Ume was the venue of choice when I decided to take a friend of mine out to dinner for her birthday. Having opened in late 2013, I hadn't had the chance to visit yet and anticipated trying somewhere new.
Sydney has no lack of modern Japanese restaurants. Ume is a restaurant that opened late in 2013 and adds to the current offerings of contemporary Japanese cuisine. We made our way to Surry Hills on a Friday night, having made a prior reservation. Ume is a small restaurant, seating about 30 people perhaps, so it is best to make a reservation before coming in.
Cherry blossom painting on the wall at Ume
The decor is simple and elegant, with a touch of traditional Japanese decor. On one wall, there is a cherry blossom artwork. After looking at the menus, my friends and I decided to go with the 7 course degustation which was $86 per person. We first asked the waiter if we could make some minor adjustments, which he agreed to. It was very accommodating of the staff at Ume to make these changes for us.
Houjicha- a Japanese tea of roasted green tea leaves
Close up of the Snapper Sashimi
The Snapper Sashimi was the first course in our 7 course degustation. The pieces of sashimi were cut thickly, and had a fresh melt in the mouth texture. The flavour of the snapper sashimi was accentuated by cool slices of cucumber, shiso leaf, kombu seaweed and dashes of white soy.
The second course of the degustation was one of our favourites. It consisted of lightly seared scallops in a soy sauce with brown butter, lime, and dulse, which is a type of seaweed that is dark red in colour. The scallops were thinly sliced, yet succulent. The accompanying sauce was perfectly paired with the scallops, while the lime juice added a nice acidic contrast to the other flavours at work.
Shiki no Salad
The Shiki no Salad was a dish I felt ambivalent about. The salad included roast heirloom carrots and fried brussel sprouts with a dashi custard, black vinegar and ginger dressing. The carrots had been cooked until slightly tender, but still retained firmness. The brussel sprouts had been fried until crisp and black, and contained an interesting flavour.
The Tako was also one of the standout dishes of the evening. The dish was made up of Fremantle sustainable octopus, pickled cucumber, wakame, koji potato and bonito oil. The pieces of octopus had been cooked perfectly, leaving them juicy and flavoursome. There was a slightly sweet sauce garnishing the octopus, which was further accentuated by the tangy bonito oil.
Blackmore 9 Wagyu Sukiyaki
The seventh course on the degustation menu was a lamb dish, but L and I decided to swap the lamb for other dishes. L opted for the Blackmore 9 Wagyu Sukiyaki, while I opted for the Kinoko. Blackmore refers to the brand of wagyu beef produced by David Blackmore, while the 9 is the marble score. We paid $5 extra for this dish. Ume's dish was a modern take on the traditional Japanese sukiyaki, which is a hotpot dish with a sweet soy sauce. The wagyu was top quality, tender and fatty. Consistent with its traditional Japanese counterpart, the dish was cooked in a sweet soy sauce that was made from soy sauce and mirin. It also included a perfectly poached egg in the centre, which was mixed with the other elements of the dish. At that moment, I experienced food envy like no other, and bitterly wished that I had had the good sense to order the wagyu sukiyaki also.
Close up of the Wagyu Sukiyaki, after the egg had been broken.
My Kinoko dish was dull in comparison to the wagyu. Although it was cooked well, it just couldn't compare to the perfection of Ume's Wagyu Sukiyaki. The Kinoko consisted of mushiyaki (steamed) shiitake mushrooms, crisp yuba (dried tofu skin), bamboo shoots, pulled mushrooms and black garlic. The shiitake mushrooms were tender and had a lovely flavour that was heightened by the black garlic. The yuba had a mild tofu flavour, and its crispness contrasted with the soft elements of the mushroom. Overall, the Kinoko dish had nice, subtle flavours; but if I had to choose, the Wagyu Sukiyaki would be the winner between the two.
C stuck with the Riverina Lamb that was on the degustation menu. It consisted of charred soft lamb shoulder, sesame miso, fried nori and shoyu-zuke heirloom tomatoes. The soft lamb shoulder had a soft texture that fell apart when picked with a fork. The fried nori (type of seaweed) was crisp and had a subtle flavour. The sesame miso sauce was the factor that made this dish delicious. It had the saltiness of miso paste and the mild sweetness of sesame seeds.
Azuki Cake, Houjicha Ice Cream and Fresh Figs.
After we finished the savoury courses, our first dessert course was brought out. The first dessert course was a cake made from azuki beans, and houjicha ice cream. Houjicha is a Japanese green tea made from roasting green tea leaves, so it has a slightly different flavour to normal green tea. The Houjicha ice cream had the distinct flavour of tea leaves, but was mild in sweetness. The Azuki Cake was light and had a subtle bean flavour. Neither the houjicha ice cream or the azuki cake were very sweet, and my friends and I found them a little plain and more suited to very grown up tastes.
The last dessert course titled 'Purin' on the menu consisted of pumpkin pudding, candied chestnuts and celery cress. The candied chestnuts were soft and sweet, but not overly so. However, they were the sweetest part of this dish. The pumpkin pudding was creamy and had a subtle pumpkin flavour without much sweetness. My friends didn't enjoy this, and therefore didn't bother finishing it. We really admired the presentation of this dish, but felt it would probably be more suited to people who don't like sugary desserts.
Overall, almost all the courses served on the degustation menu were executed perfectly. The chefs at Ume are able to balance the traditional flavours of Japanese cuisine with modern twists, in a way that make the transition from traditional to modern seamless. The service was also impeccable, and the ambience was cosy and intimate.
If ever I'm in the mood for Japanese, Ume will definitely be my first choice.
Where: 478 Bourke Street Surry Hills NSW.
Why: Contemporary Japanese cuisine
Cost: $86 per head for a 7 course degustation (a la carte menu also available, with mains ranging from $32 - $42).
When: Dinner Tuesday - Saturday