves; at first it seems flowery and sweet but a good one will be quite capable of delivering a roundhouse kick to the back of the throat. This one was limp-wristed, served in a tumbler rather than a martini glass and as weak as a long drink of water. Later, the bar man sidled over and apologetically admitted that he’d accidentally only put half the amount of ingredients in. It still managed to find its way onto the bill though.
The menu is relatively large, and does the same things in different ways. Take prawn and avocado for example. You could have it spilling out of a hand-rolled seaweed cone (Temaki), or inside a cylindrical "inside-out roll" (Uramaki) or even a thin roll with nori on the outside (Hosomaki.)
We tried to order a bit of something from each hot and cold section, but with small plates, you’re never quite sure whether you’ve over or under-ordered. Always watch the server’s eyes closely. No matter how poker faced they are, there’s always a ‘tell’.
More varieties of sashimi are available at weekends because no-one wins when top quality fish has to sit around midweek. A mixed pot-luck twelve piece sashimi platter (£22.95), or moriawase, came served in a wooden box over ice, strings of radish and edible flowers; three pieces each of Hamachi/yellowtail, Suzuki/seabass, Shake/salmon and Maguro/tuna were as fresh and silky as you like.
A side of Goma Wakame (£3.95) seaweed salad with sesame dressing provided a complementary crunch and a few welcome base notes.
From the robatayaki, or grill, Gyuuniku, 250g of ribeye was value for money at £22.45. Cooked rare as requested it required more than a bit of chew but the meat had good flavour, especially with the garlic yaki niku (yucky knicker?!) sauce. Hitsujiniku (£14.95) grilled lamb chops marinated in a spicy miso was spot on, delicious and tender but so bonsai-sized, they looked liked they’d been sourced from a toy shop farm in Lilliput.
Home made chicken gyoza (£6.95) were comforting and silky dumplings just like okā-san/mother used to make. The batter on both Sofuto Krabu (£7.95) deep fried soft shell crab and vegetable tempura (£5.95) was light and crispy enough to prove that these guys know what they’re doing.
For something a bit different and to balance out all the meat and fish we threw in a couple of skewers of robata grilled tofu (£6.45) which my daughter compared to a scrunched up paper towel, but the sticky sweet soy dressing made it more palatable.
Service was polite and friendly, but patchy despite the scarcity of dining in customers. Staff seemed quite obsessed with the computerised till point, spending so much time round it I assumed it was actually transmitting outtakes from Love Island rather than issuing correct bills and processing orders.
I also ended up doing that cringe-worthy thing where, after sitting in front of empty plates for an uncomfortably long time, you ask the server for the bill and they completely ignore you, forcing you to turn your head in an exorcist-like 360°, leaving your words hanging in mid air.
Zuma’s food is good but the price of these small plates really does add up. I see why their takeaway option is popular. That way, Hale gets to wear what it wants, stay at (a more than likely luxuriously furnished) home and drink the booze they choose. If they want to go out out, but compromise on authenticity, Victors is just down the road.
Zumu Sushi and Robata Yaki, 191 Ashley Road, Hale WA15 9SQ Tel: 0161 928 7870
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Sashimi 8, ribeye 8, lamb 8, seaweed salad 7, crab 8, gyoza 8, tempura 8, tofu 6
Polite and friendly, but patchy
Basic. The food is the star