Friday, 1 July 2011

[Restaurant - Japanese] Gateway to an Expensive Obsession; Umu of Mayfair

Location - Mayfair, London [UK]

In what has quickly started progressing into a completely enveloping obsession, not difficult with the complete dearth of other worldly thought occurring within my conscious, it was perhaps a matter of destiny that following the life-changing moment of my introduction to the Divine Sake that I would find myself at this establishment a day later. With its comprehensive Sake list. And one Michelin Star. My first Michelin Experience. On my birthday.

Baller status, achieved ^_^.

Not that I am glamour-struck, though my ballerness was immediately apparent to me [ok I'll stop], but in my unnervingly growing hunger to explore and devour everything I see in as wide a demographic or spectrum of establishments, this is surely a benchmark. Considering previous "Japanese" dining experiences - those latter three terms used very loosely - included...*Shivvers* Wagamama's, it would hopefully introduce me to a new level of cuisine. And wallet debilitation.

The decision to go to Umu was not particularly my own - unfortunately in this thoroughly "receptive" state of gastronomic discovery, I have been left with the decision making capabilities of a rock. Why a rock? Has a rock ever made a decision? There's your answer. So, when present with a list of restaurants to try out, I vaguely placed Umu above others like Hakkasan, Apsley's and such, perhaps with the subconscious desire to take my new found, utter noviceness of sake appreciation and subsequently pretend I know what I am ordering. I was also fooled into thinking that it would be a new experience for the both of us going, but I was cruelly duped into such a notion. Oh the travesty.

~ Starter ~
- Seared Scallop with Grated Apple & Cucumber
- Tuna Tartar Salad 
- Langoustine with Amber Tomato Jelly

Yes, three starters. The quintessence of excess, even when being shared between the two of us. Or so I thought, until what appeared to be dishes fit for pygmies arrived before us - each of the starters comprising of absolutely miniscule portions that would struggle to create an appetite by dint of not actually registering any mass once in the stomach by the hypothelamus. They were very pretty though. So we commenced, after rationing out the portions. 

I started with the Scallop, something I have never had until now as it lives in a shell and therefore I had vehemently avoided for being. Well. Something that belongs on a beach or a necklace, and not in my stomach. I have no other valid reason. It was fine, nothing much to it really, no stand out qualities. Cannot remember much else of it other than moving straight to the Langoustine. Which again was disappointingly rudimentary, though the clear tomato jelly supplemented it well, it's sharpness cutting through the sweet langoustine. And after one bite it was finished, so I just started eating some of the jelly. Moving onto the Tuna Tartar. It was a bit more substantial. Suited the trifecta of normality quite well, again not proving anything distinct. Obviously the most boring review ever, perhaps compounded by my Goldfish memory qualities, but sorely disappointing in quantity. Especially so. As it would mean I would need to throw money at quelling the hunger later on. Bah.

~ Main Course ~
- Sashimi - Langoustine, Eel, Tuna, Seabass

Making another giant leap for Me-kind and questioning my sanity of mind in ordering an increasingly Third World Emergency Supply amount of food, not only did I order some sashimi, but I also tried Eel for the first time. I need not have worried. Portions were, rather predictably at this point, small. I've had sashimi and sushi in the past so there were no real surprises to what I was eating, just never from such an establishment. And as usual I was perhaps the only defiant Philistine trying to use a fork with the sashimi. And failing. Miserably.

That being said, none of them really stood out, other than the Seabass for having a slight "less than fresh" aroma, but nothing transferred through into the flavour, and the eel was peculiar, if only for the texture. Chunky white meat like cod, but an odd skin between the chunks. It was harmless. But I need more. MOAR. Grilled eels and the like. Onwards!

- Lobster with Seven Pepper Shichimi & Miso Bisque
Big spender.
Or rather, just abusing my bank account and perpetually destroying my credit rating. Mind you, my story with lobster is peculiar - I am not fazed by the associated glamour of lobster having it in plentiful and cheap supply in Saudi Arabia, fishing it plenty of times [well, not personally, they were too spikey and hurt my delicate hands >_<], but I had never eaten it, despite the tonnage at home. I think much like with langoustine, and beach necklace shellfish, I just did not fancy eating something with a carapace. The one time I did try lobster several years ago was tarnished by the unfortunate sourness associated with unfresh lobster. Which would make sense as we brought it into a suitcase to Italy. And getting sidetracked. Essentially, I tried some more of our Saudi lobster in March, loved it, living happily ever after.

