EXCLUSIVE: Umami (Japanese, Ramen) – Ealing, London
Our love affair with Japanese continues with yet another exclusive review. Having already unearthed two such restaurants in London last month, namely the fantastic Mitsuryu in Chinatown as well as #FtLionAward’s Best Newcomer of 2018 Issho-Ni, we now bring you Umami in West Ealing.
There’s something charming about having a small Japanese eatery open opposite a train station in this country, especially one that serves bowls of ramen similar to Ramen Street’s series of restaurants in the underground mall of Tokyo railway station.
Having taken over from Haru Xpress a couple of months ago, Umami is a small takeaway joint with seating for nine, and only chopsticks available on your tables (fret not; while we do currently live in the 21st century, you can still ask for forks!).
More importantly, while they don’t openly publicise this, we can confirm that their chicken is sourced Halal, with dishes prepped and cooked on request to ensure no cross-contamination.
Regarding their ramens, then despite a chicken version not officially part of their current menu, it’s readily available any time on request, with battered chicken essentially being added to the Shoyu/ Vegetarian ramen.
In addition, it’s also worth highlighting the following mouthwatering titbit:
Our proper ramen broth is simmered over 12 hrs to reach that real taste and rich flavour.
The Yuzu & Pear has a mild citrus taste to it, courtesy of the yuzu (of course), and makes for a refreshing enough beverage alongside any given meal.
And it’s definitely our preference over the Pomme Verte Elisha, which is an aerated mineral drink, with the apple barely discernible.
BENTO/ LUNCH BOX
We were pleasantly surprised by the sushi/sashimi bento box. Beautifully presented, with a variety of classical sushi, the rice to fish ratio was carefully judged.
It’s best to eat sushi freshly served at room temperature to really appreciate its soft texture and raw flavour, and Umami ought to be commended for theirs in this instance. Proudly prepared by hand, these are at a very honest price that betters most upmarket sushi places we’ve tried in central London. You shouldn’t be left disappointed.
Certainly looked the part, with the condiments familiarly arranged and daintily proportioned about the bowl to make this one mouthwatering ramen.
The good thing was that it came out piping hot just as you’d want of any ramen. More impressively still was the portion of the nicely battered boneless chicken, which, while partially resting in the rich aromatic broth, had become saturated enough to offer that distinct contrast between the soft and the crispy. And they certainly didn’t skimp either, with a magnificent seven chunky pieces of succulent poultry that managed to retain a tender bite.
The noodles didn’t appear to be handmade, although that would probably be expecting a little too much from a small joint with minimal staff. Nevertheless, they were prepared fresh-to-order, and came with a pile of menma (bamboo shoots), plenty of sweetcorn, finely chopped spring onion, half a softly-set boiled egg, and, of course, the customary addition of dark sheets of nori seaweed which imparted a touch of the sea.
Down the final furlong, it was all about slowly savouring that soothing broth which, although not chicken based given that this bowl is essentially the addition of chicken to the veggie option available, was still full-flavoured and buttery.
There aren’t many eateries in London that offer Halal ramen. The last one we had was at C&R Izakaya; Umami’s was just as good.
Served on a green leaf and presented in a way as to give a semblance of Japanese street food, the ratio of salmon to avocado certainly appeared disproportionate, with the latter being the dominate aftertaste. What’s more, in spite of the rice being room temperature, it erred on the clingy side.
In fact, this betrayed the impression of packaged uramaki. To be quite honest, without the soy sauce, this was very average, although entirely worthy of its price tag, and certainly far better than anything you’d find on supermarket shelves.
This was better than the above, with the spicy salmon imparting a strength of flavour that made this, coupled with the seared salmon topping, a relatively tasty mouthful.
But similar to the above, the rice had a clagginess to it that detracted from its overall composition. Pretty good.
Taste-wise, there wasn’t much to this Prawn Tempura and Avocado Uramaki rolls. The flavours were all very subtle, with the avacado not really bringing much, and the mayo offering an extremely mild tanginess. Another downside was the rice, which this time erred slightly on the dry side.
UMAMI SPECIAL ROLLSRECOMMENDED
This Angry Tempura Roll was deep fried, and so came out warm, with a gorgeous crispy exterior, soft interior, and a gentle zinginess courtesy of the spicy miso drizzled over the top that brought the entire thing together.
This was a tasty roll that was certainly different to anything had thus far, and something that we all enjoyed.RECOMMENDED
If you’re after something with bags of flavour, plenty of texture, a generous topping of citrusy roe, and vivid colours to boot, then you might want to consider this off-the-menu Chef’s Special Curry Rolls.
With a good amount of viscousy sauce poured all over, whose mild sweetness helped compliment the gentle heat therein, we really enjoyed this huge mouthful of layered flavours and textures.
Another tempura-style roll comprising of fried crab, asparagus, cucumber and some spicy miso sauce, topped with roe that provided a swift sharp burst. This was another chef’s concoction presented to us with enough going on to have us masticating in pleasure for a good while.
