Umai is an izakaya in Lai Chi Kok, whose traditional mahogany settings and Japanese lanterns will teleport you effortlessly to the fishing villages of Japan. There’s a main dining area to enjoy sake and a la carte items, as well as a tempura room and a yakitori counter for omakase set menus.
Helmed by two Japanese chefs, Umai prides itself on providing authentic and meticulous quality to diners. Chef Hikita, previously head chef of Inagiku at Peninsula and the Royal Garden Hotel, has over 40 years of experience with tempura, and is hailed as the first generation tempura chef in Hong Kong. The yakitori station is under the capable direction of Chef Shimoda. He has over 15 years of yakitori experience in Tokyo, and only recently arrived in Hong Kong.
We opted for their yakitori omakase dinner menu ($780) which includes two appetisers, sashimi, nine yakitori, two grilled vegetables, soup, a chicken sukiyaki and dessert.
Throughout the meal, we noticed the meticulous attention the chef put into the selection of ingredients and grilling procedures. For example, Umai uses Kishu Binchotan charcoal from Wakayama. Being almost smoke-free and 3 times hotter than normal charcoal, a beautiful sear is easily achieved and the natural juices within the meat are retained. The restaurant also uses Mataichi salt from Fukuoka for seasoning. And, after sampling over 20 kinds of local and Japanese breeds, Japanese Awaodori chicken has been chosen for meat, while for organs the local Qing Yuan chicken is used to ensure freshness.
The kinds of yakitori served varies every day depending on availability. Sometimes, you get to try some really rare cuts, like chicken crown, testis, immature egg yolks and thyroid.
The following was included in our set:
Marinated Oma’s Kuro Maguro
The fish was tender and fresh with a slight acidic aftertaste. It was bejeweled with purple shiso flowers, amping the dish up with a citrus aroma. I learnt that Oma utilises a fishing techniques called “long line fishing” and “pole-and-line fishing” that helps prevent the fish from overheating while struggling, which aims to prevent the flesh fibres becoming stiff.
Avocado Grapefruit Salad
This was a very refreshing dish that whetted our appetite for the gut-busting meal ahead. I was so eager to begin, I forgot to take photos of this course.
Chicken Liver Pate
Smooth to the palate, the liver pâté triggered all our umami taste receptors. Spread on crostini which were fresh out of the grill, it tasted as luscious as foie gras but less greasy and heavy.
Yakitori and Kushiyaki
Chicken Thigh with Leeks, Chicken Gizzard & Chicken Neck
The above three skewers were lightly seasoned with Mataichi salt, and you could add a bit of punch with the myriad of condiments provided. The chicken neck was slightly chewy as the muscle moves a lot, but was at the same time very fragrant due to its hefty fat content. The chicken gizzard was crunchy, while the thighs were very tender with chicken juices dripping the whole time I took photos.
This is the fattiest cut of the bird, resulting in a melt-in-the-mouth texture that dissolves upon consumption. It was paired with a Genovese sauce made with Oba, that resembled basil pesto sauce we usually have in Western meals.
I was a bit hesitant in trying this, but the texture and flavour turned out quite acceptable. The outer skin was slightly rubbery, and when popped open it reveals a tofu-like texture. Its natural flavour was quite bland, so it was paired with a vinegar to add some tangy twist to it.
This sounds like a very common dish, but really tests the mettle of the chef. Chef Shimoda nailed it by encasing copious amounts of steaming juices within the crackling bubbling skin. It was simply the quintessence of a perfect chicken wing.
Chicken Liver, Chicken Meatballs, Chicken Thyroid
For the above skewers, the chef would souse them into a barrel of sweet soy sauce during the grilling process. The beautiful sear and caramelisation made them sing. The meatballs were homemade with Japanese Awaodori chicken, with a perfect meat-to-fat ratio. The thyroid carried a creamy texture and intense chicken flavour, and was my favourite of the night. As for the chicken liver, it emanated some metallic nuances. Some people might like it, but I found it a little too pungent for my liking.
Green pepper and zucchini skewers
This was a hearty bowl of chicken soup with simple flavours to cleanse your palate.
Instead of using beef, chicken was cooked the sukiyaki way with sweet soy sauce. After lightly grilling the chicken, burdock and leeks, it was presented over a gas stove, ensuring that the contents remain bubbling hot. It came along with udon, which you could add into the soup, as well as an egg for dipping.
Matcha Ice cream with red beans
The perfect meal was rounded up with a matcha ice cream with a nice bittersweet aftertaste.
We loved the concept of this Japanese eatery and its fastidious insistence in providing the most authentic experiences to diners. With several new entries to the yakitori scene in Hong Kong, Umai’s quality and vast variety make it competitive among its rivals. We would love to be back to sample their tempura set in the future.
Shop 2, G/F, D2 Place ONE, 9 Cheung Yee Street, Lai Chi Kok, 2743 8011
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