Saturday, 10 August 2013

Ume Japanese Restaurant, Surry Hills - 10 August 2013

If you don't keep your eye out, you may miss it!
Today my wife and I decided to head to a small modern Japanese restaurant, Ume (478 Bourke St, Surry Hills), for lunch. Ume occupies the site formerly held by Jeremy Strode’s Bistrode, which has since moved to the CBD. Despite being open for just over a year, I have seen quite a number of rave reviews of this place, including been awarded one chef hat by the SMH Good Food Guide, so Ume is a restaurant that I was keen to try out. The chef at Ume is Kerby Craig, who started his career as an apprentice at Tetsuya’s back in the Rozelle days and more recently claiming chef hats working at the now closed Koi in Woolwich.        

I am always on the lookout for top notch Japanese restaurants, as Japanese cuisine is my favourite cuisine. The reason why I love Japanese cuisine is simple: umami! There is something deeply satisfying about the flavours that umami rich foods such as soy sauce, miso, seaweed and mushrooms give. I can’t exactly describe what umami is, all I know is that is a pleasant savoury flavour :9

Ume no Yado Aragoshi Umeshu ($12.50), Ume no Yado Yuzushu ($12.50)
Another thing that I enjoy a lot about Japanese restaurants is the alcohol, namely sake and shochu. Japanese liquors infused with fruit juice are just about the only alcoholic beverages that my wife, who is mostly a non-drinker, enjoys having. So we headed straight for the wine list and decided to try the yuzushu, a sake infused with juice from our favourite citrus fruit, yuzu, and a umeshu, a plum flavoured sake (both from the Nara prefecture). Both are very pleasant and refreshing to drink however the yuzushu was the favourite. It has such a lovely aroma and a wonderful balance of sweetness and acidity.


In terms of food, we decided to order a mix of vegetarian dishes so that we can sample a bit of everything. I also wanted to try the scallop carpaccio, which is Ume’s signature. 

Seared Scallop, Soy brown butter, Finger Limes, Young Sorrel, Dulse ($21)
The scallop carpaccio came out first so I was eating on my own to start. This was an excellent course to start the meal with as it was both light and fresh and had beautiful flavour combinations. The scallops were very fresh and tasted of the sea. They were thinly sliced and cooked very gently just enough to infuse lovely nutty brown flavour from the brown butter into the flesh and give it a slight smokey flavour. The little pink rocks of finger limes provided wonderful pops of citrus flavour. All these elements are very well balanced and never overpower the sweet, delicate flavour of the scallops. All in all, this was a very well executed and enjoyable first course.    

Shiki no Salad, Roast Heirloom Carrots, Fried Brussel Sprouts, Dashi Custard, Wild Herbs, Soy & Ginger dressing ($18)
The shiki no salad is a very good salad that is loaded with umami. The highlight of the salad were the fried brussel sprouts. And this coming from someone that is not a fan of brussel sprouts. The crispy sprouts are so so very delicious when dipped into that creamy dashi custard and addictive soy and ginger dressing. The only other place that I hear that does amazing brussel sprouts like these is Porteno, which I will need to try out next time I’m in Surry Hills. The assorted roasted heirloom carrots were a treat too. I would have liked to have mopped up that glaze with some rice if I had some.      

Nasu Dengaku Baked Eggplant, Dengaku glaze Pickled Eggplant, Toasted Hazelnuts, Dried spices ($18)
Nasu dengaku is a favourite of both my wife and myself in Japanese cuisine so it was no surprise that we picked from the menu. Ume’s version is a winner. The eggplant was very well cooked. The texture of the eggplant was soft and creamy and not spongy, which is sometimes a problem with eggplant. The eggplant just melted in my mouth. The miso glaze was delicious. Just a great combination of sweet, salty and umami flavours. This course also came with some slices of pickled eggplant which provided the dish with acidity to balance the rich savoury flavours of the eggplant. The toasted hazelnuts were an interesting touch and not one I normally see in nasu degaku. My only problem was that the eggplant was a bit awkward to eat with chopsticks. It was too big to pick up and eat whole and if you tried to break it up into smaller chunks, the eggplant falls apart. Knife and fork would have been perfect for this dish. A small problem really for a tasty dish.

Scented Rice Short grain rice scented with Dashi & Soy ($5)
The eggplant came out with a serving of fragrant rice scented with dashi and soy. And of course Nasu dengaku is best enjoyed with rice as it brings out the flavour of the miso glaze.  

Kinoko Moriawase, Mushi-Yaki Japanese mushrooms, Crisp Yuba, Local Chestnuts, Pickled Baby Onion ($28)
Kinoko moriawase was an enjoyable course, being a mushroom lover. All the savoury courses I have tried have been very solid, including this one.  This one was probably the one that I loved the least, but still very solid.  There was a nice assortment of Japanese mushrooms that included shitakes, shimejis, maitakes and wood ears. These were all delicious to eat as they were cooked in butter. The crisp yuba, milk skin, was good as it added some crispy texture to the dish. I also enjoyed the little pickled onions, again as a balance of acidity with the rich, savoury flavours of the dish. And I loved the presentation if the dish too! The mushrooms were served on a stump, giving it that wild forest feel.    

We still had plenty of room for dessert so we decided to order one dessert each and share them (as we usually do). We decided to order the seasonal mandarin dessert and the black sesame sponge dessert as they both looked like interesting takes on modern Japanese desserts.

Mandarin, Mandarin Tofu, Frozen Green Tea, Dehydrated Cocoa Mousse, Mochi, Mandarin Sherbet ($15)
The mandarin dessert was a very pleasant dessert to eat. For me the highlight was the mandarin sorbet, which was very refreshing and had great mandarin flavour (obviously). The mandarin tofu was interesting as I had never seen this before. They were more like the firm tofu variety or a jelly rather than a soft tofu. The frozen blocks of green tea were a welcome addition to the dessert, as were the dehydrated chocolate mousse, to add some depth and slight bitter notes to the dish.

"30 Second" Black Sesame Sponge, Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey Poached Granny Smith Apple,
Candied Apple & Ginger Vanilla-Gingerbread ice cream ($15)
Even better than the mandarin dessert was the black sesame sponge dessert. I am not sure how this 30 second sponge was made but the texture of the cake was nice: very soft and airy. I love black sesame in any desserts really. Just love that nuttiness! The poached apples were nice and soft and you could really taste the distinct leatherwood honey flavour. The other apple elements in the dessert were the cubes of apple and the sheets of candied apple, which were quite tart. The creamy vanilla-gingerbread ice cream was quite delicious and best enjoyed with the black sesame sponge.

I was quite impressed with Ume and I mostly had vegetarian courses. This meal provided me with an insight into how great Ume can be. When I get the opportunity, I will be back with some meat-eating company so I can try the other things that caught my eye on the menu, including some fresh sashimi, the Riverina lamb and the charcoal roasted David Blackmore wagyu.
My verdict, Ume = Yummy!

Highlight: Brussel sprouts at their best. If brussel sprouts tasted this good normally, then sign me up! Lowlight: Japanese-sized servings. The emphasis at Ume is certainly quality over quantity. If you pace yourself through the meal, this will not be too much of an issue as I found. However, those with big appetites may feel a bit hungry afterwards.
Overall: Ume Japanese Restaurant is thoroughly deserving of its one chef hat status. The cooking is inspired and the ingredients are fresh, locally sourced and of high quality. The service is friendly and efficient. Ume is certainly one of the better Japanese restaurants in Sydney and one that I can see myself visiting often and recommending to others. 7.5/10 (Great)   
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