The latest dining venture from hospitality group Le Comptoir (which also recently launched Wan Chai’s Japanese-Brazilian restaurant Djapa), Umi brings authentic Japanese tastes to the heart of Hong Kong’s vibrant dining scene.
At the helm of Umi is chef Yukio Kimijima, a fourth-generation sushi master. Diners can enjoy watching him practise his craft, with each course of the set omakase (chef’s choice) menu being prepared live at the long dining counter.
The focus is on Edomae sushi, the popular form of sushi that first originated in Edo (Tokyo) before the advent of refrigerators, when freshly caught seafood had to be served immediately. This “fast food” Edo-style sushi was the first to combine raw fish with rice and wasabi (for its antibacterial qualities).
WHERE IS IT?
Located on Hollywood Road in the Soho entertainment area, the restaurant is in easy walking distance of Central business district.
The discreet exterior is easy to walk past, so for reference it is diagonally across from the Man Mo Temple.
Umi offers a Zen-like environment. The inherently Japanese aesthetic combines natural materials and a minimalist décor to create a spot of tranquillity in the middle of Hong Kong.
Light wood covers the floor and ceiling, while a stone wall forms a backdrop to the sushi action. At the far end is a stunning showpiece – a hanging orchid tree, featuring a mixture of fresh and silk orchids.
The small, intimate space is dominated by a long counter, made from a single piece of Japanese Hinoki wood, which seats just ten patrons on stylish dark wood conoid chairs designed by George Nakashima. In the centre, chef Kimijima prepares each dish by hand in front of diners.
An omasake menu is prepared daily for diners, featuring four appetisers, ten sushi courses, soup and dessert. Dishes will vary, based on the availability of ingredients.
The four appetisers we tried comprised six-month dried rice with lavish shavings of French truffle; seasonal hirame (Japanese halibut) artfully adorned with the vibrant hues of the edible hanaho flower (pictured above); Narita-sourced abalone, steamed for more than two hours and served in its shell; and finally Hokkaido scallop, grilled in soy sauce, sake and seven seasonings, before being wrapped in a crispy leaf of seaweed and paired with a sweet chestnut.
Next up came a feast of sushi. But before we began, a few etiquette rules were explained:
- No cutlery – the handcrafted sushi is placed on the bare table before you in a signature style of the restaurant.
- Eat with your fingers – emphasis is placed on ensuring the ingredients are at the optimum temperature and texture – with a looser construction meaning more air between the rice, which is easier (and more enjoyable) to eat by hand.
- Do not mix wasabi into your soy sauce – in fact, this is not even an option, as chef Kimijima adds the correct amount of fresh wasabi to each piece of sushi and lightly brushes it with soy sauce for you.
- Cleanse your palette – fresh, pickled ginger is on hand for diners to nibble in between courses.
The rules explained, the sushi procession began, starting with the lighter flavours of sayori, snapper and kohada fish, through to the more meaty textures of akami tuna and toro.
Each piece is expertly crafted with thoughtful accompaniments, for example, the kinki sushi was torched to bring out the oily taste and served with rock salt, yuzu and a sprinkling of caviar, plus a squeeze of lime to highlight the flavour. The entire combination was a delightful medley of flavours.
This was followed by a rich miso soup and a powerfully flavoured sea urchin roll, by which point I was full to the brim; however, I still managed to make space for dessert: mochi and matcha Valrhona chocolate served with some rice tea.
While we enjoyed matcha green tea with our dining experience, the menu is available with sake pairing. Beer, champagne and a small wine list are also available.
An exquisite addition to the culinary scene, offering authentic, fresh sushi in a lovely environment.
Two seatings are available Monday-Saturday for ten diners at a time, at 6.30 – 8pm and 8.30pm – 10.30pm. Reservations are highly recommended.
HK$1,588 (US$205) per person (plus 10 per cent service charge). Not including alcoholic drinks.
Shop 3, G/F, 159-163 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong; tel 2956 3177; facebook.com/umionhollywoodroad