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Umami review

Femke Colborne likes Umami, but isn't sure about her boyfriend's self-application of chilli

Published on April 2nd 2011.

Umami review

Umami is overrun with students. It’s not surprising, given its Oxford Road location and temptingly cheap menu deals - £4.95 for two courses at lunchtime.

My seafood udon (£7.95) was excellent, with a selection of well-cooked king prawns, squid and scallops – where else do you ever get scallops in a seafood udon? – mixed with beautifully al dente broccoli and pak choi in a light, nutty sauce.

But on a weekday evening, as my partner and I stood in an impromptu waiting area at the bottom of the stairs surrounded by a gaggle of thousands of them (well, 15 to be precise), all loud and excited and smelling of cheap perfume and fresh sweat, we suddenly felt very old and slightly irritated.

For a moment we were tempted to come back on a different night. Glancing through the glass partition at four empty tables for two, we tapped our feet in frustration and huffed like a couple of grumpy old men. The apparent lack of organisation did not bode well for the evening ahead, particularly if the crowd got their orders in before us. But just as we were about to give up hope, we were finally shown through to the restaurant and seated.

As it turned out, our doubts about the service were largely unfounded. Considering the task they had on their hands, the staff were as attentive and efficient as could be expected, and even found time to deliver a surprise birthday cake, complete with candles, to the aforementioned party.

Umami is the Japanese word for ‘savoury’, one of the five basic tastes in Japanese cooking – the others being sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. The restaurant has a canteen atmosphere, offering a typical selection of Japanese fare – noodles, soups, curries and salads – with the added bonus of a separate sushi bar, complete with sushi chef.

It’s difficult to say no to an £8.95 bottle of wine, so we decided to go for that – a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc – while we perused the rest of the menu. We braced ourselves, expecting the worst, but it was a pleasant surprise - tart and citrussy, if a little acidic.

We began with assorted sashimi (£4.95) – salmon, tuna and sea bass – and salmon and avocado rolls (£2.95). The sea bass was the freshest of the three, and the tuna had a slightly mushy texture indicating that it had been frozen – unfortunately a necessary evil for most sushi restaurants in this country. The salmon and avocado rolls were a little messy, but for six pieces, the assorted sashimi was good value.

Our starters of sesame prawn toast (£3.75) and chicken yakitori (£3.80) were equally pleasing. The chicken was well cooked and skewered with fresh, tasty spring onions in a syrupy sauce, and the prawn toast was unbeatable – minced prawns sandwiched between two slices of white bread, deep fried and served with a sweet chilli sauce – exactly as prawn toast should be.

Chicken Yakitori

Pad Thai

By the time the main course arrived we had almost forgotten our earlier irritation, although the noise level remained very high. My seafood udon (£7.95) was excellent, with a selection of well-cooked king prawns, squid and scallops – where else do you ever get scallops in a seafood udon? – mixed with beautifully al dente broccoli and pak choi in a light, nutty sauce.

Our other main course, the pad thai (£6.95), was not so impressive – the sauce was a little too sweet and the noodles slightly undercooked. But it made up for this in amusement value when, after having sprinkled on his own chilli seasoning from a pile on the side of the plate, my partner found himself in a slightly delicate situation following a visit to the conveniences.

We were then handed a tattered dessert menu that looked like a map from Pirates of the Caribbean. But there was no buried treasure – just a small selection of five rather unadventurous puddings. My partner, still only able to bear the thought of something cold, went for a selection of sorbets – raspberry, green apple, and mango and ginger (£3.55). They were refreshing and fragrant, the mango and ginger the best of the three.

I opted for fruit fitters with vanilla ice cream (£3.50), a selection of deep fried apple, pineapple and banana. The batter was slightly on the soggy side, but it didn’t stop me from clearing the plate.

At a total of £25 each for four courses and wine, Umami is seriously good value for money. It is a cheaper and better alternative to Wagamama, and the £4.95 lunch deal – with a choice of five starters and five main courses – has to be one of the best value lunch deals in Manchester. It is essentially a great, cheap student eatery – but it deserves to be more than that, and if word gets out, it soon will be.


Breakdown:7.5/10 food
3/5 service
2.5/5 ambience
(Plus one bonus point for value for money)/td>
149-153 Oxford Rd
M1 7EE
0161 273 2300

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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7 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

xelliexMarch 28th 2011.

Don't bother getting take-out - they're not as attentive when they're less likely to get a tip (waited 45 minutes for food - of course they make you pay for it first, then leave you sat in that little room by the bins)

xelliexMarch 28th 2011.

Also worth noting that I phoned ahead and this still happened. My advice would be to ask for realistic times!

Scouse_SiMarch 29th 2011.

This is a hidden gem. I regularly have my lunch there and no, I'm not a student. Beats Wagamama hands down!

06212526March 31st 2011.

Sushi very nice too - an occasional treat. PACKED every lunchtime so me and a colleague go after 2 when it is quieter. Service lets it down a bit - they tend to rush you through ('Have you finished?' 'No.' happens quite often, even with fork half way to mouth) and seat you as close to other people as possible. I usually tip because the waiting staff do work hard and the food comes quickly, but I doubt they remember us next time. Last time I went the bill was incorrect (but we spotted it and it was resolved). Food consistently good and well priced though - I keep going back and wouldn't if it wasn't good overall.

BrillopadsMarch 31st 2011.

LOVE the salt & pepper Tofu !!

GrumbiApril 7th 2011.

I forgot about this place, used to go when I was a student, out of sight out of mind I guess and yes it does beat Wagamama. Thank you for reminding me I see a reunion now.

Daniel LeeOctober 10th 2011.

Don't go. Rubbish Service. Food is ok but small portions. However the service is disgraceful. Worst of all the manager/owner is rude and arrogant. I went there with a group of friends and the manager/owner talked down to us as well as treating us the whole time with disdain. The bit that really tipped us over the edge was when it came to paying for the bill, he wouldn't even change a £10 note for 2 £5 notes despite us paying in cash (we were a group of 6). When I'd challenged him on the poor customer experience his response was "I don't care, people will still come". Well I for one will not be coming back and I sincerely hope others will follow as there should be no excuse for poor customer service.

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