London restaurant – Umu, Japanese haute cuisine, one Michelin star

Leaving Green Park tube station, we thread our way through the streets of Mayfair, smiling, an air of anticipation. Brick buildings. Busy folk. Stop. From the outside nothing is apparent to predict the journey ahead. A simple sign, discreet UMU, touch to enter. As inferred, a palm is placed on the white square. The door slides automatically. Futuristic, but now we move to traditional. Japanese haute cuisine, highlighting in particular that of Kyoto, making it one of the best addresses in the city, as emphasized by the Michelin star.

Umu means, literally, born of nature. The menu embraces this inspiration, closely following the seasons, using the best British products and exceptional quality, lively, vibrant flavors… Behind this extreme refinement, you will find Chef Yoshinori Ishii. 20 years experience, including 9 in Kyoto Kitchen (the famous Michelin 3-star restaurant in Japan) and as chef at the Japanese Embassy in Geneva. A culinary artist, but that’s not all! This outstanding cook also studied, among others… Ikebana (flower arrangement – it was he who formed the bouquet places), Moku Hanga (woodblock printing – more to come on that), pottery and fishing.

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
Gaze at the menu while sipping a cocktail. I recommend the Saketini – an alliance of sake and martini, vodka and cucumber. Refreshing, reinvigorating. Or the Shiso Cooler, bringing together a shochu infused plum, plum wine, ginger ale and Grey Goose. Mellow, a hint of sweetness on the lips, calming notes of shiso and suddenly fresh ginger tonic. Also to be noted/noticed/loved/envied, the chic champagne trolley…

We choose the Kaiseki menu, a gourmand’s poem with 8 flavourful stanzas, smaller portions cleverly staged… Two versions are available, a classic, shall we say, the other with a modern sushi bent. The theme of the moment is of course Spring, with green notes but also soft pink like Sakura, the cherry blossom. Limited knowledge of Japanese cuisine? Rest assured, your server will explain with passion – and pride – ingredients, techniques, sprinkling anecdotes along the way.

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
***** First course: Mukozuke *****

Doing some research on this word, I found the characteristic Japanese love for balance, art and beauty at every turn. As the first course of a kaiseki menu, this special dish generally features delicate raw fish, bringing a contrast to colour, yet sympathetic texture. As for its shape – the best examples offer a depression in the center to allow the sauce to pool under the fish rather than soak in completely.

In this glass boat we are served tender pieces of mackerel, each striped with the knife to infuse flavours, slightly smoky. White asparagus just blanched, barely al dente and accompanied by a nori seaweed jelly, melting, scents of the sea, raised to a sharp edge by the wasabi. The whole rests on a bed of Tosazu made ​​of soy sauce, vinegar and dashi. Umami in all its wondrous glory…

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
***** Second course: Nimonowan – “Ushio-jitate” soup *****

Nimono, meaning slowly cooked in a little broth, wanmori mackerel, stacked – as you can indeed appreciate below. Bowls used for this dish are chosen for their beauty and often feature black or red lacquer inside, highlighting the colours of the ingredients.

The contrasting palette of intense black and white is simply fascinating, pearl, cream, opalescent. Normandy Clam, placed on a slice of turnip seemingly floating on the stock, creamy cake, scallops with a base of sweetish purée, topped with grated daikon for a hint of spice. See the tiny leaves on top? This is kinome, leaves of Szechuan pepper, with a touch of lemon. The soup, meanwhile is light but salty, miso and sake, aroma reminiscent of sea-spray…

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
***** Third course: Tsukuri *****

The Tsukuri is generally sashimi. Take a look below – these are very fine thin strips of winter flounder (lemon sole). Almost transparent, yet retaining a gratifying consistency in the mouth, full of flavour. On the side of the slate, are two other selections of the day: generous pieces of dark red tuna (that would be the belly – the top of the fish is a clearer shade) but also the grey sole. The latter is often known as the Witch Sole, because of its ugliness. Yet I assure you, the flesh is succulent, deliciousness revealed!

Probably the best sashimi we have ever tasted, honestly. The chef insists upon one Cornish supplier using the traditional Ikejime technique. Understand, the fish’s brain is immediately destroyed upon landing, leaving life in the body. Why? Apart from being the most humane way: no stress, less acidity and therefore a better quality at your plate…

A lovely surprise, underneath this carpaccio of sole rests a message from the chef, printed from his own woodblock carving… In Japanese on one side, English on the other, a touching reminder.

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
If you chose the Sushi Kaiseki, a set of three modern sushi is presented instead. Plump, tender grains of rice, a sublime white fish for the first one whose name unfortunately escapes me. Then a luxurious morsel of lobster, finely framed by a spritz of ginger and lemony kinome. The latter highlights the fresh crab meat, wrapped in a sliver of cucumber. Oh, this creates such a beautiful contrast of texture on the palate with that nutty pine kernels…

These dishes were paired with a very fresh chardonnay – white Burgundy, 2011 by Francis Carillon. You’ll find a beautiful minerality behind the fruity notes. Pear, lemon – a true classic of the Bourgogne region, contrasting perfectly with the crab.

