Saturday, December 16, 2006


Last night's trip to Umu was an exclusive affair. From the moment we walked down the quiet little Mayfair sidestreet and slipped through the gently swishing, filmy rust curtains and sliding wooden door into the darkened, wood-panelled dining room, we knew we were in for a very special experience. At the counter, Japanese and Western chefs were slicing blocks of raw tuna into fine slivers and shaping grated daikon into perfect cylinders, waiters swished around entirely clad in black, and the buzz of contented diners filled the air.

This being London's first, true Kyoto restaurant, we decided to choose one of the classic kaiseki tasting menus: deep-fried tofu in a fish broth; salmon, tuna and rock eel sashimi with one of those daikon cylinders; a kind of egg custard with mushrooms and fish; deep fried lobster wrapped in a yuba roll; grilled sea bass with a tademisa vinaigrette; steamed shiso rice with flakes of sardines and capers; red miso soup; vegetable pickles; and green tea ice cream.

Everything was feather light and velvety soft in our mouths, and yet curiously substantial at the same time. We were certainly eating earthy food with ingredients that tasted like they'd been transported that day from the mountains around Kyoto, and yet it was all so refined.

There are around 100 varieties of sake on Umu's menu. The French sommelier was as passionate about sake as he was about wine and after a glass of champagne, each course was matched with a different variety of sake. I have never drunk such pure sake before: except for the sake served with our dessert which was cloudy and sweet, the liquid each time was crystal clear, subtle and filtered.

An eye-wateringly expensive but stunning experience. This now rates as my favourite Japanese restaurant along with Roka in Fitzrovia.

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