Embrace the Art of Fine Sushi in Umezushi, Manchester
Sushi, although often misunderstood, can be defined as any foodstuff served with vinegared sushi rice. Most often prepared with Sashimi slices, this is when the polarising notion of eating ‘raw fish’ has developed a cultural significance not just in Japan, but across the World. Yet as misinformed as people can often be regarding the contents of sushi, the mal-preparation of sushi across the West undoubtedly distorts what people understand it to be. Ubiquitous in many a supermarket and high street chain is the insipid and plastic imitation. Firstly, sushi rice should never be refrigerated and the predisposition to do so in such establishments may prolong their shelf-life but in doing so, eradicates their flavour. The sweet but tangy rice soon becomes hard, bland and stodgy.
Although health regulations ensure the safety of sushi in these venues, sushi is a dish best prepared and eaten in quick succession, the nuances of the flavour and texture are lost with time. To both the sushi initiated and yet to be converted, one needn’t resort to the tasteless ‘California Roll’, packaged with the not-quite-pickled pickled ginger and the Wasabi-that-technically-isn’t-Wasabi Wasabi. Alternatively, I implore you to visit an establishment with a trained Sushi Chef and the freshest of ingredients. It really is worth seeing for yourself what has instigated the global culinary phenomenon. Simply, what is often sold as sushi wouldn’t inspire or ignite a palate but rather is a sad appropriation of a true Japanese classic. Good sushi is delicious and a healthy way of injecting protein and nutrition into a meal.
Umezushi is certainly a restaurant that steers away from mock sushi. Based in the heart of Manchester City Centre, Umezushi delivers what sushi should be about at its very core – freshly prepared dishes with the highest possible quality produce. Truly, there is no comparison between the what is commonly given the title of sushi and the dining experience one would come across here. Umezushi successfully provides authentic Japanese cuisine yet does so with a keen attention to detail and artful presentation.
Watch the Masterful chefs prepare in an Open-Style Kitchen
The freshness of which I speak of when describing the dishes at Umezushi is in fact verified by the layout of the restaurant itself. Umezushi is designed almost as if it were an open-plan kitchen. Although it is fairly common to have chefs prepare food on view throughout many an establishment, ranging from informal to formal venues, the intimate and minimalistic setting in which one dines at Umezushi conjures up the notion of one sitting in a homely Japanese kitchen, about to eat food prepared by expert and of course, safe hands. The ambience is an enviable one; it is relaxed and unpretentious and Umezushi manages to be cosy yet still open and friendly, with warm and amenable staff. Umezushi is certainly a place that unsurprisingly has its host of devoted regulars.
The Menus May be Many, but the Quality is Constant
There are several options for dining at Umezushi; firstly, there is the Express Lunch Menu, available Tuesday-Friday from 12-2pm. Although the menus change daily according to the availability of the produce it sources, one can rest assured that this is a decision made to maintain its high standards when having only the freshest ingredients. That being said, there are certainly staples, particularly with the hot dishes that remain constant on the menu.
The Express Lunch is Umezushi’s closest thing to a lunchtime set menu and is what I recommend for those who would like a safe yet convenient departure into Japanese cuisine at a very reasonable price. The dishes on this menu are slightly more conventional than some of the more adventurous delicacies of Japanese dining, but all are hot, tasty and comforting.
Admittedly, there isn’t the variety or opportunity to taste dishes that are otherwise pretty obscure as found on the a La Carte menu. However, the Express Lunch is a perfect option for dining in Manchester City Centre when seeking a convenience, flavour and nutrition. For instance, at a very modest £5.50, one can order the dish of Pork Belly in a rich soy sauce stew served on a bed of rice for a succulent, sweet and savoury option that is deliciously filling. Alternatively, one may order of the ‘donburi’ dishes, which translates as bowl. At £6.50, the Tuna and Salmon Sashimi with rice-don is a ambrosial bowl of sticky Japanese rice with sashimi that is buttery and crisp.
At these prices, one needn’t resort to yet another Panini or muffin to quash the work-day hunger pangs. Rather, I suggest that any Mancunian, or even visitor to Manchester, opt for the Express Lunch menu as a cheap and handy lunchtime endeavour.
Secondly, served from 12-5pm on Tuesday-Friday is the Sushi Menu. Ordering from the Sushi Menu is akin to a fine-dining pick and mix, where one would select an assortment of different dishes, which each offer one or two pieces of the relevant Sushi, Sashimi or Tempura. The idea therefore is that you build up your own combination, which facilitates all appetites, in terms of size and propensity for adventure. The Sushi offered is contingent on what is freshly sourced on the day but include all sorts of sashimi and rolls incorporating all manner of sea creature.
Depending on the rarity and grade of the option ordered, portions range from around £4-£14 per portion but rarely reach beyond the £7 mark. More unusual options include the sushi-rolls made with ‘Unagi’, a fresh-water eel, which unexpectedly has a potent, meaty flavour and is in no way rubbery in texture. Furthermore, I highly recommend the ‘Otoro’, colloquially known as ‘fatty tuna’. Despites its namesake, ‘Otoro’ has a delicate flavour that is paradoxically both sweet and savoury, and has the sensation of melting in your mouth. If one was accustomed to the high-street standard, then ‘Otoro’ is a much needed taste revolution.
However, what I most recommend at Umezushi is to dine with the a la Carte Menu, which is available from 5pm Tuesday-Friday, and all day during the Weekends. Although the most costly option, the best way to do this is by ordering from its one of three taster menus. The taster menus each serve several courses and are expected to last around 1 hour for the ‘Tempura’ taster option and between 2-3 hours for the ‘Umezushi’ and ‘Sushi’ taster menus. These are an efficient way to indulge with the full gamut of the divine Japanese delicacy and although they veer more towards to costly side, definitely provide bang for your buck. Perhaps the most comprehensive taster menu, and therefore the one that facilitates the most gratifying dining experience is the ‘Umezushi’. This titular menu costs £40 per person and includes courses for a selection of Sashimi, Nigiri, Tempura, and Soup, finishing with a dessert and a complimentary pot of tea.
For parties greater than 7 people, booking is required, however there is an upper limit of 10. However, in such a case, there is the option to order from the group menu, which one of which is marginally cheaper than a taster menu but which still provides the same degree of ambrosial variety. For instance, ‘Option 1’ at £30, includes all of Edamame Beans, a Pickle Platter, Sweet Potato Tempura, a Maki and Nigiri selection, Mixed Tempura, a Miso Soup and finally a Chocolate Fondant. The second and third options for group dining offer more still and are priced at £40 and £50 respectively.
Although Umezushi offers an extensive list of ‘Sake’ and ‘Nihonshu’, Japanese rice wines, which are a treat within themselves, there is also the option to order the full range of alcoholic drinks, including sparkling, white, red and rose wines to beers and liqueurs.
Across Budgets and Ages, I recommend Umezushi with Vigour
What makes Umezushi so easy to recommend isn’t merely the quality of its dishes. It isn’t particularly because I am tempted to call it Manchester’s finest sushi bar, however, the zeal in which I advocate the place is because Umezushi is so delightfully versatile. Umezushi caters for many budgets. Whether it’s for a quick and easy lunch or an all-out immersion with the full taster menu, Umezushi makes quality sushi accessible. Truly, the place is a champion for the art of Japanese cuisine and vanquish the comparatively bleak spectre of the imitation varieties with all the grace and skill of a sushi chef. With all said, I recommend Umezushi to many, to workers, students, groups or city-breakers, looking for something to do, or some place to eat in Manchester.