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
***** Fourth course: Mushimono *****

In Japanese culture, the term Mushimono refers to gently steamed dishes. And this one really is an ode to spring. Beans – haricot and broad, cucumber ribbons, broccoli flowers, authentic bamboo shoots straight from Japan bring delicate flavours, balancing a slight bitterness and sweetness. Again, a very nice set of textures – crunchy vegetable, a base of transparent noodles, miso umami, and so-called Tamago-tofu. The latter actually has nothing to do with soy, the only common point being the appearance. It is in fact a kind of egg cream, often served in summer as very refreshing. This lovely velvet touch wraps the vegetables to perfection.

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin starLondon restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
***** Fifth course: Hashiyasume *****

Hasiyasume is sometimes called “Chopstick rest”, as in rest one’s chopsticks, offering contrast to the rest of the meal in texture and presentation. Presented here are baby eels, elvers. The season is extremely short, a highly regulated fishery. Depending on the abundance, one can clearly compare to a freshwater caviar… I discovered this dish years ago in Spain, served as a simple salad… This version is far more refined! These hail from the River Severn and are steamed with sake before being being tosasu infused (a mixture of rice wine, and dashi sweet sake), the hojiso (the shiso bloom) and ginger notes making it wonderfully smooth. Presented in a spoon, it is both an indescribable and breathtaking finesse worth savouring as one would a gram of Beluga…

To ensure an unforgettable experience, the elvers were accompanied by a glass of Azure sake, a ginjo (meaning superior, this particular kind representing 9% of the amount of sakes on the market). Why is it special? Because it uses sea ​​water in its manufacture, offering not a salty spray but a discreet note blending nicely with pear. Subtle. Icing on the cake.
London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin starLondon restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
***** Sixth course: Yakimono *****

Yakimono refers to grilled dishes. Thus arrives a delightful dish of guinea fowl, to be enjoyed in two phases. First, the thigh, tender yet substantial. The meat was marinated with miso and sake koji. Under the melting skin is the natural fat of the animal, yellow, leading you from crisp to smooth. It simply forces you to slow down, take time to enjoy each bite fully… Succulent morels are placed theatrically, offering the luxurious flavors of the underbrush. Now, let your chopsticks slide into the delicate bowl and be mesmerized by the perfect colour palette. The flavors are fresher, symbolically guiding from autumn to spring. Mild guinea fowl breast was steamed, just pink, then heightened by sakura jelly (those beautiful cherry blossoms). Slightly tart, delicate, you almost imagine the petals flying in the breeze.

This dish is matched with a Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian white from the Wagram region and created by Josef Ehmoser. You first get the lemon zest which gently slides to spices, ending on a note of pepper. This lifts the crispness of the meat to perfection. It also allows a rather nice transition to the next dish…

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
***** Seventh course: Gohan *****

Gohan, meanwhile, is again based on rice, highlighting seasonal ingredients. The presentation in that bowl reminds me of a little nest. Ginger rice is mixed with egg Kinshi Tomago, also known as golden string, a very thin omelette cut finely. The Cornish mullet with its comforting, pure white flesh crowns it all. Pickled condiments reiterate the finesse, a warming miso soup radiates amber hues.

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star

Gohan is also replaced if you chose the sushi option. Raw Scottish scallops, almost sweet, melting splendidly on the tongue…Then toro (tuna belly), so thin, topped with grated daikon and shiso flower, offering a beautifully dynamic progression on the palate … And ending on yellowtail imported from Japan. While it may be the seventh course, they hardly survive an instant (well 3)…

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star
***** Eighth course: Kashi *****

I waited for dessert, I must confess, with great curiosity. Spring poetry in gastronomic splendor! Here the chef has recreated a miniature Mayfair garden… Under edible earth (actually a very thin chocolate crumble) lies a fresh berry foam. But take the watering can and pour… This contains a sparkling sake, infused with cherry blossoms. The contrast in a single spoonful is fascinating. Flowers and micro-shoots are also edible. What a celebration, what a symphony, goosebumps included!

This menu is £115 per person – cocktails and wine not included. What an amazing journey, new flavors, such wonderful finesse… You will emerge eyes shining with interest, a desire to know more, look up techniques, ingredients. Feel free to take a look over the counter to watch the team at work and ask them your questions. The tuna tartare, incidentally, seems very worth falling for. It mixes several parts of the fish with sesame seeds for a subtle palette. And of course… come back each season to rediscover the Kaiseki menu…

UMU
14-16 Bruton Place
Mayfair W1J 6LX

London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star London restaurant - Umu, one Michelin star

2 Responses to “London restaurant – Umu, Japanese haute cuisine, one Michelin star”

  • Il est évident qu’un tel prix n’est pas évident mais il me semble que certains voyages valent vraiment le coup d’être vécu….et ton éloge le confirme

  • Chocoralie says:

    Très vrai. Et tu sais, vu le prix des restaurants à Londres, 8 plats pour £115… vu la qualité… ce n’est pas si fou!

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