Review: An unparalleled Japanese kaiseki experience at Umu Restaurant, Mayfair

At the Michelin-starred Umu Restaurant, hospitality is paramount and their kaiseki menu is the pinnacle of luxury Japanese cuisine in London

Umu Restaurant Japanese kaisekiIf there is one thing Asian countries are well renowned for, it is the fact that they go above and beyond when it comes to providing an unparalleled hospitality experience. Exceptional food is a given, but the experience from the moment you enter the establishment to the second you leave is what makes all the difference. And this is where the Japanese restaurant Umu excels.

Hidden away in the heart of Mayfair, you would be forgiven if you passed by their entrance without giving it a second thought. But as soon as you enter the restaurant, you realise that here, hospitality is paramount: the staff are kind, well informed and incredibly passionate, the sommelier is highly skilled in his knowledge of sake and wine, and every specific culinary need you have will be attended to. The setting is intimate, with chefs creating the finest Japanese creations in a semi-open kitchen concept, making for an exclusive luxury experience. Umu Restaurant Japanese KaisekiCelebrating a milestone 20th anniversary this year, this intimate Michelin-starred restaurant celebrates the pinnacle of Japanese gastronomy — mainly Kyoto cuisine — under the leadership of executive chef Ryo Kamatsu. Chef Ryo is trained in the art of kaiseki at the prestigious two Michelin-starred Kaiseki Ichimonji in Tokyo, and that is evident in Umu’s highly innovative yet traditional 10-course spring kaiseki menu.

Even if you’re not well versed in the culinary world of Japanese kaiseki, this spring menu, featuring premium sake paired with each course, is a luxurious introduction to it. We start off with some delectable red clam with whelk and caviar. And with the way the clam practically melts in our mouth, we immediately know we’re in for one hell of a culinary odyssey.This is followed by the first of two soup-based dishes. This one is nimono, a simmered dish popular in Japanese cuisine. Here, the hero is the warm clear soup, paired with amadai fish, takenoko tofu and kogomi, a wild springtime plant. Once again, your taste buds are met with an explosion of Japanese spring flavours, with a soup that I would happily drink every winter day.

We then breeze through a mini three course sushi menu, the star of which, by far, was the tuna done three ways: a truffle tuna, which was something I didn’t think would work but boy was I happy to be proven wrong; a fatty piece of tuna, which was my plus one’s favourite, and a piece with not as much fat. The sushi courses were also paired with two of our favourite sakes of the night: the Umenoyado yuzu based sake and Mio, the Japanese sparkling sake.Then came the scallop with asparagus tempura, followed by what was, in my opinion, the star of the show: the flavourful and aromatic shabu-shabu hot pot with spring greens and morel. I experienced this delightful part of Japanese kaiseki cuisine with shellfish, while my plus one sampled some delectable wagyu beef, alongside some lip smacking dipping sauces.

Finally, we arrived at the rice dish on the menu, which signals the nearing end of a meal in Japanese culture. This was served with a deliciously hot bowl of miso soup and some radish pickles on the side. This was another standout for us — a truly perfect way to end the meal and anticipate for the dessert that is to come.

One of the most well known elements of springtime in Japan is the sakura or cherry blossom season. Therefore, to end our meal, the dessert was a layered sakura and yomogi (wormwood) cake with a melt-in-your-mouth amazake (sake) sorbet.As we left the restaurant later in the evening, we couldn’t help but marvel at how each member of the staff that we interacted with met us with a genuine enthusiasm for the food and sake on offer, leaving both our bellies and hearts completely full. Our meal at Umu was one of the best Japanese culinary experiences I’ve ever had, one I’d urge everyone to indulge in at least once in their life.

Even if you aren’t familiar with Japanese cuisine, Umu Restaurant’s kaiseki menu is a wonderful Michelin-approved starting point. And with the turn of the season, Umu will soon be introducing their summer iteration of their menu, which once again promises to be an experience I’d want to come back for.

There are very few fine dining Japanese restaurants that can deliver a kaiseki experience as well as Umu. And while you may want to reserve this for special occasions, it is definitely a culinary adventure that will stay with you long after you have left the restaurant. It certainly did for me.

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