Bangkok Post reviews
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: January 17, 2014 at 8:38 am
Japanese restaurants might be crowding Bangkok's food scene, but Umenohana's Nippon cuisine gives it a leg up on the rest
The kacho fu-getsu kaiseki set presents an eight-course meal of approximately 15 meticulously prepared delicacies.
Despite how much those in the restaurant circle have insisted Thailand's gastronomic industry is saturated with Japanese culinary offerings, the prestige of Nippon cuisine seems to unceasingly inspire.
The popularity has proved alluring not just to trend-conscious diners and novice entreprenuers but also highly experienced restauratuers alike.
Lately, S&P, one of the country's oldest and best-established food service corporations has jumped on the bandwagon. Its newest business, Umenohana, which was launched a month ago, boasts the time-honoured tradition and meticulous craftmanship of Japanese cookery.
Originally from Kyushu, Japan, Umenohana (founded in 1976) is a traditional Japanese fine dining establishment specialising in crab dishes and a selection of tofu prepared according to the restaurant's secret recipes. Food is presented exquisitely in precise order of kaiseki _ a traditional multi-course Japanese meal _ style.
The first Umenohana restaurant outside Japan, to which we paid a lunch visit last week, occupies a limited space on the second floor of Nihonmura Mall on Thong Lor Soi 13. To offer an exclusive dining experience, the 64-seater features a small-sized main dining room and five private rooms decked out in traditional Japanese style.
Although the restaurant focuses on kaiseki dining, which is more typical for dinner, it also attracts laid back diners during lunchtime. Japanese housewives flock to this family-friendly joint (baby cots are available in private rooms) for a chit-chatting meal whereas business execs prefer it as a venue for casual lunch meetings.
Our party of three decided to sample one kaiseki set (traditionally one set is designed for one guest but we Thais love sharing our food so much we couldn't afford to each have a set of our own) and a few extra options from the a la cart menu. A wide variety of a la cart dishes includes sushi and sashimi, appetisers, grilled and deep-fried items, hot pot, rice and noodles, as well as signature entrees and a collection of crab-centric delicacies.
Of the four kaiseki sets (priced 1,150 baht, 1,850 baht 2,950 baht and 3,850 baht), we settled on the most lavish _ the kacho fu-getsu. It's an eight-course meal of approximately 15 items to be enjoyed over the period of two to three hours.
The first course, comparable to a Western amuse-bouche, provided an impressively enlivening kick off. Arriving in small portions was an assortment of three savoury delicacies, including fresh tofu skin seethed with yuzu zest, fresh cream pudding with citrus sauce and snow crab-tofu skin rolls in ponzu sauce.
Each variety of tofu offered at Umenohana boasts different characteristics in terms of taste and texture, yet all were equally brilliant.
The second course continued to represent the daintiness of kaiseki cooking. Served in a miniature set of drawers, it features thick supple slices of assorted fish sashimi, namely maguro (tuna), buri (yellowtail) and shima aji (Japanese jack mackerel) and translucent morsels of raw taraba (king crab) meat, together with deep-fried tofu dumpling and two skewers of namafu dengaku (savoury wheat gluten cake) which provided a tastily gummy mouthfeel.
To follow was a steamed taraba crab course which came piping hot in a large bamboo basket and proved so naturally flavoursome it needed no additional seasoning (though it was provided). The fourth entree, presented uncooked fillets of remarkably marbled beef from the Kyushu region that, after being grilled on a yogan yaki (hot volcanic stone), yielded a truly memorable mouthfeel thanks to its melt-in-the-mouth texture and fat-bursting flavour. Our gastronomic pleasure then came to the soothing soup course, king crab legs in miso-infused crab stock.
The delicious soup was followed by a seasonal selection of nigiri sushi _ that day the five-piece platter included the jack mackerel, yellowtail, tuna, red sea bream and hotate (Hokkaido giant scallop). The generous set wrapped up nicely with refreshing tofu pudding.
Of the a la cart menu, we were highly impressed (and I'm sure you will be, too) with fuku fuku tofu (650 baht). The dish allows you to make tofu on your dining table. You will witness the soy milk gradually build a soft curd texture before enjoying the silky custard-like tofu with two kinds of sauce _ salty spicy mabo sauce and mild-tasting yasai sauce.
We also sampled the DIY taraba shabu (1,300 baht). This self-cooked soup was enjoyed bubbling hot from a clay pot over a portable gas stove. The gigantic legs of red king crab were boiled in subtly tasty clear broth with onions, spinach, mushrooms, carrots and fresh tofu skin.
The service staff suggested we finish off the hot pot experience with "risotto". A complimentary portion of steamed Japanese rice was re-cooked in the naturally sweet broth that had been seethed with the seafood and vegetables, and was enjoyed as a Japanese take on Italian risotto.
For those craving a bracing mouthfeel of fresh greens I recommend Umenohana salad (320 baht). Generously portioned, it presented a neat assortment of leafy vegetables (mizuna, green oak and coral lettuce, for example), homemade tofu and cherry tomatoes with sesame vinaigrette dressing and roasted cashew nuts, crispy sweet potato threads and tofu skin garnish.
Due to limited seating, reservations are highly recommended.