Eating Out: Umi is oh so yummy
57 Strand Road,
028 7187 8399
THE last time I was here, this restaurant wasn't this restaurant: it was Pyke and Pommes. Pyke and Pommes is now next door, which used to be Primrose, and before Primrose, it was a very good fish restaurant, Pier 59.
I don't know what makes people want to go into the restaurant business. The short, sociable hours? The low overheads? The wide profit margins? The high success rate? Madness?
Madness or courage. Or both. Whatever, they will only get you so far. You also need enormous reserves of energy, cast-iron resolve, confidence and buckets of luck. Oh, and good food.
Even with all that, there's still no guarantee the diners will beat a path to your door.
Well, I hope they beat a path to Umi's door, because I'd love to see this place hanging around for a long time.
My wife, daughter, brother, and I came here not too long after it first opened, and I don't think it'll be too long before we're here again, because there wasn't a single mouthful I didn't enjoy. Actually, there was one, but I'll come to that later.
The decor and furnishings are quite stark and simple. The food is served from a hatch with an opening like a food truck. But, while it might look no frills, it's full of bustle and warmth. And all the bells and whistles come with the food.
Wary of the spiciness of the food, and knowing there's no children's menu, we brought a tub of pasta for our daughter, which she tucked into while we decided what to have.
Although there are 'normal' portions, the menu offers mainly small plates, ideal for sociable sharing. Once ordered, the dishes come out when they're ready, although there was no hanging around, so the table soon filled up. We went for two dishes each, plus a couple of sides, and that was plenty.
Given Umi is a Japanese word, meaning the ocean, the foundations of the menu are built in Japan, but not confined to there, and many of the dishes are given the chef's own, respectful twists.
First to arrive was the tuna maki, traditional sushi wrapped in nori. It was light, fresh, and delicately flavoured. Then all the other dishes seem to follow at once. The table top disappeared, and there was just a friendly flashing of cutlery as we all reached across to make sure we tried everything.
Beautifully sweet and dumpy bao buns filled with crispy Korean chicken. Softly melting belly pork in a rich, sweet and savoury sauce. More rich meat with beef wrapped in nori and encased in a crunchy tempura batter. And then there were the vegan dumplings. These were so fulsome, deep, and meaty that I was convinced we'd been brought the wrong dish.
The fries were delicious – crisp, soft, and sweet – and the barbecued corn on the cob was just great. And I could eat their charred greens every day. They were beautifully cooked, to retain some bite, and then drizzled with an amazing lemongrass and chilli sauce.
It was dessert that brought that one thing I didn't like. Montos chocolates are rich, exotic, beautifully formed, elegant, sophisticated and full of interest. Maybe that's why I don't like them: they're everything I'm not.
The chocolates came in two flavours: uzu and meringue; and matcha and vanilla. I can fully appreciate the skill and quality, but my pauper's palate can't cope with the taste - but then I think a Caramac's for special occasions only.
I enjoyed the other dessert, however. The coconut parfait was delicate and light, while the pineapple added tropical sweetness, and the zing of the lime granita made you sit up and take notice.
This is exciting food, full of flavour, varied in texture, cooked with pride and knowledge, served with warm smiles in a lively, convivial setting. As far as I can tell, they've got the lot.
Umi might mean the ocean, but this is more a port you would gladly call into. This restaurant is the real deal, and I fervently hope it makes this location its own.
Tuna maki - £7.00
Beef tempura maki - £9.00
Vegan dumplings - £8.50
Pork belly - £8.50
Korean fried chicken bao buns x 2 - £17.00
Fries - £4.50
Barbecued corn on the cob - £4.00
Charred greens - £4.50
Montos chocolates - £4.50
Coconut parfait, pineapple, lime granita - £7.50