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Two Michelin Stars, London

Reviewed by Justine Murphy, CEO of mymuybueno – January 2016

Umu restaurant opened its doors in 2004 in Mayfair, it was the first Kyoto kaiseki restaurant in Britain. The restaurant is part of the MARC group, which also owns The Greenhouse in Mayfair (where I will be dining soon too). In 2015, Umu was awarded two Michelin stars. 

Of course I opted for the tasting menu to of course try as much as possible, and I ordered one extra dish that I could not resist. Head Chef Yoshinori Ishii was present on my visit.

I was given the choice of a table or a seat at the sushi bar. I opted for the bar, where the action was. Within seconds I was greeted by every member of staff. This was the case for every guest who arrived or departed – a greeting to say welcome, or thank you and goodbye. How lovely. It really made the dining experience right from the start. A Japanese family with a four – or five-year old child were dining at a table near me, and that spoke volumes to me too – that I was sat somewhere quite different to most Michelin star establishments. ‘Welcome to our home’ was the feeling, and I relaxed instantly.

Mukozuke. This was Apple Cured Pollack, Udo, Apple Wasabi Oroshi and was served in a handmade bowl created by Yoshinori himself. He actually made a few pieces of the flatware here, as well as the chopsticks rests, which just adds even more to the whole personal experience. The Mukozuke was a beautiful dish, with clean and crisp and fresh flavours all singing on my palate. The combination of apple and Pollack was excellent and it was a lovely opening dish.

This was served in a handmade bowl created by Yoshinori himself.

Nimonowan, a Fine Clear Soup, Cornish Monkfish, Skin-Dofu. Deep-fried bonito, cured carrot and white radish were the hidden gems in this dish. It smelt incredible. Subtle, sweet and clean flavours in every bite. An interesting dish in terms of texture with the crunchy vegetables on top and then the soft tofu underneath. I’m still to be made a convert with tofu, and even eating two Michelin star tofu didn’t convince me, but I respect that it is a well-used ingredient in Japanese cooking and it served its place here.

Tsukuri, line caught Cornish White Fish ‘Ike-Jime’ Usuzukuri. This was beautiful sashimi of Gurnard served with a pot of chilli citrus sauce for dipping, with lime, lemon, daikon and chives, and another two of soy and wasabi. Oh my word. With every mouthful I knew the respect and love and care taken to handle and prepare this dish. It was incredible. It was served on a sheet of glass with a paper underneath and, as you ate, more and more of the writing on this paper was revealed. When the paper was removed, I could read the translation on the reverse, which was a sweet touch. This was just such a well-thought out and beautiful dish. The citrus and chilli sauce complemented the white fish extraordinarily well. I would come back to eat this dish alone.

Selection Fish of the Day came next and this was beautiful sashimi, again with the same respect for the fish clearly evident. The dipping pots were left, and once more the white fish excelled when combined with the chilli citrus. Tuna Belly. Seabass, with the skin on, which gave it an almost meaty feel almost in my mouth. Alfansino, which was a stunning fish. Red Mullet and also Mackerel, which was creamy and beautiful.

 

At this stage, some of the younger staff behind the sushi bar started a rather lengthy conversation about their timetable and swapping work shifts. This was almost a crash back to reality and not my lovely journey into Japan. Once the conversation was over I reverted back to my special place, but it should be noted that customers can hear everything from the bar. 

This was beautiful sashimi, again with the same respect for the fish clearly evident.

Mushimono, ‘Yuzugama’ Cornish Lobster, with Perigord Black Truffle, and Turnip Puree. The Lobster should have been spider crab, but this was my substitute. This was so refreshing as I am usually just given a vegetable alternative, which often leaves me so disappointed, as it could easily be another shellfish dish. So I was thrilled to experience the same dish that was on offer – and it did not disappoint. An amazing Uzu fruit was the vessel for my lobster and truffles, which was sat on a flame to keep the contents warm. Whilst this was on the heat, the steam coming from the moisture in the skin of the fruit released the flavours and kept everything warm. So warm that I actually burnt my mouth slightly on the first bite, but I quickly moved past this, as the taste was just so incredible. The recommendation to squeeze the lid of the fruit over the dish before eating to release some Uzu juice worked a treat. This was just really gorgeous.

Watching the sushi being made was just wonderful – so much skill and passion and love.

