How you pronounce its name, Umu, is up to you but I say “OO-moo.”
The succinct, staccato rhythm that means, “born of nature,” remains true to its name with the use of highly textured materials in the dining room such as onyx, wood and granite, and an extraordinary 3-D feature wall done in bronze. The massive space, all 1,000 square meters of it, includes pavilions that serve as function rooms, an al fresco smoking and dining area, as well as traditional tatami (Japanese mats) rooms.
But that’s not all. If I visit during the day, I eat at a table that faces out on the meticulously maintained garden which, when I visit at night, transforms into a striking illumination of various lights and the audible gurgle of waterfalls. Umu occupies the space of the former Japanese restaurant, Benkay, which bid farewell to three decades of service when Dusit Hotel Nikko became Dusit Thani Manila last April.
The restaurant’s arresting visuals are foreplay ”“ if you will ”“ to equally exceptional food. The Sashimi Gosyumori (P1,190), five different types of seafood inimitably presented on a bed of Japanese herbs held aloft by a tower of stones and faux crystals is radiant, design made edible. Another time, the chefs indulge their playful sides by serving the same dish, but this time in a receptacle filled with dried ice. The resultant “smoke” is like being witness to an alchemist’s magic. I especially like pairing the sashimi with the shiso (aka perilla) leaf, a jagged herb that’s reminiscent of fennel. Sushi is also good here, it goes without saying, although its presentation is less fussy. And oh! All wasabi served here is freshly grated; it’s difficult to go back to grocery store wasabi.
I’m adamant that no visit to Umu is complete without an order of the pumpkin tofu (P250; also on cover photo). Handmade and topped with prawns, it’s garnished with wasabi and floats in a light broth. An almost ethereal custard, it has the texture of the smoothest cheesecake with the flavor of pumpkin pulsing through. A masterpiece.
For an uni (sea urchin) lover like me, I’m intrigued with the uni with skimmed soy milk (P515). It comes to table in a small pot with a flame that burns lazily. Positioned in a subtle broth that hints of mirin and concentrated Japanese stock, are strips of uni reposing on blocks of what look and taste like tofu but with a decidedly milkier taste. Partway through the meal, I ask the server to extinguish the flame because the broth is bubbling vigorously, forming a crust on the milk “blocks.”
Umu is making a name for itself with its teppanyaki offerings and its food cooked on the restaurant’s robata grill. A traditional Japanese cooking method, the ”˜robatayaki’ style of cooking is food cooked over an open charcoal flame, perfectly in sync with today’s style of (healthier) eating. The smoked salmon belly (P680) is especially good.
On days when I crave familiarity, the tempura udon set (P730) suffices nicely, as does the hana chirashi (P950), a variety of sashimi on a bed of vinegared (sushi) rice. Sometimes there’s nothing like sukiyaki (P2,280) however, a comfort dish of mine because my mom used to cook it for me when I was growing up. Most sukiyakis in Manila are too sweet but the one at Umu hits the right balance of salty and savory with generous slices (300 grams) of US ribeye and lots of veggies and vermicelli.
Though Umu’s prices might seem prohibitive to some, there’s plenty to eat here without going home broke. Lunch brings several set menus (P730-P1,610) and you can have a tasting sampler of the appetizers, most of which are less than P400 each. Or try the Saturday lunch buffet which is ongoing for only P945.20, a 32% discount from the original price of P1,390. Why 32%? It’s to celebrate the hotel’s 32nd anniversary.
Dusit Thani Manila, Ayala Centre, Makati City
Open Monday to Sunday, 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM and from 6 to 10 PM.
For inquiries and reservations, phone (02) 867 3333, extension 3343 / 3344.