From the talented people who brought you Kenji and Bento Ya, comes their best restaurant yet. Stunning Japanese food, with just a hint of fusion, guaranteed to make your tastebuds tingle. Which is why Umi is now officially one of our many favourites.
Head down the steps to this subterranean eatery, and you’re greeted by a blaze of light and colour. Bamboo and paper lanterns everywhere, as well as the bustle of its spirited patrons, give a real feeling of excitement.
Happily, our joy is not misplaced, everything on the menu looks incredible. So, after ordering our first cheeky bottle of wine, we bombard the waitress with the long, long list of dishes we’d like to try.
Naturally, it’s almost compulsory to begin with the Chicken & vegetable gyoza. Lightly fried and served with a vinegar sauce, we’re loving the added crispiness, not to mention the generous lashings of chicken.
Even so, we demolish two a piece in record time, and both go to grab the remaining dumpling at exactly the same moment. Hmmm … that’s awkward. A tussle ensues, harsh words are exchanged, and a disposable chopstick is needlessly broken.
Fortunately, the timely arrival of a Goruden cod fingersoon restores the peace. Well, that’s putting it mildly, as this incredible dish promptly blows our minds. Crispy Scottish cod wrapped in a delicate kataifi pastry, and served with a mango mayo, oh … my … god!
Now if we were being a tad clumsy and imprecise, we’d say this wonderful delicacy is essentially Japanese fish fingers. But seeing as we’re much, much more sophisticated than that, we’ll instead emphasise the fact this is fusion at its very best.
We’ll also point out the flawless presentation, the perfectly cooked cod, pastry which melts on the tongue, and the stunning, unexpected contribution of the mango.
In short, we love the finger!
In fact, we could easily eat six more, but given the gargantuan amount of food already en route, we worry this might appear a teensy bit greedy.
We instead direct our attention to a second bottle of wine, and another classic: the Kara-age fried chicken, served with lemon and mayo. From the very first bite, our muffled sounds of delight tell the entire restaurant just how much we’re enjoying the experience.
So wonderfully crisp, yet tender, and with just the right amount of oil. Frankly, we don’t want this to end, which proves slightly ironic given the speed at which we devour it.
Sad – for half a second – the plate’s now empty, we’re soon feeling exuberant once more thanks to the Sweetcorn Tempura with sweet sauce & dancing bonito flakes. It reminds us of a classic kiwi brunch dish, the corn fritter. Ahh, good times …
We’re also in love with the spectacular [ vegans & vegetarians: please overt your eyes now ] Teriyaki foie gras pan fried with mushroom, eel sauce and rice. Smooth, full of rich flavor, and utterly satisfying.
So is the Tuna tartare with shimeji mushrooms.
In fact, we muse, this may be the best we’ve ever had. But what’s providing its delicious, somewhat unusual taste? A touch of sesame oil perhaps? Intrigued, we consult the menu. Turns out the mystery ingredient is actually miso. Genius!
But of all these small dishes, perhaps the best – and let’s not forget, the bar is incredibly high here – has to be the Takoyaki, aka fried dough balls with octopus. As recommended by our gorgeous waitress – hello Lara – it’s positively sinful.
Much like a croquette, its crispy exterior gives way to a soft, warm, creaminess below. The distinctive twist of octopus then teases, but never overwhelms, and wowsers! An involuntary closing of the eyes follows, and you are transported to one very happy place.
At this point we stop, just for a moment, to propose a toast. How wonderful it is to live in Edinburgh, and eat food as fabulous as this. We also speculate that a third bottle of wine may soon be required, and then laugh at what is clearly a serious drinking problem.
As our epic gluttony continues, next come the sushi rolls. We are of course no longer hungry, and in fact haven’t been since 1996, but seriously: you really can’t come to this restaurant, and not try the sushi!!
Once again, Umi’s brilliant chefs do not disappoint. The Crunchy soy roll with prawn tempura and avocadois sensational, life-changing even. Especially thanks to the eel sauce, mayo and crispy friend onions scattered generously on top.
Then there’s the Edo Umi roll, with avocado, salmon, shallot, eel & sesame seeds. Reimagining a classic, the twist of the eel adds a whole new layer of flavour, and we really can’t consume it fast enough. Perhaps another chopstick may soon be broken.
But remarkably, the best is still yet to come …
The Volcano California with snow crab meat & avocado, topped with salmon, cheddar, wasabi mayo, cranberry & teriyaki sauce. Boasting intense bursts of sweet, savoury and salty flavours, it’s like a thrilling rollercoaster of tastes.
With the final bite, our love for this restaurant is now unconditional, and absolute. Umi’s menu respects the foundations of Japanese food, but boldly and successfully reinvents. The results are utterly delicious, and have left us unable to move.
By the way … we never made it to dessert.
In a pre-theatre nutshell:
Edinburgh Playhouse 7 minute drive / Edinburgh Filmhouse & Usher Hall 11 minutes
Lunch / dinner
Small dishes £4 – 9 / Sushi Rolls £8 – 12 / Ramen £10-11
18 – 24 Deanhaugh Street
0131 343 6991