Umu

A last minute drop out for a team lunch opened up a space for yours truly on Wednesday, with Laurence and his team-mate Petra. This restaurant has been on my radar ever since a fellow colleague ranked it as one of her favourite restaurants in the world. Arriving slightly late thanks to an over-running conference call, I joined the others with a G&T aperetif before looking over the luxurious, and huge, rice-paper menus.

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The tasting menu option was put forward by our hosts, and taking the strain out of choice making (as well as being one of the reasons this Michelin-starred restaurant is acclaimed). Suffice to say we all jumped at the chance, and everyone ordered the sushi Kaiseke tasting menu. I had a last minute change of heart (as I inevitably do when all order the same course) and opted for the Kaiseki tasting menu which featured sashimi over sushi though for almost all of the other dishes was identical.

We kicked off with my first taste of abalone, the sea snail considered a delicacy the world over. Sake steamed, it was served with two different kinds of jelly, one green and seaweed tasting, the other orange, served on top of the abalone and lending an acidity to the pale flesh. Novel, chewy, and the whole dish having a great depth of flavour that stayed on the palate, in all a very positive start.

Following this was a very posh equivalent of miso soup. Containing a tasty strip of John Dory fillet and turnip, this was served in a tofu broth lifted with ginger. The third course was where my plate differed from my fellow diners; I was served a special chefs selection of traditional sashimi.

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The pink fish in the middle was tuna belly – and possibly the tastiest piece of sashimi I have ever eaten. Seabass, to the right, and red mullet made up the other fish on this dish, and it was served with two dipping sauces, one suggested for the white fish and one for the tuna, though I tried all combinations. I also ate enough wasabi here to guarantee face tingle. An excellent plate of food.

The fourth was a single white spoon, arranged into yin-yang shape of sea urchin and foie gras custard. We were advised to eat it in one go, and I was sad to do so as again this was stunning. Tasting of the sea in the best possible way, it was a rich and interesting mouthful of heaven that lives long on the palate and the memory. A stunning depth of flavours again.

The first main course proper was another broth, a hot pot of turbot and snow crab with vegetables. Though good, this was not in the same league as previous dishes and sadly, as it contained crab, one of my least favourite courses.

Following that was an excellent meat plate, a small blob of pumpkin purée with finely sliced, bright pink wild mallard sitting on top. Dressed lightly with a red, sake infused sauce, this dish was back to the earlier highs, and was one of those you wished you could eat much more of.  

Dishes seven and eight were sadly not in line with this generally awesome standard. The last savoury course was again where my menu differed, as I had a dish of fried burdock and root vegetables over rice and egg sauce, with admittedly excellent Japanese pickles. The sushi selectors here had a plate of classic sushi that I would have preferred over the vegetable and rice combination, though again this was still tasty, just some way short of the majority of previously fine dishes.

The final course was a dessert of satsuma ice cream in an unusual jelly like skin, with mousse, almond powder (which looked very suspicious) and frozen white mushroom.

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It looked stunning, but as with most desserts in good Asian restaurants, I wasn’t overwhelmed. We initially puzzled at the bizarre knife, however it was needed to slice through the unusual gelatinous shell of the ice cream – which Laurence abandoned altogether.

Following this we had some sake from the huge sake menu – a half bottle of Dewazakura Gingko sake, which was light, fruity and sweet and a fine end to a wonderful meal. We were also served a plate of petit-fours to accompany.

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The green tea bon-bon was a moisture draining oddity, whilst the citrus jelly was overwhelmingly zingy – I reflected at the time through a scrunched up face it was the most ‘orange’ flavoured thing I’d ever eaten. This place would be out of my price range to visit outside of business – there’s no getting away from the fact it is very expensive. For the most part however it is also very, very good, and I warmly thank my hosts for treating me to its delights. One of said hosts actually writes a rather fine food blog.

Alex-san

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