Playing with a palette of primary colours, the updated Umi Sushi & Bar certainly commands your attention.
The glass box’s golden yellow bar, bright red neon, and deep blue, 8-meter long fish tank, are only one aspect of the restaurant's update.
After eleven years in this spot, owners Jessie Xiao and Terence Chau, have re-made their original Umi Sushi into a flagship live seafood specialist, offering up omakase chef’s daily selection sushi banquets.
They’ve also put in a charcoal grill for cook-to-order kushiyaki, added multiple private dining rooms (with karaoke facilities), and backed it all up with a very impressive range of sake and Japanese whisky.
We’re seated at a varnished aggregate counter right in front of the live fish tank; eyeballing both our eventual dinner and the man behind the new menu. His name is Executive Chef Hideaki Fukada, and you might know him from his work at Toriciya.
You might also know his Spicy Kingfish Carpaccio ($16.80), since it has followed him across the Bridge. Thin slices of kingfish are dressed with jalapeno and mixed plum jam and presented in a pool of yuzu soy sauce. Chef Fukada pairs them with a junmai ginjo sake from the Niigata Prefecture – Denemon ($20.80/180ml) - served heated to 40 degrees. It’s soft and ricey, and a lovely contrast to the lively, citrusy dish.
The Oven-Baked Savoy Cabbage ($14.80) is another familiar dish that has made the jump – though it’s better than the original thanks to the cooking accuracy of a new combi oven. The charred cabbage is flavoured with Japanese citrus, bonito and truffle, giving it a big savoury (umami) mid palate. We consume it with a seemingly light Chiyomusubi ($23.80/100ml) junmai daiginjo sake that comes into its own when drunk with this dish.
After a pungent palate cleaner of Pickled Wasabi Leaf ($7.80) that I'd definitely order again, we move on kushiyaki.
Chef Fukuda excuses himself to charcoal grill our skewered meats; while we get acquainted with Komagura Munouyaku Yamada ($18.80/180ml). It’s a junmai (no distilled alcohol added) kimoto sake, which basically means the yeast starter is made in a way that allows more funky yeast to be present, leading to a wilder, funkier flavour.
Served at 40 degrees, it’s just the ticket to enjoy against Yakitori Tsukune ($5.80/each). The sticky-sweet and juicy chicken meatball skewers are presented with onsen tamago (hot spring egg) for dipping. The sake is also big enough to cope with Yakitori Wagyu ($6.80/each) - these skewers are a real highlight, cooked at a sufficiently high temperature to ensure the crisp beef fat explodes in your mouth as you bite into it.
We share a fillet of Char-grilled Saikou Salmon ($23.80) with Suiryu Kimoto no Dobu Junmai Genshu ($18.80/180ml) served at 45 degrees. The salmon is from the high alpine reaches of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. Chef Fukada has treated the fish to a sake rice malt marinade, then char-grilled it to add some smoky flavours. His sake match works to cleanse your mouth of the oiliness of the cold climate fish.
We get an on-ice preview of our next course, which includes items from the live seafood tank that we’ve been watching throughout our meal. The bivalves are expertly opened by Chef Fukada, and then placed on a DIY BBQ grill right under our noses.
While watching the live South Australian Scallops ($9.80/each) squirm might not be for everyone, this method sees them stewed in their own juices.
With a squeeze of lemon and some finely sliced shallots, they’re wonderful eating – including the roe which I’m normally not so keen on. Made by an English Toji (master sake maker) called Phillip Harper, our accompanying beverage – Tamagawa Omachi ($20.80/180ml) - is gentle, so as not to interrupt or compete with the bounty of the sea.
Freshly shucked Jumbo Oysters ($9.80/each) look intimidating raw, but reduce to a manageable size when cooked; though it's the Baby Abalone ($12.80/each) that are a revelation. I’ve never had abalone quite so tender and flavoursome before. They reminds me of uni (sea urchin roe) because they taste like a rock pool.
Chef Fukada explains the similarity comes because both sea urchin and abalone eat kelp. He's delighted we enjoy sea urchin roe as many Western diners do not, and quickly assembles us a plate of Sea Urchin Sashimi ($29). Like any omakase menu, this is a moveable feast, where the chef is able to respond to your taste and drinking proclivities in real time.
As we wrap this amazing Tasmanian produce in crisp nori sheets with wasabi and Maldon sea salt, Chef Fukada explains his parents live just fifteen minutes walk from Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. When he visits them, he walks there every day to revel in the sheer number of shellfish available. "Shellfish, rock salt, perfect in morning 8am,” he says joyfully as I stuff this wonderfully simple blend into my own mouth with my fingers. It’s an impossibly perfect dish that is like opening your mouth in the ocean, with the Takaisami Tokubetsu Junmai ($15.80/180ml) sake behaving like a fresh mountain stream running over rocks and into the sea.
As we’re keen drinkers, we’re treated to another off-menu drinking snack, while Chef Fukada explains his dream is to have a small seafood stand over a train station. His tiny restaurant would serve up sake and drinking snacks like Toro Tataki Namero ($28), a dish that is common on the Chiba prefecture. The pink tuna belly is hand minced with ginger, miso and shallot, with the resulting mix flamed by blowtorch.
We eat it wrapped in more crisp nori sheets.
Really what makes this omakase experience so wonderful is the attention and interaction with this intriguing chef; a true sake lover, who is at home pouring your sake, and answering your questions about this intriguing drink. Our meal concludes with a ‘dessert’ of Foie Gras ($15.80/per piece) topped with sweet miso and blow torched.
The rich slices of sweetly caramelised liver are delicious, and accompanied by yet another sake - Taketsuru Daiwa-Omachi ($23.80/180ml) junmai genshu served heated to 65 degrees. This aged sake smells like honey or cane sugar, and is the only sake that can go above 55 degrees without becoming unbalanced, because it has a high acid content.
We leave this restaurant smiling and not just because of alcohol-induced good cheer. Umi Sushi & Bar really is a jewel in the crown for Jessie Xiao and Terence Chau – and the sake line-up is exceptional.
Umi Sushi & Bar
Shop 1 & 2, 477 Pitt Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9281 2006