So. I ordered the lobster. As essentially it was the most interesting item on the menu. And obviously, I was served a baby lobster. Covered in the dreaded foam whose purpose I struggle to comprehend in haute cuisine. To me it just adds nothing. Apart from far too much sourness, and making my dish look like its taking a bath. The dish itself though was by far the richest one sampled - despite being a miso bisque, it was almost decadent, almost creamy. Suited the sweetness of the lobster well. The lobster was miniscule, but somehow I just kept pulling reasonable well cooked chunks out, seemingly out of a black hole sporadically spewing out lobster flesh. A nice dish overall, not terribly complex or flavourful, but nicely rich and sweet. And expensive. Baller, etc. But there was room for dessert. Obviously. As always.

~ Dessert ~
- Yuzu Cheesecake

I know, dessert is not a traditional part of a Japanese eating tradition. It is however my raison d'etre. Yes, I am, for desserts. So it would stand, that it would need to be ordered, quite obviously [the excess of this statement would serve to lead to two further dessert orders at another establishment shortly afterwards. Guilty? NEVAR].

As dreary and unimaginative as the choice was, it was also the most interesting item there. I shouldn't have to explain myself. Dessert. GOOD. And it arrived, with something seeming like a cotton candy bird's nest, typically seen worn as obscure "hats" on those awkwardly dressed Catwalk Models. Along with, more bubble bath flavouring. Joy. 

Hat removed, bitter, astringent foam lambasted, the cheesecake was otherwise not bad - very delicate despite the decadent cream cheese, but not much of the Yuzu flavour permeating. It was enjoyable though, but nothing more. I still do not know if the head apparel was edible though, and why this persistence with suds on food is allowed to continue. I brush my teeth to clean my mouth, rather than ingesting soap. Bah. The pain of going to such establishments, the travesty.

~ Drinks ~
- Bijofu Usunigori Aperitif Sake

Fresh - about a day - from my epiphany that was my introduction/obsession/factor of future life-ruin, that is sake, I saw it fit naturally to duly indulge. So to start the evening I ordered simply an "Aperitif Sake", having not been brought the menu yet at that point. Well, it certainly matched the description essentially being a Champagne-esque sake. So, thus, not to my liking. 

The sparkling nature combined with its very sharp nature and not much body just conspired to make it a bit of an uninterestingly single nature drink, nothing like the Basmati elixir I had drank but the day before. Bah, once more.

- Masumi Arabashiri Junmai Sake

On advising of the sommelier, me and my partner in ordering crime frenzy pined for the aforementioned sake, by dint of not actually knowing which of the plethora of sakes were, and fearing the breaching of the two hour dining limit if we were left to our own devices to select. So this was chosen, and recommended to sample at varying temperatures to suit the different stages of our microscopic portioned banquet feast. 

On first sampling I can recall it was a reasonable sake, quite lightly aromatic and tasting, but generally enjoyable when chilled. It certainly worked well with the fish based starters, I could sense some added "savouriness" occasionally. The wonder started on the second serving at slightly higher temperatures, were a distinct but not too significant change was noted in the flavour of the sake. I cannot actually remember how it differed, but the alteration was clear! This was further evident on the final serving with the mains, being just under room temperature, it suddenly seemed to take on extra body to perfectly suit my creamy lobster dish. It was such a peculiar concept how just temperature is one of so many contributing factors to the flavours obtained from sake. Quite delightful. And yet another fuel to my obsession. 


In all, the Umu experience was a pleasant one, not defining in any particular way, other than to establish my, ahem, Ballerfication ^_^. 


What it has done however is provided a stark insight into a gateway of my fast growing obsession with sake. It will ruin and enthral me in equal measures. I'm ok with it. Whilst the food was certainly of a high standard, suffice it to say that portions were expectedly small, but well presented. If the world were just, the opposite would be true, as presentation doesn't satiate my perpetual hunger, but I digress. Michelin stars are won somehow. Not that it actually matters to me, as my enjoyment is derived from the food I ingest. And Sake. Lots of sake.


If one faint criticism can be drawn, is that I was perhaps hoping for a more authentic experience, as I desire to tease my physique with the quest to sample the worlds gastronomies - time would not allow for the "Traditional" taster menu, which is a shame as at 10 courses it sounded delightfully filling. And would have probably made me refrain from ordering two further desserts later in the evening. The advice garnered from the sake sommelier was also helpful to our clueless sake musings, also being splendid and provided me with the [laminated!] label from the sake we drank, the other waiter less so in that he was incomprehensible and looked like a chipmunk, which rudely prevented me from not giggling in my head. Obviously on this birthday, great maturity was achieved. 

So, another tick on the list of places to go, and a further foot into an expensive obsession. Well, had I paid, naturally ^_^

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