Umi at 18-24 Deanhaugh St, is the third Japanese restaurant of owners Kenny and Jimmy Zhang. Following the success with Bentoya in Fountainbridge (2014) and Kenji Sushi in nearby St Stephen’s Street (2016), they opened Umi in this historic and vibrant Stockbridge district of Edinburgh.
Located in a basement, like other restaurants in central Stockbridge, the interior arrangement and décor of Umi are a cross between a Ryōtei – a type of luxurious traditional Japanese restaurant – and a typical Izakaya, an informal gastropub. Shoji sliding doors offer privacy to the seating areas around low horigotatsu tables. Elsewhere, a variety of seating, from comfortable individual wicker style seats fixed on wooden bases to simple stools, is available. The thatched effect ceiling contrasts nicely with the bare wooden floor. Ceiling lights are brighter than the more decorative red paper lanterns. Bamboo screens helped separate some closely arranged tables. The walls of exposed brick and bare concrete are decorated with street art and murals. Overall, this is a worthy attempt to replicate an authentic Japanese ambience.
The menu at Umi, which means ocean, specialises in fish and ramen, although there is more variety than this, including Korean style hot stone bowl rice dishes. The colourful, pictorial menu gives clear details of the specialities on offer. Generously portioned, beautifully presented dishes are freshly and precisely cooked. Prices are fair given the excellent quality of expensive ingredients and the skill in preparation. Up to five chefs man the kitchen covering cold starters, sushi and ramen. Service is friendly, prompt and knowledgeable, without being intrusive.
Many of the patrons of this 35-cover restaurant are young who prefer a healthy diet for which Japanese food is renowned. Umi is also popular with families, especially at weekends.
Fine Dining Guide visited on a midweek evening in March. House manager Saki gave helpful advice in choosing a balanced range of dishes.
Aubergine Goma (£4.50) scored and fried for speed of service (instead of being baked in the oven), and glazed in an umami rich miso paste enhanced with a mirin and sugar glaze. Amazingly, the result was soft, non-greasy and meltingly sweet and savoury flesh.
The tempura dish featured five king prawns (£8.90) in an ethereally light, transparent and crisp batter accompanied by a soya based dipping sauce. Other options include sweetcorn, the best seller.
Kara-age fried chicken (£4.90), comprised seven pieces of boneless thigh deep fried in a potato starch batter. Whilst the use of thigh (instead of the ubiquitous breast in western restaurants) guaranteed succulence, the batter needed to be crisper to do the dish full justice. There were no problems with the seven spiced mayonnaise dip.
A selection of nigiri sushi – Salmon, Tuna, Yellow tail, Tora and Sea Bass (various prices) – was generous in its toppings of spankingly fresh fish. The light, fluffy and slightly sticky rice was perfectly cooked.
Of the sashimi dishes Tuna tartare is the most popular. However, following the recommendation of co-owner Kenny, who popped in for a chat, I was served Hamachi Carpaccio (£8.50). Delicate slices of firm, white king fish (yellow tail) were dressed in a light ponzu dressing infused with tangy yuzu which cut through the slightly oily fish. Grape puree added sweetness and black garlic cloves a contrasting tartness. Edible yuzu flowers and shredded mouli gave contrasting flavour and textures in this perfectly balanced, beautifully presented dish.
No visit to Umi would be complete without sampling a ramen dish. The secret to the Crazy Tonkotsu ramen (£10.90) was the deeply flavoured 24-hour pork bone broth. Added to this was tare (a soya based secret recipe), and chilli oil paste to add heat. Sliced chashu, braised belly pork, had a meltingly soft texture and a gentle sweetness to balance the salt of the broth. Home made pulled noodles, of al dente texture, reflecting the correct amount of protein in the flour, gave substance, soft boiled egg gave richness, and grilled jalapeno and chilli strands finished the dish with a lively freshness.
Overall, there was much to admire in quality, quantity and variety of food offered at Umi. The well-heeled residents of this prosperous district are discerning diners, voting with their feet if restaurants are sub-standard. Happily, Umi has a healthy amount of repeat custom, which augurs well for its continued success. Fine Dining Guide will revisit and follow its progress with interest.