Yesterday evening I was treated to an Indian dining experience which went beyond anything I have previously encountered.
Located in Harborne, Umami is blessed with a great location which allows for a small outside seating area when the weather is fine, and large plate glass windows through which you can watch the world go by.
From the first sight of its chic decor, which fuses elements of modern and traditional design to create a lasting impression of serenity and elegance, it is obvious that Umami is different to other Indian establishments. Even the air seems to be more subtly aromatic than is the norm, redolent with aromas which evoke thoughts of long, balmy Indian evenings and fragrant nights.
And Umami certainly lives up to its name, providing a fifth element of taste that is less definable than the traditionally agreed sweet, salty, bitter and sour, in its rounded, rich savoury dishes.
Greeted by an elegantly bedecked hostess, we were ushered into a lounge area and presented with an extensive drinks menu which had everything I had ever heard of and more. Cocktails with exotic names and even more exotic ingredients, champagnes and spirits, soft drinks and wines to suit every budget and palate.
My companion chose a Cheeky Monkey, which was pleasingly strong and an excellent choice for the discerning whiskey drinker, whilst I chose a Rise of Umami, a soft and fruity concoction, which was both refreshing and delicious. We sipped on these whilst we took our time to consider the unique and innovative menu with a good selection of starters, mains and desserts, as well as three set-price menus, which each have a selection of starters and mains to share, and which can be replenished on request.
It was one of these set menus which we chose, the Royal Prix Fixe, whilst our drinks orders were replenished with yet another cocktail, this time an Old Fashioned, smooth and full bodied, and a glass of Cotes de Provence Rose, refreshingly chilled and light.
Suitably relaxed, we were led through a very stylish contemporary bar area to the dining room, which exuded effortless class from its delightful soft furnishings to the semi-private dining booth, easily able to accommodate up to six diners.
What was apparent by this stage was the sumptuous attention to detail which was obvious throughout, both in the exceptionally well-appointed restaurant and in the attentive yet discreet service from the waiters. And we were clearly not alone in our opinion, for every table was filled with diners who radiated a sense of contentedness, lending the whole place an excellent ambiance.
But it was when the food emerged that an even greater meticulous care was evident. The three starters of tandooried king prawns, chargrilled chicken tikka and Welsh lamb chops were so well-executed that they seemed to melt on the tongue. Each mouthful was tender and succulent, with just the right bite to it.
Likewise the four main courses were exquisite. Each dish seemed to challenge the next to be even better; the fish simmered in coconut milk and mango curry was smooth and light, the Palak Paneer was delightfully moreish, the Welsh lamb was fragrant and piquant and the butter chicken was so sweet and juicy that it immediately became my new favourite. So much so, that I just had to ask what it was that made this dish so different from its counterparts across the country.
I learned that unlike most other restaurants, the chef at Umami uses pulled chicken in this dish and he considers it to be one of his finest specialities. Having tasted it, I had to concur, whilst my dining companion voted for the Welsh lamb with its subtle coriander and cumin flavours.
Somehow by sheer force of will, we managed to leave just enough room for dessert, ordering carrot pudding encased in a crispy samosa pastry and Hagen-Daz, which was served in a brandy basket with a fruit coulis. Both were delicious.
I have to say, we left with reluctance, and only once our plates were completely clean. But I don’t think it will be too long before we make another visit to this fantastic restaurant, to sample once more the banquet truly fit for a Maharaja.