Neil Braidwood heads to Stockbridge – or is it downtown Tokyo? – to sample some delicious Japanese food.
It’s a good job Umi has a large, colourful sign, as you could be forgiven for walking past the inauspicious basement restaurant in Stockbridge’s Deanhaugh Street.
Once inside though, it’s hard to find a table – the place is packed with diners. This is always a good sign, and the atmosphere is that of a Tokyo street food cafe. There are colourful paper lanterns strung along the ceiling, and adding to the effect, there’s a lifesize image of a Japanese street scene pasted on one of the walls.
There are lots of tables, including a private dining area which has paper and wood screens that can be pushed together. There’s a sushi bar area too, through the back, where patrons can see their meals being prepared.
The menu is fairly extensive, covering sushi and sashimi, ramen dishes and tempura. There are high quality photographs showing what everything looks like, and our waitress is very knowledgeable and helpful.
We choose gyoza dumplings and prawn tempura as appetisers, with a small chef’s selection of sashimi (10 pieces of raw fish). My wife Maureen decides on KFC Ramen and I opt for teriyaki salmon on a bed of sticky rice.
The chicken and vegetable gyoza arrive steaming hot and pan fried to perfection, with a vinegar sauce accompaniment. There are only five, so we carefully dissect the last one with our chopsticks. Our sashimi arrives on a bed of crushed ice and shaved horseradish. The fish looks superb, and I recognise tuna, salmon, eel and mackerel amongst the selection. We mix our wasabi paste with the soy sauce on the table and tuck in. The fish is so fresh and yields perfectly when we take a bite. Slices of ginger are supplied too, to cleanse the palate after each fish, and this is one of my favourite parts of the whole Japanese dining ritual.
We were barely finished when the prawn tempura arrived – five huge deep-fried prawns in a light, crispy batter. These were sublime, and again as there were five, we split the last one.
At this point, we decided to add another dish, as we felt we may not have ordered enough – we wanted a sushi roll of some description, and the waitress, sensing our indecision, suggested the ‘Volcano California Roll’. This consisted of crab and avocado encased in sushi rice, and topped with salmon, which was lightly grilled. On top of this was a blob of cranberry sauce. We should have ignored her suggestion – I found the cranberry overpowered the subtle flavours, and I was a bit disappointed in this dish. Plus, I found the cooked salmon on the sticky rice a weird combination – I much prefer raw fish with sushi rice.
However, the dishes kept arriving, and next we had the main events – Maureen’s karaage fried chicken ramen, which was swimming in a chicken bone broth – perfect for this cold winter night. The noodles were quite al dente and all in all this was a hearty, satisfying dish.
My teriyaki salmon was less interesting, but still tasty. Served in a little box with a lid, the salmon was delicious and the sticky rice the perfect consistency for chopsticks.
We washed the whole lot down with a combination of Asahi on draught and bottled Kirin Ichiban – a Japanese 100% malt beer which was a smooth accompaniment to our meal.
If you want a taste of Japan in a corner of Edinburgh, this is the place to come for the fastest, freshest food.
Book your table at umiedinburgh.com