Lifting the black lid, a white coil of somen noodles is revealed, topped with a baby Queensland tiger prawn and a heaping of ‘mountain caviar’. The tiny black globules are called tonburi, and are the seed of summer cypress, harvested in the Akita prefecture in Japan.
They’re surrounded by an elegant broth – ichiban dashi tsuyu – flavoured with both dried kelp (kombu) and bonito flakes (katsuo). It’s my highlight on Ume’s 7 Course Menu ($96/head).
Chef Kirby Craig, who recently nabbed a coveted spot in the Barangaroo development for an upcoming Japanese burger outlet, has designed an evolving menu that will appeal to diners who usually find degustations overwhelming. Starting with simple pickles and Nagano-style dumplings stuffed with sweet potato and oyster mushrooms, the menu is best matched by sake.
You can either choose your own sake from the list, which displays milling percentage and Sake Meter Value (SMV) measurements that tell you whether the sake is sweet (negative) or dry (positive), or take up the Matching Sake ($50/head) package. A junmai daiginjo fan, I opted to choose my own, with an Echigo Koshihikari ($17/500ml) rice beer chaser thrown in for good measure.
An earthenware tokkuri of Shichihonyari Wataribure ($32/180ml) from Shiga is delightful; it's elegant while still having some depth of rice-like complexity. It suits the kingfish sashimi with wakame sauce. The glistening slices of kingfish are set off by a spicy mound of housemade yuzo kosho, a chilli and yuzu condiment that really kicks this dish up to the next level. It's also a visually appealing dish, presented on a beautiful eathernware plate.
Small courses of miso-braised pork belly, and charred Riverina lamb shoulder, are balanced out by a vegetable course that places sesame-roasted cauliflower, rings of roasted baby onion and wedges of dashi braised carrot on buckweat custard with a vinegar dressing made with sake lees.
The combination feels like a Japanese roast dinner, though if you like your carbohydrates (or you're still starving, as my dining companion claimed), you might want to say yes to the proffered compelling bowl of dashi rice, because this degustation menu doesn't include the customary penultimate sushi course.
Instead chef heads straight to dessert with houjicha (Japanese green tea) pastry cream rolled in black sesame cake and dotted with blueberries, pecans, Aero chocolate and chef's ever-present edible flowers.
To conclude your meal, the Japanese whisky collection here is well worth exploring, edging out a yuzu heavy Whisky Sour ($21) that completely devoured the Yamazaki single malt it was purported to contain.
This return visit to Ume (see a previous review HERE) was let down by a difficult booking process that saw me, and later my dining companion, call and send three emails before receiving a reply confirming that our booking had been made.
Ume Japanese Restaurant
478 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9380 7333