We have always been a fan of the basement. There's something about going down a set of stairs and pushing open a door and not really being sure what you will find. These restaurants with big windows looking out on the street, tables lined up at the glass, are great, but there's no element of surprise when you go in, you've already seen all there is to see.
Umi is a spectacular specimen of subterranean surprises. The restaurant is right on the main street of Stockbridge, but you need to know where to look. Heading down the stairs you get your first glimpses, then a peer through the door, sunken seating and paper lanterns are the first things that grab your attention. Heading inside, despite its underground location the space is bright, loads of punchy colours and good lighting really helping the place feel welcoming. Bare brick, paper screens and timber framing all help build that impression that you have walked into exactly what you'd imagine a Japanese restaurant should be like. We got a cracking quiet table out towards the back of the restaurant, where a sushi bar complete with stools and a metal roof had been created facing into the kitchen. There are some restaurants where the interior is so generic, so bland and so beige that you are not sure about what the food is going to be like, it usually turns out as dull as the decor. But Umi is pure, unabashedly Japanese and only if a Nissan Skyline came drifting around table four as cherry blossom rained from the ceiling could it have been more so. But this is not style over substance, oh no the food is every bit what you would imagine, big bold Japanese dishes with character.
Being relatively indecisive I resorted to my tried and tested routine of getting the recommendations from the staff as to what to order, if in doubt give this a try, you are rarely disappointed. Then we sat back and waited. In traditional fashion the food comes to you when it's ready, forget this idea of a starter then a main course, just roll with it.
Our Umi introduction turned out to be the Kaiso Seaweed salad. But don't be thinking this is the nonsense dried rubbish you get from the takeaway, this was fresh almost sweet, with a little crunch from some scattered sesame seeds. It was a proper palate cleanser akin to a sorbet course, it was super refreshing and a great start to the meal.
Next up is the absolutely stunning looking Hamachi Carpaccio. Thin slices of Yellow Tail chocked full of fishy flavour, but what makes the fish is the accompaniment. The ponzu sauce combined with a grape puree just brings a sweetness from the fruit then oomph a big old smack of woodiness and tang of umami, its like all your taste buds are set off one after the other as the flavours roll around you mouth.
The Tonkotsu Ramen is possibly the best pork broth ever. It was thick and rich, with huge strips of succulent belly pork and hundreds of noodles. Depending on your spoonful (I don't recommend trying this with chopsticks) you again had a sea of different flavours going on, the pork always, but then sometimes sweetcorn or leek and of course a few with the soft boiled egg. The only similarity between each mouthful was how good it was.
Wilma was all for some old school sushi, so a good old Salmon nigiri was ordered. These ones were slightly seared and interestingly topped with some cranberries. An unexpected fruit twist to the classic, and it wasn't as if the fresh salmon and beautifully sticky rice needed another flavour, but the chef gave us one anyway. But it worked, the balance was spot on, so none of the flavours overshadowed the other, they just blended together like the angelic voices of AKB48. (check out YouTube or Spotify, you won't be disappointed...)
The Negi Toro Tomaki was a perfect cone of tuna tartar. More perfectly cooked rice and this time rich tuna, all neatly cocooned and presented. Yet again great flavours combining beautifully.
Then tragically we reached our last dish, but did we save the best until last. Yeah we did. And yet also one of the simplest. The Karage Fried Chicken was far tastier than Kentucky's most famous product. A crisp light batter encased finely cut pieces of chicken, and the seasoning, wow, it was spot on, bringing loads of flavour to a simple dish. A squirt of lemon added some citrus tang, was it necessary, not at all, but in keeping with all the other dishes of the evening, there no such thing as too many flavours.
The meal was fabulous, service was friendly and its obvious why in only four months Umi has established itself in this little corner of Edinburgh. Our entire spread with drinks was less than 25 pounds each, we could have had more but were well fed by this point. That's the joy of Japanese, order a few dishes, see how you get on, then just order a few more if you want. We couldn't recommend Umi highly enough, take a friend, family member or loved one, or even pop down on you own, but definitely add it to your list of Edinburgh favourites.