Zaman in Mayfair
In 1992, Mahmud Zaman began working as a kitchen hand at The Sportsman. Last month, following his meteoric rise to the position of head chef, the restaurant was re-launched under Zaman’s own name. With his Bangladeshi heritage and passion for worldwide cuisines, Zaman has created an international menu with a strong emphasis on European and Middle Eastern fusion cuisine.
Our first impression of Zaman was of a warm golden haze. The decor is simple yet gently opulent, a reflection perhaps of the gaming hall the restaurant is a part of (a less welcome reminder came in the form of a large television screen mounted prominently and inexplicably on a central pillar). Napkins are immaculately fanned, tiny bonsai perch on the tables, and attentive staff see to your every need.
A basket of lightly toasted bread and four neat pats of butter soon arrived to ease our growling stomachs while we perused the menu. Indecisive people, be warned: the menu is large. With a comprehensive selection of appetisers and a mains section divided into Fish, Meat & Poultry, and Around the World, choosing food at Zaman is no mean feat. Options range from traditional red meat dishes (T-Bone Steak with Hand-cut Chips or Lamb Cutlets, Sauteed Potato and Mint Jelly) to seafood with a twist (Pan-fried Fillet Halibut With Turmeric, Flavoured Courgettes Ragout And A Tomato And Olive Sauce) to quintessentially Asian and Middle Eastern (Singapore Noodle, Chicken or Lamb Biryani).
Eventually, we settled on starters of Char-grilled Asparagus with Warm Forest Mushroom Ragout and Garlic balsamic and the Grilled King Prawns, Lemon Butter with Fresh Red and Green Chilli, Lemon and Coriander, and a bottle of Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie.
The starters arrived promptly and beautifully presented. The asparagus was strewn with micro-greens and done to perfection: the initial crunch giving way to meltingly tender mouthfuls with just the right amount of char flavours. The ragout was light and flavoursome with warm chilli undertones, and the mellow sweetness of the garlic balsamic pulled the dish together perfectly. The grilled king prawns were equally impressive – plump, just done, and resting in a puddle of the best lemon butter I’ve ever tasted: light as air and zinging with coriander and chilli.
For mains, we decided on Char-grilled Marinated Chicken Breast Served with Tomato and Black Olive Tapenade with Rocket Risotto, and the Bamieh – Okra Cooked with Tomato and Coriander. The risotto was excellent, moist but not overdone, the pepperiness of the rocket slicing through the creaminess of the rice. The chicken was drier than we’d expected, but with the other elements it was scarcely noticeable. The Bamieh was rich and tomatoey with tender okra pieces and a bowlful of fine, fluffed rice. It was tasty, but sadly it lacked the subtleties of flavour we had come to expect after the other dishes. While one would happily eat a bowlful at any given moment, it simply wasn’t in the same league as the others.
The dessert menu threw us into further fits of indecision: Vanilla Creme Brulee with Lemon Sorbet or Creme Caramel with Vanilla Ice cream? The intriguingly named Passionfruit Dom, with Fresh Strawberry or Warm Sticky Toffee Pudding with Custard? We ended up ordering the Milky Chocolate Cheesecake with Banana Ice cream and the Coconut Mousse, Mango Sorbet Heart Garnished with Grated Glazed Coconuts. Two artfully arranged dishes arrived soon after, a ball of banana ice-cream nested in a tiny waffle basket, coconut mousse perched on a ring of delicate strawberry pieces. Like the Bamieh, the cheesecake was delicious but lacked the inspiration of the other dishes. The coconut mousse, however, was another story. Although the mousse itself was the texture of thick ice-cream rather than the light, foamy confection we’d expected, the balance of flavours was exquisite and very much reminiscent of the excellent starters we’d had earlier.
The difficulty of running a restaurant within a larger venue like The Sportsman is that it must cater to a pre-determined audience within a pre-defined space. In Zaman’s case, this resulted in a venue rife with contradictions (bronzed opulence and full formal dining service colliding with casino advertising and television screens) and a somewhat disparate menu seemingly ruled by the need to provide as much choice as possible for a wide variety of guests. While everything we ate was of a very high standard in its own right, there were moments of brilliance that made me long for a smaller, more focused menu that played exclusively to Zaman’s considerable strengths.
To book a table at Zaman call 0203 627 0879 or visit their website.