Restaurant review: Comfortable and sophisticated Umi serves up seriously delicious Japanese fare

There’s a subtle coolness about Umi. Upscale but unpretentious, its dark floors and walls are dimly lit by recessed lighting, contrasting well with the cream leather chairs.

Umi at Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. Courtesy Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah
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When you step inside the ­Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah, expectations are naturally high. The multi-million dirham ­lobby alone is enough to bring you back for a second visit, but you’ll find plenty more reasons to ­return once you try the ­restaurants.

While Lexington Grill, the hotel’s signature steakhouse, gets much of the attention, don’t skip out on Umi, the Japanese ­restaurant hidden along a corridor on the hotel’s first level. Chic and elegant, Umi seems content playing the more reserved cousin to Lexington Grill, but it has earned its place among the ­Waldorf elite.

There’s a subtle coolness about Umi. Upscale but unpretentious, its dark floors and walls are dimly lit by recessed lighting, contrasting well with the cream leather chairs. The design is sleek, sophisticated and works just as well for a business dinner as it does for a romantic evening. There’s a line of comfortable leather chairs along the teppanyaki grill, and a separate sushi counter that seats eight. Japanese instrumental music helps set the mood.

Seated next to a window with mesh curtains (they obstruct the view just enough to keep it intimate but I could still see the distant, twinkling lights on Marjan island), I felt completely at ease dining alone among the couples, businessmen and families seated at tables around me.

I started with a new menu item, green tea smoked duck served atop a bed of sliced oranges (Dh60). A deliciously subtle blend of flavours, the slightly smoky flavour was not overwhelming, and neither was the green-tea infusion. It was served cold – a traditional style – but my Western palate would have preferred it warm as cold meat simply puts me off. If the chill doesn’t bother you, you’ll love these tender slices of meat.

I couldn’t resist the wasabi rock shrimp (Dh65). This staple dish found at many Japanese restaurants might be overlooked by adventurous eaters, but don’t skip it at Umi. The 10 prawns are covered in just the right amount of creamy wasabi sauce while leaving the shrimp’s crisp exterior intact. They feel a bit more upscale here too, presented in a square glass pedestal perched upon a bright white round plate. These are easy to love with just the right amount of wasabi to pack a punch.

My waitress was attentive and soft-spoken, and effortlessly explained both old and new items on the menu.

She offered up suggestions on the mains and I decided to trust her judgement. The new prawn and scallop dish (ebi hotate brochettes, Dh160) came as two skewers with one large scallop and one giant prawn cut in half on each spear. Red, yellow and green capsicums were nestled between. It was served with a ­seven-spice sauce but doesn’t really need it, the sauce only serving to mask the full flavour of the fresh, perfectly cooked scallops and the lightly battered tempura prawns. Also on the side was a mound of wasabi sticky rice, which I found unpleasantly fishy.

My favourite dish of the night was the Alaskan king crab legs (Dh220). The two giant legs were already split so there was no need to crack them. The soft crab is topped with a spicy tobiko (flying fish roe) sauce mixed with ginger, orange peel and creamy mayonnaise, which mellows the spiciness. My only complaint was that the crab was gone too soon. You’ll need more than this one main to fill you up; be sure to pair it with an appetiser.

I tried both the banana fritters (Dh55) and the lychee mousse (Dh55) for dessert. The light, crunchy fritters were only mildly sweet, despite the banana. They came with a rich, creamy chocolate sauce that was too thick to dip (you’ll need to spread it on the fritters). The lychee mousse was the standout dessert. At the bottom of this layered dish was a lychee-infused sponge that was topped with a cold lychee sorbet and a mound of ultralight, jasmine tea-infused foam. Each bit alone was unremarkable (save for the moorish sorbet), but eaten in one bite, it was a citrusy delight with an explosion of textures and flavours.

Umi isn’t the life of the party at the Waldorf – if you’re looking for a rowdy crowd, you won’t find it here. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t speak very loud, but when it does, it’s most definitely worth a listen.

A meal for two at Umi, The Waldorf Astoria, Ras Al Khaimah, costs Dh700. For more information, call 07 203 5555. Reviewed meals are paid for by The National and conducted incognito

sjohnson@thenational.ae