Written by Brian (@brhinos), Sydney
If I had to pick one cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would probably have to be Japanese. I love fresh fish, wagyu beef, smoked eel, ramen… the list goes on. So it didn’t take much convincing for me to make a booking at a hatted Japanese restaurant.
Ume Japanese Restaurant earned One Chef Hat in the Good Food Guide in 2013 and as held it for four consecutive years. The restaurant is headed up by owner & chef, Kerby Craig who’s journey, although impressive, hasn’t always been an easy one.
After being kicked out of school, Kerby’s journey into hospitality started with a first year apprenticeship at the Rozelle restaurant of Tetsuya Wakuda (of Tetsuya’s fame). This became a remarkable training ground which Kerby also worked along side Martin Benn
(now, owner and chef of the Three Chef Hatted Sepia Restaurant).
After leaving the country to work for pestigious restaurants in London and Canada, Kerby returned to Australia as a Chef de partie at Koi (restaurant is now closed, not to be confused with Koi Dessert Bar). Kerby was quickly promoted to Head Chef and soon enough, earned One Chef Hat. To mark this achievement, Kerby got a chef’s hat tattooed on his neck – a trademark which has served him and his restaurant well at Ume.
Fast forward to June 2012 and after being in debt and facing the challenges of getting a new restaurant off the ground, business received a solid boost after being awarded the chef hat.
The drinks on offer are nothing less than impressive. If you struggle to make decisions, it’s best to ask the bartender to make it for you. There’s an very comprehensive sake list and a good selection of Japanese themed cocktails. Being a whiskey fan, my decision was made as soon as I saw “Suntory Yamazaki”. Unfortunately, the aged single malts were out of stock so I settled with the Distiller’s Reserve.
Yamazaki whiskies shot to prominence when it was named the “Best Japanese Single Malt” (25 y.o.) at the 2013 World Whisky Awards and also, when it won the World Whisky of the Year award.
It was a good drop and the service was impeccable. My Yamazaki glass came accompanied by a DIY kit of ice balls and water. It was the best way I’ve had whiskey served to me and the way I think all quality whiskies should be enjoyed.
With a focus on Japanese cuisine using fresh, local, produce that is both sustainable and in season, I was excited to see what was on offer. An a la carte menu is available during the week but Friday and Saturday nights only offer a set menu. $74 for 5 course and $96 for a 7 course. We sign up for the 7.
The first course that came out was the Sweet Potato & Oyster Mushroom Nagano Style Dumpling. Different in shape and texture to the more common Japanese gyoza, the sweet potato shone through and contrasted the mushrooms well. These were fantastic and drove me to the decision to add Nagano to my travel list.
Next came the Queensland Baby Tiger Prawns on top of Somen Noodles, Ichiban Dashi Tsuyu, Tonburi.This is where the menu started to teach me a few things on Japanese cooking. Somen is type of noodle made out of wheat flour, much like udon but much thinner in diameter. Ichiban Dashi Tsuyu is the Japanese broth (using Kombu/Dried Kelp and Katsuo/Dried Bonito Flakes) the noodles are resting in. And Tonburi is the garnish, essentially seeds from a herb that are known for having a texture similar to caviar. Clearly my knowledge of Japanese cuisine needs some polishing that only a foodie trip to Japan can fix. Back to the food, the prawns were fresh, the dashi flavourful and the crunchy tonburi is a great touch to add an interesting layer of texture.
Part of the fun of fine dining is witnessing the food transformed into edible pieces of art. Colours, textures, flavours. The next dish comes out and it becomes clear that the portions are going to be small, intricate and punchy. Miso Braised Free Range Pork belly, egg yolk sauce, Kabu ( Japanese term for turnip). I liked the rich egg yolk sauce but I think the dish would benefit with crunchier crackling.
The Kingfish Sashimi was next and reminded me how blessed we are to be living in a country where fresh seafood is so accessible. The Kingfish was incredibly fresh and nicely complimented by the Wakame (seaweed) sauce, Housemade Yuzukosho (Japanese seasoning paste made from chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt) and Shiso (asian herb).
Course five was 9+Blackmore Wagyu, Shimeji (mushrooms), Onsen Tamago (low temperature egg), Sukiyaki (thinly sliced beef) sauce, Asparagus and Chives. This was hands down the best dish of the night and was one of the most flavourful ways I’ve ever eaten Wagyu Beef. It clearly didn’t hurt having such a high marble rating on the Wagyu beef.
One of the best parts about Japanese cuisine is how meticulous the presentation can be & how a seemingly ordinary collection of ingredients can be transformed into something much more. Quite a party of vegetables on the plate. The guest list included: Sesame Roasted Cauliflower, Fried Jerusalem Artichoke, Roasted Baby Onion, Dashi Braised Carrot, Buckwheat Custard, Sake Lees (residual yeast) Vinegar Dressing. It was tasty although I didn’t quite understand the synergies between the vegetables.
It was time for the final course. Dessert! Houji-cha (Japanese green tea) Pastry Cream Rolled In Sesame cake, Sake simmered Blueberry, Pecan and Aero Chocolate. I loved the way this was put together. The ingredients went well together, complimenting the rich chocolate and synergizing well with refreshing flavours.
Overall, the portions were small but the dishes demonstrated a deep understanding of Japanese cuisine and culinary techniques. I love how fine dining shows how far and wide the culinary world stretches. Japan is definitely calling! But if you can’t afford the time or the ticket, a visit to Ume may help you think you’re there for a few hours.
Twin Discoveries recommendations: Wagyu Beef, Houji cha pastry cream, Nagano dumplings
Ume Japanese Restaurant
478 Bourke Street
Tuesday – Thursday: 6pm – 10pm
Friday – Saturday: 6pm – 10.30pm – Set menu only