Number 27 from my 27 list and our first ever Michelin starred restaurant. I’m so excited to tell you this story as it was so special for so many reasons. Ben and I are both total foodies and love trying out nice restaurants. Usually for our birthdays and anniversaries we book a fancy meal somewhere, it’s just not usually this fancy.
Ben and I both turned 30 this year, Ben in June and me two months later in August. A group of friends pitched in together to get us both a voucher for Umu restaurant as a gift. I had been talking about going to a fancy Japanese restaurant for years, so they were right on point with this present.
Umu restaurant in Mayfair has two Michelin stars and is led by chef Yoshinori Ishii. It’s a pretty big deal, and way far and above anything Ben and I would usually be able to afford, so we knew we had to use the voucher to mark a special occasion. It just so happens that our 10 year anniversary also coincides with our birthdays so as soon as I got the voucher I emailed Umu to see if we could possibly get a table for that evening. I wasn’t holding my breath as places like this in London can sometimes be booked out 6 months in advance, but happily on this occasion we got in with just 3 weeks notice for Friday the 18th, the exact date of our big anniversary. Wow!
Firstly, we had to look the part. With blazers and bling at the ready we walked through the streets of Mayfair..
Ben’s jacket is his 30th birthday present from me and my earings are Ben’s 10 year anniversary present to me. We were greeted and seated with a sweet sparking sake aperitif. We had the choice of two brands and one happened to be Dewazakura, made in Tendo, Yamagata, the town where we lived in Northern Honshu, Japan. Yamagata is a rural area known for producing rice, fruit and other produce. I used to walk through rice fields daily to get to my schools and when Ben was living over there with me, he actually got a job driving from farm to farm picking up cherries that were packed daily and taking them to the export depot.
The region is known for producing one of the highest grade rice in Japan, Tsuyahime literally meaning ‘lustrous princess’ and high-grade rice means high-grade sake. We were both so excited to be able to make such an instant connection to the restaurant and it started us reminiscing about the amazing experiences we had living in Tendo. Sparkling sake is delicious too, it’s made like champagne and tasted crisp and sweet. I’m on the look out to buy some more.
As we perused the menu I tuned in to the Japanese business men sitting beside us. They were speaking ridiculously formally to each other and my waning Japanese skills were not up to the task of eavesdropping on that convo. There were a few other Japanese families, too and also a few westerners. It was humming but not busy. As you can see from the pictures, the lights were low.Umu is famous for kaiseke, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal usually with a number of different cooking techniques used. It turns out we were eating on the last day of the summer menu here. I’m glad we did because it was beautiful and fresh.
We also opted to go all in and do an alcohol pairing, I did wine and Ben chose a sake pairing.
So let me talk you through the menu..
We started with fresh salmon sashimi, cucumber and the most generous mound of truffle I have ever experienced. Then followed by lotus root soup. Hiding under that lotus are great chunks of lobster. Yum! Oh and we had a different drink to go with each, both fresh and light like the food.
We then got beautiful trays of paper-thin white fish sashimi and the fish of the day selection. The fish of the day selection featured lobster again, this time raw as sashimi, I’ve never had it like that before but I definitely wish I could have had more than one piece as it was that good. Ben and I lingered over the tuna chunks, too. One lean and one fatty piece, both the most tender we had ever experienced. I think this was my favourite course of the whole meal.
Next was the vegetable course. This was presented like a garden with miso sesame soil to be sprinkled on and a watering can dressing. Ben got a little too excited over the tiny radishes, bear in mind we are four drinks in by this point. I think this was about the time when Ben came back from the bathroom (which were very swanky) saying “How does the concierge know to open the door for me?” Ah… she hears you stomping up the stairs…. Next drink for Ben is warm sake served in crockery handmade by the chef himself. Ben definitely got the more interesting vessels from the pairing.
The next course is the meat, Ben’s favourite. This course gets paired with a red wine so I’m struggling as I’m not a fan of red. I definitely wished I knew more about wine while having this meal as the waiting staff were diligently explaining each specially selected wine to me before each pairing and I was just smiling and nodding at all the words and references I didn’t understand.
This is the rice course, definitely needed to soak up the alcohol. You can see we’re quite squiffy by now. That’s Ben’s “act sober” gaze.
Dessert! I was so excited about my cherry shaved ice that I have only managed to snap a picture of the empty bowl. Oh and the amuse bouche! I was on a desert wine for this one and Ben is back on the sweet, sparkling sake. We have forgotten the flavours of the sweets now but I remember the chocolate being my favourite.
Last thing to do was to finish off all the drinks I had backed up and settle the bill. We were one of the last parties to leave at around 11.30pm. We spilled out into the night and sensibly made our way to the bus stop, the 390 bus was the only option home after that splurge.
A once in a lifetime experience to mark our 10 years together. Worth it in every way. Thank you to our lovely friends for making it happen and thank you to Ben for 10 awesome years together. Here’s to many more!