Dining out: Umame, Mumbai​

Why Farrokh Khambata’s newest venture is his smartest yet anybody who is at all serious about their dinner will be haunted by the same fear: that however great the dish you are eating right now, there is a far better version out there somewhere.   At Umame, there definitely will be a better version of what you’re eating, somewhere else in the city. You will get more authentic sushi at Wasabi and less glutinous dimsum at Yauatcha. But what you won’t get anywhere else is an explosion of flavours, laced with familiarity, served up in an environment that manages to put you at ease while maintaining the fine-dining experience.   Umame serves the sort of food that’s flavourful, relatable and good naturedly catering to Indian tastes. Food that will resonate with (and already has for almost a decade in the case of Joss) the elite of Mumbai that may be in search of some familiarity amidst the culinary explosion of world cuisines we are witnessing.

Umame isn’t about the pointilism of food or offering up a shrine to oriental culture, it’s about old fashioned flavor – and it’s good flavor. The sort of good that makes you bite your lower lip and blink a few times to hold back the emotion.

Of course there are some things which irk. Even if you let pass that almost every sushi dish on offer has something fried in it (prawn, asparagus, avocado), it’s difficult to forgive the sushi rice, which was coagulated and cold. Good sushi rice should be just warm, with each grain of rice willing to let go of each other with just a gentle shrug.

But when your sushi is served with a drizzle of good old mayonnaise on top, you know it’s not really authenticity that you are paying for.

Our soups were delicious: the Tom yum was assertively spiced and the Crab meat and asparagus egg drop soup was a sensuous delight.

The Gyoza pot stickers (filled with Wagyu beef) were tender and melted in our mouths. The fried corn cream and water chestnut from the Joss menu, now in the form of a dimsum (we ordered two of these and only didn’t order a third out of shame) had all the flavor and texture we expected of it.

The wok-seared veggies tossed in their juices and brushed with a slick of something that lifted the flavour without declaring itself was perfection and the Massaman red curry with lamb shank was as satisfying as it was rich.

Replacing the insipid Valhalla at Churchgate, this putative heir to Joss might be doing the same thing its predecessor already is, but we see nothing wrong with imitating a model that’s tried and tested and clearly works.   It’s the sort of place that will please everyone. The foodies, the families, the cool kids who want to be seen at the right places, the weight watchers, the pocket watchers, the vegetarians and even those (the category we fall into) that think soup is just something to pass time with while things with legs get grilled and slobbered with gravy for them.

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