With distressed wood interiors, Lai Chi Kok’s UMAI transports to Japan, resembling an intimate after-work izakaya. The dimly lit, casual Japanese eatery is inspired by traditional fishing villages and moves away from the city-slick minimalist design we usually associate with Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong. The walls are decorated with traditional lanterns, fishing nets and colourful masks.
UMAI offers an extensive Japanese menu filled with authentic robatayaki, yakitori, ramen, sashimi and sushi. With the arrival of autumn, new dishes have been released in a seasonal sanma tasting menu that pays homage to this iconic Japanese fish (also known as Pacific saury or mackerel pike), which becomes plentiful off the shores of Hokkaido in autumn. The house-made plum wine complements the savoury seafood dishes.
The signature crab roe with miso dipping sauce and fresh vegetable sticks ($138), perch sashimi ($400) and sanma sashimi ($258) came rolling out to our table as we kicked off the evening. The sweet plum wine (from $2,480/5L) went deliciously with the salty starters.
Delicate and fresh, the perch and sanma sashimi went well with the herby spring onion soy sauce, while the miso dip was salty, warmed by a candle and filled with flavourful crab roe, making it a unique dipping sauce.
Getting to the grilled portion of our dinner, grilled seasonal jet-fresh sanma ($248), Saga Yobuko squid with Korean seaweed ($108) and grilled Kyoto purple crystal kamo-nasu eggplant ($138) were unique delicacies that we enjoyed the most, especially the squid – we loved the DIY grilling over the hot charcoal!
If you’re extra hungry, adding on the deep-fried hypomesus (smelt) ($98) is a fun treat. The fish is coated with crunchy matchstick potatoes.
Mains were traditional and hearty, with Wagyu over hackberry leaf ($198) and sushi-grade sanma kamameshi ($268) cooked under a small fire.
The Wagyu and seasonal vegetables were placed over a thick miso sauce on a large hackberry leaf. Simmering away, the dish became earthy and sweet, giving dimension to the Wagyu and miso.
The kamameshi was left unseasoned and took half an hour to cook in front of us. Perfectly cooked rice was topped with chopped sanma, creating a wonderful aroma. A great side dish, the rice also went well with the Wagyu.
For dessert we had the famous raindrop cake ($48), which was light and delicate, flavoured simply with peanut powder and sugar syrup. The mochi ($48) was filling and a fun, traditional dessert everybody must try at least once.
UMAI does a fantastic job in presenting a variety of authentic sanma dishes, incorporating an array of cooking methods, from grilling, to slow-cooking, to freshly sliced sashimi. I highly recommend trying this restaurant if you’re in the area. The food is tasty and reasonably priced, and it’s a laid-back spot for a weekday dinner.
Shop 2, G/F, D2 Place One, 9 Cheung Yee Street, Lai Chi Kok, 2743 8011/8266
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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