Yakimono, Ginger Marinated Roe Deer, Chysanthemum Greens, Winter Vegetables. Ah, what a dish. I had to sit in its presence for a moment to absorb the beauty of each and every element. This was so pretty. Watermelon radish, tokya leek, shimeji mushrooms, Crosnes (I had these at Fera so I was not surprised to see them here) rich jus of soy, deer stock and honey, with green chrysanthemum, and Japanese karishi mustard. fried chervil, and of course the star of the show – the beautiful roe deer. This was exceptional.

I had to sit in its presence for a moment to absorb the beauty of each and every element.

Hashiyasume, Shellfish of the Day, Pomelo, Sansho Pepper, Okinsawa-Salt. This pink and perfect dish was scallop, sake-cured prawn and sake-steamed abalone (from Ireland). This was all hiding below the grapefruit, which had been shredded into tiny fragments. The texture was amazing and the prawn blew my mind. Salt which was left in a snowflake stencil to add as you pleased. Sharp grapefruit. Sweet prawn. Sweet, salty, sour – very simple, but a very clever and complex dish too. I loved this so very much. I haven’t eaten abalone since a visit to Tasmania over ten years ago, so it was lovely to have it appear here.

Next was a slight detour from the tasting menu. I smelt it before I saw it when someone else had placed an order, and there was just no way I could go without ordering some just for me and me alone. Grade 11 Wagyu Beef nigiri from Japan. The smell as it was being seared was just intoxicating and ran through my veins. I watched it being prepared in front of me with such love. Each piece of beef is served on top of beautiful rice. The first nigiri was topped with a prune and veal sauce and a kinome leaf, which has flavours of pepper, mint and lime; the second with a ginger sauce with oyster mushroom, light, creamy and perfect, and the third with a miso and hazelnut butter with an egg yolk vinaigrette. This was rich, and a mini party happened in my mouth at the precise moment of entry. So good. I took a little ginger to cleanse my palate well between each serving. I could have demolished another three for sure, but at ten pounds a bite, I thought it best to stop there and return to my tasting menu. Again, I would venture back for this dish alone too.

This was rich, and a mini party happened in my mouth at the precise moment of entry. So good.

Gohan, ‘Ojiya’ Daikon Radish, Egg Rice, Bottarga, Miso Soup, and Japanese Pickles. I was transported instantly to Japan with this next dish. The soup was perfect and I could drink it all day long, really moreish and it just tasted of traditional Japanese flavours. There was rich egg yolk with hot comforting rice, yet it was clean tasting. The pickles added cold, sweet, salty, crunchy goodness to the dish. It was a beautiful plate of food.

Dessert was a Blood Orange, Black Rice, White Miso Tofu Ice Cream. I hate to say this because everything else was exceptional but, as is often the case, dessert can fall down. I’m wasn’t here for the dessert however, when it was presented two things came into my mind. One, rabbit droppings, and two, the puffed chocolate rice cereal my children sometimes get as a breakfast treat. Thankfully it tasted similar to the latter, and the whole dish was actually quite lovely, just visually not the most appealing first impressions. Again it was playing on similar flavours from the whole range of sharp, sweet, light, sour – it worked nicely. A good dessert.

Petit Fours of a sesame, miso and caramel chocolate, with salt, sharp and sweet notes. An almond financier, moist and chewy, and a matcha tea macaron, which was very good. Again, great tasting petit fours, so a wonderful end to a sterling meal.

Wine:
Göttweiger Messwein, Grüner Veltliner, Austria, 2016
Favourite Dish: Hashiyasume, Shellfish of the Day, Pomelo, Sansho Pepper, Okinsawa-Salt
Napkin Fold: Yes.
Menu to take home: Yes.
Meal for two, including wine, water and service: £450.
Final Thought: To struggle to choose a favourite dish says a lot. I liked so many of them because they really were that good. The care and the love that goes into everything here really shows, from the handling of ingredients to the welcome upon arrival. There was a clear theme with the tasting menu, and it really did showcase Yoshinori’s talent triumphantly. I met with him after and we ventured into the kitchen together, and I will share this moment at a later date, but for now all I can say is, go to Umu, you will not be disappointed. I look forward to returning to try more sushi another time for sure.

Umu
Address: 14-16 Bruton Place, Mayfair, London W1J 6LX, UK
Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7499 8881
Hours: Monday – Saturday (including bank holidays)
Lunch: 12pm – 2.30pm Dinner: 6pm – 11pm
Website: http://www.umurestaurant.com