Birthdays are wonderful things, and if you’re one of those people (like me) who like to milk things for all you can, you basically celebrate for an entire month (or longer). One of the final things I did while celebrating my birthday (which included a boozy brunch at Hot Box, a sausage making course at B&H Kitchens, amazing wine from Lucky Chip Burgers and Wine, Unlimited Dim Sum at Fu Manchu, more burgers from Dip and Flip, tacos from Mole Taco Bar and who can remember what else?) was go for Japanese food at Umu. It’s been on my list since they achieved a second Michelin star, especially since they do Japanese (which is one of my favorite cuisines…although really, I’m not at all picky foodwise). I booked it months in advance, so I just had to sit back and wait until the day we got to go.
When they confirmed my reservation, they did tell us that we only had the table for two and a half hours, which is a bit strange given they have Michelin stars, but it also meant we wouldn’t be in for a late night. When we arrived, we were greeted in the typical Japanese way with a loud cheer from the sushi chefs behind the counter: Unusual for a fine dining restaurant, but it felt welcoming and authentic. The waiter explained the menu to us, as there is both an a la carte menu with a huge selection of sushi as well as hot and cold dishes and the Kaiseki menu which is a fixed menu and is the menu that they recommend to have. We definitely went for the Kaiseki menu spent much time deliberating whether we would do wine pairings, sake pairings or one of each. Finally, we decided that we should go with sake as they probably would have a much better selection! We definitely were not disappointed with the sake selection that they provided to us through the night.
The first course was steamed red clams and scallops with a shot of “sea water” (or the poaching liquor) on the side. I enjoyed the dish, but it didn’t really wow me. It did wow my partner however, and it did pair beautifully with the sake. The next course was a clear soup, cod and a pea tofu. For me, this was truly an exceptional course. Weirdly, my partner was the opposite for this one, and just found it nice, but nothing amazing. Given our usually spot-on similar tastes in food, this was definitely a nice change for us. We were also mesmerized with the different serving vessels for the sake, as for this course the sake was served in a pale blue bowl. I mean, I didn’t really care as, honestly, I’ll probably drink out of anything, but it did cause us to raise our eyebrows for a moment.
The next two courses were sashimi, both of which were served with the same sake brand, but with a different grade. Apparently, the number in sake represents how much of the rice is left when it is polished, so a lower number leads to a smoother sake. The things you learn! The first round of sashimi was very thinly sliced Cornish white fish – so thinly sliced in fact that you could see right through it! It was also served on a very sweet message from the chef that was placed under a transparent top.The second plate of sashimi was more of the traditional, thicker sliced sashimi you get at other Japanese restaurants. Both were fantastic (as we’re huge sashimi fans), and we were really happy with the sauces they served to go with and the amazing wasabi.
Next was eel two ways: Small baby eel from the river Severn and North Irish eel served more like a traditional Japanese eel. Both of the eel dishes were amazing. I think my partner prefered the baby eel, but the flavors of both were outstanding. Next was a rabbit course (which I thought was quite unusual for a Japanese restaurant). It was a really good course, but not the best of the evening. The leg croquette was probably the best thing on the plate.
Next up was the wagyu beef, and I was really looking forward to this course as wagyu beef has that great fat marbelization that can really add a great flavor to the beef. Unfortunately, as the beef was served raw, it was a bit lacking in flavor. I feel like the beef really needs to be cooked a bit to get that great fat flavor out of it. It ended up being my least favorite course of the night. Next was my favorite course of the night consisting of rice, cod cheeks, Japanese pickles and miso soup. It was probably the richest and best miso soup I’ve eaten in my life (and I’ve had quite a few)! I am still dreaming about that soup. The pickles were amazing and the rice with cod cheek was packed full of flavor. It was a great end to the savory bits of the meal. By this time, we had been here almost our full two hours, but there was no rush to get rid of us.
We were then told dessert was next, but if we wanted to order anything else off the menu we could do so now. I had overheard the table next to us (it was some sort of date, and I really wanted to punch the guy in the face, he was so annoying) being told that they had some sea urchin on the special list. We wanted that. We wanted that so badly. Unfortunately, the table next to us got the last of the sea urchin, so we had to settle on traditional style razor clam and tamago nigiri sushi and their foie gras nigiri. I am weirdly obsessive about eating tamago in Japanese restaurants, and I just had to try it. All three were really fantastic pieces of nigiri, and I could definitely see coming back to Umu just to try the sushi and a la carte menu.
Finally it was time for dessert: Strawberries, cherry blossoms and asparagus. Ever since reading the menu, the dessert was probably the course I was most intrigued by because of the asparagus. I’ve never had asparagus in a dessert, but I had faith that it would be amazing. And it was. I’m going to try to make asparagus ice cream at home some time just because I can (but I’m sure it will be far inferior to this one). Finally we were asked if we wanted a digestif, and we said no as we thought we should leave to catch our train. So they brought out our petit fours. The miso caramel was amazing (and is going to be another at home experiment in the near future). However, once we realized we just missed our train, we then opted for some Japanese whisky to enjoy. (Plus they brought us more petit fours, so it was a double win.) After the whisky we headed out, and the two and a half hour time limit seemed like it was just something we once imagined.
Umu was a fantastic way to end my birthday celebrations (except well, going to Dickie Fitz for a pig roast with friends a week later). They had fabulous service and amazing food with delicious sake pairings. And as much as they said there would be, there was no rush. It definitely deserves its two stars! It’s also nice to go someplace different than the standard French/British fare that you get at most other places. If you’re a fan of Japanese food (as I definitely am), Umu is probably the place to go for a special occasion!
14-16 Bruton Place, W1J 6LX