Umi Japanese Cuisine


OK, it’s not quite the Seven Levels of The Candy Cane Forest but for a restaurant the size of a shoe Umi Japanese Cuisine here packs a high level of confusing kitsch into a pretty tight space.

Let me put you in the picture. I’ve bounded down the steps, through the sticky front door and on past the people sitting in what looks like a giant window box with rice paper panels.

Now I’m standing awkwardly in a between-raised-tables channel under quaint market-stall roofing while Edinburgh folk look and frown and I swither about whether to go all the way back and pull that door tight shut again. For them. I get it. It’s cold out. Or go on underneath the hanging lanterns, past the fairground-style booth and round a corner into the next room to see if I can find someone who actually works here.

Umm, I shut the front door again, properly this time. Then press on towards the Sea of Swirly Twirly Chinese Lanterns and just as I reach the corner a waiter comes running, literally.

OK, any speed above excuse me in here looks like running, but he is simultaneously moving and apologising and sitting me at a tiny table which is about the only one in the whole place not under a hanging lamp. And also revealing there are terrible staff-shortages tonight and he has to serve all these people (lots of people) by himself. And…wait for this…make all the ramen too.

Crikey, I think, looking towards the door. Suddenly it’s a very long way away. Too bloody far to run. We establish importantly anyway that there are definitely chefs in the kitchen and I settle in for a long wait. Which simply doesn’t happen. Actually, and within, say, a few minutes I’m eating from a sweet little bowl of edamame beans and whole chillies tossed in a wok, seasoned with salt and covered with something tasting real good that looks like fried multi-coloured straw.

Joanna Blythman's restaurant review: One Square, 1 Festival Square, Edinburgh

Is this straw stuff onion and chilli, I ask a waitress who has suddenly appeared to help out. She peers deep into the gloom (I told you there was no lamp above my table) and announces: it’s too dark, I can’t see it.

Ah, by now anyway I’m half way through a £9.50 six-piece negi toro futomaki, aka seaweed wrapped sushi roll made from “the best part of bluefin tuna tartare” with spring onion, shisho and shallots. This from a menu emblazoned with the words: Today’s Special.

I have got to say, it does not look like today is this printed menu’s first day in action. Or even close.

Whatever, the tuna is plump and pink and pleasantly fresh (if a little chiller cold). And I’ve been distracted again. Goruden cod finger, made with kataifi pastry – which I thought was actually Greek. This is sitting at the table looking like three giant shredded wheat fingers, one of which is rudely stuffed in a glass of what looks like cocktail sauce but is actually, er, mango mayo. Frankly? Not for me.

The sickly mango mayo may just be the accidental reinvention of a Mr Men Yoghurt, and the shredded wheat pastry tastes like fried shredded wheat, and while there is some promised Scottish cod deep inside it’s so outgunned by everything else it was pointless even showing up.

Fortunately, and just as the remnants of this are being dragged off in shame, my original waiter is back from his ramen booth and is asking what I think of the Crazy Tonkotsu Ramen. Which he just made. Himself.

The broth is cooked for 20 hours, he proudly reminds me, as I slide head-first into slippy, slurpy, soupy-land of pork slices, seaweed sheets and jalapeno strands, all underpinned by a very good, creamily smooth, properly seasoned stock and just the right chilli tingle.

Umi Japanese Cuisine then? Mad but definitely not bad. I can't help really liking this place.

Joanna Blythman's restaurant review: One Square, 1 Festival Square, Edinburgh

Umi Japanese Cuisine

18 Deanhaugh Street


0131 343 6991

Menu: Crazy kitschy mix of Japanese staples, proper sushi, interesting ramen, 20-hour broths and those goruden cod fingers. 4/5

Service: Full marks for being honest about staff shortages which actually made no difference as the service was swift, pleasant and warm. 5/5

Price: The Crazy Ramen signature dish was almost £11, the excellent shishito peppers £5.90. Overall reasonable. 3/5

Atmosphere: Frankly, it’s a bit mad inside with a multi-level assault on the senses but nothing if not buzzing and busy. 4/5

Food: I didn’t take to the goruden cod things, but very good ramen and excellent plate of chilli and edamame. Crisp, clean cooking. 7/10