It has to be said that Umami’s chef enjoys thinking outside the box. Having had a couple of these improvised chef’s specials, it might be an idea to request that he indulge in presenting his take if you’re feeling adventurous.
And the hits just keep on coming with these adventurous chefs. This again was really nicely done with plenty of texture and flavours all mingling to prodouce a satisfying munch.
HOT FOOD MAINS
NOTE: All Japanese Curries here are served with Japanese sticky rice and house pickle.
The classic Japanese Chicken Katsu curry served with rice, pickles and crispy salad was very satisfying. Not only was the chicken breast on point, with its tasty crispy batter, but this was certainly a generous portion. The curry’s warm spices make this a great alternative to ramen on a cold winter’s day.
Although not the best Katsu we’ve ever had, and while not as full-bodied in flavour as the highly praised Katsu had at Chi Kitchen, you won’t be dissatisfied given its size and price point.
And this simple Chicken Karaage was a satisfying dish too. Although a wrung or two below its Katsu cousin in terms of flavour, its curry base did have body to it. Being gently spiced, it also came with what appeared to be large, soft chunks of turnip sprinkled in sesame seeds.
The chicken was nicely executed, being relatively moist on the inside. But, on this occasion, its ultra-crispy-cum-crunchy batter required a lot of the curry to soften things up.
UDON NOODLES AND SOUP
The udon noodles were beautifully cooked, being thick and tender, with just that touch of give to them. Accompanied by a pair of lightly battered prawn, which again were bang on, and two slices of tempura vegetable, this dish certainly looked the part.
Despite the broth being a little insipid, we did find that adding a touch of chilli oil (available on request, and quite powerful, we might warn) definitely lifted things to something far more enjoyable.
What we enjoyed about this Chicken Curry Udon more than its rice counterpart, was the way in which the thin crispy battered chicken contrasted against the long, chewy, silky-smooth udon noodles, which were themselves nicely coated by the thick curry sauce. Not a bad alternative, with pieces of vegetables that included carrots!
This was a satisfying eat, with distinct, subtle flavours courtesy of the tender slices of crispy chicken katsu, resting atop a generous portion of delicious sticky rice.
To make things more interesting, there was also a semi-soft layer of omelette, with plenty of onions and what appeared to be pickled vegetables, poured over the top.
Although the Miso Soup usually comes plain, the chef was kind enough to spruce things up somewhat (on request) by adding some thin noodles and some tofu.
A simple bowl that might require the addition of some soy sauce and/ or chilli oil to give it a kick.
NOTE: Due to extenuating circumstances, this menu item has been retired from the menu until further notice.
For those not in the know, that’s right, the above is a Japanese breakfast set. And a visually attractive one too, with a number of colourfully contrasting elements presented on a jet black tray.
What we found in the end was that having little bits of everything together was the key to enjoying, we think, the chef’s idea behind this busy looking breakfast.
While we’ll save the details of our thoughts regarding the Chicken Karaage for below, all in all, this was an intriguing platter which, we believe, could be enjoyed at any time of the day.
Although fried chicken for breakfast may appear strange to many of us, and while we admittedly had this for lunch, there was no denying its crispy breaded batter and its soft and succulent interior.
What we would have preferred though, is more of that tangy yuzu sauce drizzled over the top rather than resorting to a squeeze of the accompanying wedge of lime.
Now a tamagoyaki is a type of Japanese omelette that’s made by rolling together several layers of cooked egg. Despite being unseasoned, it was the lightest part of the breakfast; and was perhaps for texture and show more than anything else, since it failed to bring any additional flavour.
The onigiri is a sticky ball of white rice wrapped in edible nori seaweed. This nori didn’t quite have the crispiness so distinct of fresh nori, but it wasn’t bad.
A bowl of sweet marinated eggplant, with roasted sesame seeds, that was full of flavour and had an aubergine-like taste to it that went really well with the onigiri rice.
The roasted sesame seeds sprinkled sparingly over the spinach, which itself was lightly dressed in soy sauce, brought textural contrast more than anything else. Aside from its novelty, its place on the platter did seem out of place.
A small selection of vegetable pickles for a breakfast dish may again seem unusual for some; but apparently, they’re supposed to boost digestion and strengthen the immune system, while also reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. Perhaps this is the ying to the fried chicken’s yang!
- YES/ YES
- UBER EATS
There's plenty of options on the menu to have you coming back for a while. And given that it's located directly opposite West Ealing Station, we'd recommend popping in to enjoy the food, especially that delicious chicken ramen (available on request), because this is perhaps the closest you're ever going to get to experiencing the pleasure so many Japanese commuters do when tucking into theirs at those classic ramen vendors in Tokyo station.
They also have chef(s) flexible enough to take requests, or even improvise, and present sushi rolls of fairly exacting standards. And they certainly make some pretty darn good ones too, making this a second reason to visit.
We've also been informed by a very accommodating and friendly owner, that in addition to the chicken, he's also looking to introduce other Halal meats to the menu subject to demand.
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