Fusion restaurants have had traditionalists tutting for as long as I can remember. A sort of culinary cultural appropriation, it can be a touchy subject. However, never one for rules, I recently found myself sitting down to a meal at ZELA London.
Part of the five-star ME London hotel, ZELA is just off the Strand and combines Japanese and Mediterranean food with Balearic heritage - as the original ZELA can be found in Ibiza. More interesting still, its co-owners include Rafael Nadal, Enrique Iglesias and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Fittingly, the restaurant is all about celebrity chic. Inside, there are marble tables, wicker seats and plenty of faux-liage (its sister restaurant features more genuine plantlife but probably also more sunlight). With passersby stopping on the street to peer in through the arched windows, it gives you the sense that you’re in a truly rarefied environment.
The greenery continues on into the bathrooms which come complete with low lighting, quiet music and a pyramid of rolled hand towels. One of the door locks was broken - possibly as a nod to Ibiza nightclubs.
Back in the restaurant, the first dishes had arrived. Using chopsticks to dip edamame in shichimi salmorejo sauce made for a great test of dexterity. Meanwhile, a miso onion soup paired deliciously rich, salty broth with the familiar earthen flavours of mushrooms and vegetables.
What came next was a selection of sushi including Kappa Uramaki, with avocado and cucumber, tuna tataki with almonds and mojama and a fresh, citrusy salmon “Hawaiian” poke with mango, avocado and crunchy popped rice.
Cocktails are a big deal here and one appears, rather theatrically, in a cloud of smoke. The Coco Chanel, with Belvedere vodka, fresh lychee, raspberry liqueur, grapefruit and simple syrup, is crisp, refreshing and sweet without being too sugary. A flowery cocktail, as you can see, seemed to fit the backdrop.
However, the star of the show was undoubtedly the 48-hour slow cooked wagyu beef. It barely needed more than the wave of a chopstick in its direction before it fell apart.
Wagyu simply means “Japanese beef” and it has an especially high fat content, which can be tasted in the finished product. However, the excellent marbling means it’s more dispersed - causing the fat to melt into the meat during the cooking process. With every mouthful, you are acutely aware that this is both delicious and decadent. Any more would have been too much, but a smaller portion might have left us fiending for more.
Migrating to the bar, we were able to further appreciate the ambience of the space. Live music was provided by a talented singer who also played the harp. In a unique arrangement, a DJ concurrently mixed the backing track or at least pretended to do so.
ZELA London is a fantastic location for a cocktail or two and the pre-theatre set menu (£27/$35) offers great value for money. However, if the intention was to create a new must-try restaurant, they have somewhat missed the mark.
Having opened in October, this is a brand which is still finding its feet here in Britain’s capital - 1,000 miles and a world away from its home on the White Isle.