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Umu in Mayfair, London - 1 Michelin star

Rating: 90.
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When 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, that also owns The Greenhouse in Mayfair, Cassis bistro in Knightsbridge and Morton's Club, a private members' club in Mayfair. Within a year after its opening Umu was awarded a Michelin star (2005 guide).

Executive chef of Umu is Yoshinori Ishii, who started his career in the early nineties at Kyoto Arashiyama Kitcho, where he stayed on for nine years. In 1999 Ishii became head chef at the Japanese Embassy for the United Nations in Geneva and later on, in 2002, in New York City. Before his move to London, Ishii was Omakase chef at Morimoto restaurant in New York City.

Umu is open for lunch and dinner Monday till Saturday (no lunch on Saturday). The restaurant offers a traditional Kaiseki menu (8 courses for £115), an a la carte menu, a lunch menu and there's a sushi and sashimi menu, which includes their famous 'modern sushi'. I had lunch at Umu with my husband on Tuesday 25 June 2013 and we both had the 8-course Kaiseki menu.

First to arrive was kombu cured Welsh wild salmon, served with a creamy shiso sauce, summer truffle, a tosa soy and wasabi jelly and some fresh Japanese herbs. The salmon had a lovely creamy texture and combined nicely with the shiso sauce that had a lovely touch of acidity.  Great flavour and aroma from the small mountain of finely grated summer truffle. A wonderful dish with fresh and elegant flavours and a nice hint of smokiness from the jelly.

Second course: Nimonowan - a clear bouillon with pieces of lightly charred, succulent lobster, creamy lobster coral tofu, lightly pickled sea lettuce and garnished with a kinome leaf. The bouillon had been delicately flavoured with bonito and seaweed. An elegant dish with lovely textures and I loved the red lobster coral speckles in the tofu.

Next up were three pieces of Umu’s signature modern-sushi. Red mullet with bottarga and pesto,  brown crab with courgette and langoustine with ginger sauce. Three fantastic pieces of sushi with precise flavours.

Mushimono (steamed fish) was served next . Tender sake-steamed abalone (from Wales) served with juicy courgette and a delicate abalone and ginger sauce. A lovely dish but the ginger flavours were a bit too subtle for my taste.

Fifth course: Hashiyasume - Cornish cuttlefish with caviar, mitsuba and a nori, bonito and vinegar sauce, served on a wooden spoon. Lovely build-up of flavours: first the gorgeous creamy cuttlefish, followed by the salty caviar and some umami from the nori and finally a lovely fresh finish from the vinegar.

On to the sixth course, Yakimono – guinea fowl. Very flavoursome charcoal-grilled thigh, brushed with sweet soy sauce  and delicate and moist sake steamed breast, served with freshly grated kaffir lime zest,  crunchy quinoa and foie gras topped with a concentrated sweet soy sauce. Apart from the quinoa, which was slightly oily, a well-executed dish with lovely rich and sticky flavours.

Last course before dessert were three pieces of traditional Nigiri sushi: yellowtail, toro and scallop, served with a miso soup.

Dessert was delightful: fresh wild strawberries in a blood orange sauce with a treacle and blood orange sponge cake, white asparagus ‘tuiles’ chopped white asparagus and white asparagus ice cream.

Umu means 'born of nature' and that is precisely what this meal was about. Purity and simplicity are key at this restaurant. Elegant dishes with bright and clean flavours, expertly cooked. When the restaurant had opened, initially most ingredients were flown in from Japan, but nowadays the restaurant uses as much British produce as possible and chef Yoshinori Ishii is renowned for his ongoing quest to find Britain's best and freshest ingredients for his cuisine. I have visited Umu a number of times in the past couple years and every time I have been impressed with the consistency. Umu offers a quality of Japanese food that is not easy to find in many other main cities of Europe.

Posted 06-10-2013


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