When I visited: January 2018
Location: London, Mayfair
Rating in the Michelin Guide: 2 stars
What to wear: Men – jeans or nice trousers and a shirt; women – jeans and a smart top or a smart dress / workwear
Ambience: Intimate, dark
Course of the meal: Prawn parade
If I could change one thing: More truffle taste in truffle course
Umu has a lot of 2-star hallmarks: a discreet entrance, high prices, impressive wine (and sake) list and a takeaway (in this case, a postcard with endearingly profound messages).
As this was a Christmas present meal, we went for the tasting (‘Winter Kaiseki’) menu and we got a copy of this on our table so we could follow it through the meal. Everything was served promptly and the sommelier was very helpful in assisting with a choice of very clean sake after a glass of house Champagne. The restaurant itself is intimate and dark and cool, with sliding doors and fabric arches leading to the bathrooms and darkened windows to hide any view of the inside from the street.
The first course was ‘mukozuke’ – Cornish cuttlefish, Okinawa-snow salt, bottarga and ao-nori, which was unusually savoury and nicely balanced. Next came the ‘nimonowan’ – fine clear soup with Spider crab cake and seasonal vegetables. The heavy emphasis on fish and vegetables helped the whole meal to avoid being too heavy.
The main fish courses were ‘tsukuri’ – line-caught Cornish white fish and “Ike-Jime” usuzukuri (a message from Chef Yoshi in his own wood block print), followed by a selection of beautiful sashimi (‘fish of the day’). The fatty tuna in particular was really delicious. However, the best course of the whole meal in my opinion was the ‘agemono’ – “Kawariage” prawn parade (Scottish langoustine, Portuguese red prawn and New Caledonian blue tiger prawn). One of the decorative prawns was presented whole and another claw held salt for you to pour over the prawns – a very nice touch.
Next came “hashiyasume” – “yaki-saba-zushi” western Japan style cured mackerel sushi and sudachi, then ‘mushimono – “kami-nabe” monkfish hot pot and winter vegetables. This course was served on a bed of leaves and a burner box to keep it warm, which made it smell nice (and a little Christmassy) too. The only ‘meat’ course was ‘gohan’ – Dorset “Shika” Roe deer with winter black truffle and marinated egg yolk. This was a a great course but it didn’t have much of the truffle flavour to it, which was a shame.
The dessert was one of the best courses (“sakagura” with kumquat), and not too sweet at all. We also got petits fours before and during green tea – a yuzu and lemon macaron, miso salted caramel and matcha financier, which were all brilliant. The staff were surprised when a female customer paid, but no more so than the staff at perhaps every French restaurant I’ve been to …
Overall, I would highly recommend Umu and would go back to try some of their a la carte dishes.