Date of review: March 3, 2017 | Reviewed by: Charmaine Mok
After the modernist setting of Sushi Ta-ke at the Cubus building in Causeway Bay and the sprawling, aquatic-themed Umi sushi bar at The Ocean in Repulse Bay, Yukio Kimijima is going back to the basics at the new Umi. As tradition, smooth light wood dominates the sushi bar—but that’s about as classic as it gets. Details include illuminated light panelling and mother-of-pearl tiling, but the hero piece of this beautiful, if unusual, space is a tree suspended from the ceiling at the end of the room, its bare branches enveloped by a mixture of fake and fresh blooming orchids.
The seats at the front of the room have the best view of the sushi being crafted, and are far less complicated to get into—the four low-set seats at the back corner of the bar are a little awkward, and sometimes the waitresses do struggle with reaching the guest at the very end of the bar. These seats are also right next to a swinging door to the back of house, meaning guests sat here will also receive the soundtrack of a bustling kitchen. Our recommendation? Ask for the seats near the entrance. It will also make trips to the washrooms more convenient, as guests need to head to sister restaurant Bibo next door to do their business.
Veteran itamae Yukio Kimijima is classically trained in the art of Edomae sushi, and his creations are kept elegant and simple with little by way of the garnishes or flourishes more often seen in contemporary sushi bars. There is a Le Comptoir twist though; the omakase meal will always start with a small bowl of truffled rice, which we found a little discordant with the traditional sushi experience and far less interesting than the other little starters that came our way (slivers of hirame lightly dressed in a plum sauce, and abalone served with a sauce of its own liver).
The procession of sushi begins with a quartet of “K” — a beautifully seared kinki fish served with a dollop of caviar, tender kinmedai (alfonsino) lightly caressed with soy sauce, a pert piece of kohada (gizzard shad) looking as though it might swim away at any moment, and a beautifully striped kuruma ebi (Japanese tiger prawn) with crisp, meaty flesh. Nigiri is served not on a tray or bamboo leaf, but directly onto the bar in front of you (which is disinfected regularly, for the germ-phobic among you). Buri (yellowtail) which is at its best right now, came with a slightly smoky finish—extremely satisfying for a fish that has such a rich texture.
At the time of booking, we specified no bluefin tuna (although the restaurant suggests it is sustainably sourced), which are featured in at least three pieces of nigiri. Unfortunately this request was forgotten (although we reminded them again at the beginning of our meal) but later replaced with silver-streaked sayori (halfbeak fish) and numerous apologies.
A clam miso soup was fine but a little short on the fullness of umami. Things finished on a high with homemade mocha stuffed with a ripe, fresh strawberry and matcha truffles bittersweet with tea flavour.
The cheapest bottle of sake (Hakurasei junmai daiginjo) runs at HK$1,388 and it rises steeply thereafter with most bottles priced between HK$3,188 and HK$7,488. Our 2012 “Kanochi” junmai daiginjo from cult brewer Kamoshibito Kuheiji in Aichi prefecture was luscious and sweet and perfect to sip between bites. Diners can also order wines and cocktails from Bibo.
The awkward layout of the space means service cannot be as polished as it could be—where we were seated meant we had to pass used towels and crockery back to the waitresses, and it also meant they struggled to pour tea and sake to guests in the innermost corner of the restaurant. However, service was courteous and knowledge of the sake (such as recommended serving temperatures) was sufficient. Chef Kimijima also makes an effort to explain the names of ingredients in Cantonese to guests.
Without drinks, the price of the omakase at Umi, at HK$1,588, is fair and in line with other sushi restaurants in Central. However the drinks list is rather prohibitive with its high price point and it would be wonderful if the restaurant could offer more half bottles, carafes, or sake by the glass in the future.