20 Jan 2019
17th January 2018
Umame: restaurant review
Restaurants in the UK can play pretty fast and loose with Japanese culinary terms – I’ve lost count of the number of ways I’ve seen yakitori spelt. So as I walked into ‘Pan-Asian Kitchen and Bar’ Umame (umami is a Japanese word for savouriness), I felt ready for surprises.
Umame opened in Kingston, south west London, in October 2017 and locally, anyway, has been picking up rave reviews since. The decor for me trod a fine line between eye-catching and garish (including Buddhas and elephants spray-painted orange on exposed brick!), but muted lighting and a smart silver bar kept the atmosphere refined.
The menu is Asian fusion with a Japanese baseline of techniques and ingredients – wasabi and nori, particularly, permeate the menu. Inconsistent spellings of daikon didn’t totally ease concerns the food might prove a muddle. Drinks-wise, the cocktail menu is extensive with many Asia-inflected twists on classics – think Yuzu Sidecar, Soju Mojito (using the Korean spirit) and the probably inevitable ‘Saketini’.
We opted for the Miso Mackerel to start, which beat out competition from Tempura Calamari and Soft Shell Crab Bao. A south Asian influence is also apparent in a dish like Steamed Idli (a kind of rice cake) with coconut sambal, tomato and tamarind. The slightly sweet and fatty mackerel, served on a bed of wakame, worked perfectly with pickled ginger.
Mains continue the primarily Japanese theme, although Szechuan Tiger Prawns and Korean BBQ Baby Chicken are also on offer. Vegetarian options include Edamame Fritters and a Tofu and Bean Burger. Sword Fish Kabayaki intrigued, although the waitress couldn’t adequately explain Kabayaki (the same way unagi eel is normally served, dipped in a sweetened soy sauce and grilled) until the manager arrived with a crib sheet. Given that at Umame most mains are nearing £20, this is a bit sloppy two months after opening.
As it was, the Weeping Tiger Lamb Rump proved delicious. The tender meat was exquisite with a tangy tamarind sauce, with wasabi spring onion mash and deep-fried parsnip strings a really effective accompaniment. The BBQ Salmon looked a touch small crowning charcoal crushed potatoes (once again with wasabi) but was a tasty dish.
Several intriguing options tempted on the dessert menu: Parsnip and White Chocolate Mousse or Chocolate and Beetroot Fondue with pink peppercorn ice cream edge towards the experimental. A selection of sorbets misfired a little: miso and caramel was much too salty, while lime and matcha contained barely a hint of the latter. Miso and Peanut Cheesecake, however, lived up to a stellar billing online. Rich, just the right level of salty and kind of weird, it was set off with a whisky orange marmalade. If you’ve ever enjoyed a peanut butter and jam sandwich before this dessert will work for you.
At £40 a head for two and a half courses and one drink, Umame is a bit expensive for what it is. Service throughout the meal was decent, attentive without being cloying, but portions were not hearty. There is a sense, perhaps best expressed in the combination of mistakes on the menu and decor trying a bit too hard, that Umame might do well in its suburban location but would not with a more urban crowd looking for something either trendier or more authentic. The food itself, however, was really quite delicious.
Kingston, South West London (umame.co.uk or 0208 943 4502)