We were halfway through dinner at Umi, the upscale Japanese restaurant in Taikoo Hui Mall, when it dawned on us that a claypot of rice was the fourth dish with sea urchin in it. Also known in Japan as uni, orange curls of flesh sat on top shredded crab and dotted with pureed black truffle, which turned irrepressibly fragrant when mixed together that everyone around the table oohed. The rice was silky and deeply complex, and the urchin had such a buttery, nutty flavor that cemented its place in the dish. But not everyone agreed: “One customer complained the chef here doesn’t know how to create a menu,” said chef Bjoern Alexander of himself. “Everything has uni in it!”
Alexander was just as generous with the urchin in other dishes. In the eight-course omakase menu, it balanced on a succulent Irish oyster with caviar, and folded inside sweet squid sashimi. It was slathered on a purple potato crisp, which you eat with creamy steamed egg, and crowned a punchy, peppery Mayura beef sushi that was lightly torched. Dessert was a Pina Colada-flavored ice cream with passionfruit and a black sesame wafer, which prompted one of my dining partners to quip, “Where’s the uni?”
Sushi snobs may sneer at a chef like Alexander and his food. He comes from Germany and trained at Jimbocho Den in Tokyo and small ramen and tempura restaurants in Japan, as well as under the illustrious Tim Raue in Germany, but it was at Gabriele in Berlin where Alexander made his name. He uses non-traditional ingredients in his dishes like browned butter in the oyster and crispy quinoa over red snapper sushi. But is there anything as pleasing as foie gras encased in a sweet German layer cake called baumkuchen and adorned with pickled rose petals, which you chase with ginger jelly? Or an intensely savory miso-marinated cod smoked gently in banana leaf? Juicy New Zealand mussels cooked in an aromatic broth of dashi, sakura shrimp, lemongrass, and curry leaf make you wonder why Southeast Asian-Japanese fusion isn’t a thing, and thick, soft slices of abalone gleamed in a rich pork soup, as well as in your memory long after you leave Umi.
Umi Restaurant & Terrace
L321 & L401, HKRI Taikoo Hui, 3/F, North Side, 288 Shimen Yi Road / 石门一路288号兴业太古汇3楼L321、L401