Umai On Air (Umai Soho) - Review - Food-Spotter
[Note: This has now closed down and turned into a branch of Japan Centre's SHORYUgo]
Japan Centre’s Umai On Air (aka Umai Soho) has a simple concept, to serve a selection of the old Japan Centre Toku Restaurant’s classics in an intimate 13 seat sushi bar setting. I was personally a fan of the original Toku restaurant that was located on Piccadilly before it’s move to Regent Street. Something about the buzz of the place was it’s attraction; not reliant on anything fancy to sell it such as posh décor. That’s my preference when it comes to Japanese places.
Right on the corner of where Air Street meets Brewer Street, Umai Soho is placed in a quiet setting away from the general hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus but still in line with it’s neighbouring Japanese competition dotted around Brewer Street. What sets it apart is that at a glance, it feels a lot more warm and inviting to the “general” public. Nothing too intimidating that would scare off someone who’s potentially not familiar with Japanese food or Sushi but still having a feel of a local place you would find in a quiet corner of Tokyo thanks to it’s layout and furnishing – not too poncey, but with enough class to fit in between both extremes.
“But I’m a seasoned Japanese food connoisseur…. tell me about the food!”
The menu isn’t overly complicated, you will find the usual suspects, ranging from the typical selection of sushi (sadly no toro), noodles, rice based dishes and a wide drinks menu. Umai Soho seems to have all the main bases covered as far as “the favourites”.
Wasting no time, I delve into the the biggest sushi platter on the menu which consists of an assortment of 10 nigiri and 7 maki pieces. I found the sushi to taste fresh and the rice to be just right – can’t fault it. Since this is London, it’s not likely to come close to the freshness you may experience in Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market at 5am, but it will suffice
“I love my katsu curry, don’t Umai Soho serve it?”
Katsu curry lovers, fear not, the ever-popular katsu curry is also on the Umai Soho menu! Upon first glance, the most glaring difference is the colour of panko coated pork/chicken. Considerably darker, it turns out it’s a lot crispier/crunchier than I would normally expect. It wasn’t offensive but at the same time I’ve tasted better. The curry sauce was also fine, could have done with a tad bit more. It just wasn’t mind blowing enough to send me into a fit of food orgasms.
“Can I get my matcha fix here?”
Umai Soho’s tea selection is limited to 2 specific types from the Kyushu region of Japan (known for it’s stellar green tea) – sencha and brown rice tea. The sencha is light, refreshing and crisp, with the brown rice tea having more earthy notes. Both served in a traditional Japanese style teapot and cup.
The only matcha to be found here is in soft, smooth ice cream form, pictured below, with its ice cream cousin who’s name escapes me (possibly kuzu based). This is due to being induced into a pleasant food coma by my sushi.
“I find service at some Japanese restaurants to be a bit brash, is it the same here?”
The service here is brilliant – mainly due to Mimi, the former manager of Toku, who was just super friendly and helpful. Given the small size, it makes the experience a whole lot more personal and pleasant – something a lot of places fall short on providing. Umai Soho is a must visit if you feel a change from your regular Japanese spot or if you’re new to the cuisine and you want an experience that won’t feel too intimidating. However, if you’re after other Japanese comfort foods such as Natto, Oden or Nasi Dengaku, this won’t be the place for you.
Average price: £15 – £25