Sushi Umi, Tokyo


14.5/20 What does it all mean?

 Food Icon 8 | Service Icon 2.5 | Ambience Icon 2.5 | Value Icon 1.5

Thumbs up

  • Quality sushi with quality laughs
  • An educative sushi experience – the same seafood of different provenance are often served side by side for comparison
  • Easy reservations (relatively)

Thumbs down

  • Quality of sushi (seafood and rice) is slightly lower than that of the higher tier sushiyas like Sushi Hashiguchi and Harutaka
  • Eight seat counter is slightly cramped and felt unrefined to the touch

Recommended dish(es)

Omakase only (chef’s selection). Notable pieces include –

  • Scallop from Hokkaido | ホタテガイ
  • Karasumi (Japanese Bottarga) from Nagasaki | カラスミ

TL;DR – Don’t come to the 2 Michelin Star Umi expecting the best sushi in the world. The focus here is on high quality sushi in a fun and educational setting. The waiters can speak English, making this an excellent sushiya for foreign foodies and sushi beginners.

The relationship between master and apprentice in Japan is as unique as it is significant. It is deeply personal, and for life. It can often mean living with the master’s family and bearing your master’s name on all your future work.

It is not just a huge responsibility for the apprentice, but for the master as well – in the face of tradition and that of the apprentice making the life choice. The master must pass down his craft for future generations, while ensuring that it is not perpetuated by unpassionate souls who would let fall the very standards of their trade.

Unlike a “teacher and student” Western apprenticeship, the master is not expected to teach anything. Instead, the apprentice is expected to absorb as much knowledge as possible while they share the master’s life. Most importantly the apprentice must learn to recognise quality and the conditions that allow it – observing the master’s standards and making them their own.

This often takes decades, the story of Jiro’s apprentices having to work 10 years before being allowed to cook eggs is no myth. The Japanese even have an untranslatable word for it – “gaman” (我慢). While gaman has no direct equivalent in English, it can be explained through words such as endurance, perseverance and patience.

As a result, the passing of the baton from master to apprentice is one of great magnitude. It will only happen when the master deems the apprentice to be ready, with the expectation that the apprentice’s skill will one day even surpass their very own.

The story, tragically, is a little bit different at Umi. When master Nagano-san passed away at an early age in late 2015, there was no passing of the baton. Ryujiro Nakamura-san picked it up, no doubt out of respect and obligation to his former master.

Despite this hurdle, Umi regulars have continued to return and applaud Nakamura-san for maintaining the same standard of quality. The fact that Umi retained its 2 Michelin Stars in 2016 serves to reinforce this fact. Most importantly, however, is that Nakamura-san has stayed true to his master’s style of excellent sushi, with an equivalent level of laughter. Umi is no sushi temple, but it’s perhaps the fun and lively style that makes Umi a favourite amongst Hong Kong and Taiwanese foodies.

Umi Ryujiro Nakamura

Nakamura-san and his fun personality.

And so the apprentice becomes the master, ready to pass on his craft and standards to the next apprentice. While I never personally dined with master Nagano-san, I’m sure he would be standing proud…and sharing a laugh.

Umi (海味)
3-2-8 Minamiaoyama, Minato, Tokyo (map)
+81 3 3401-3368
Reservations only, book a few days in advance.

Umi’s style of involves serving an eye-watering number of pieces (30-40) that alternate between otsumami with nigiri. Apparently, when asked why chutoro nigiri was served as one of the first pieces, master Nagano-san joked that it was to open up one’s palate so they could eat more of his food.

This is similar to Sho style, with a few key distinctions –

  • Master Nagano-san is from Hokkaido and not Kanto, so unique seafood shows up more often at Umi
  • Umi uses a secret blend of Akazu (red vinegar) and Komezu (rice vinegar) for all their shari (rice). Sho varies the shari seasoning depending of the neta (fish)
  • Umi does not focus on aging their neta for extended periods of time, unlike Sho who ages their neta for up to a week

Umi Kobashira

Kobashira (Shell Ligaments of a Surf Clam) | 小柱

Umi Chutoro

Chūtoro (Medium Fatty Tuna) from a 180kg Tuna | 中とろ

Umi Scallop

Scallop from Hokkaido | ホタテガイ
(one eaten with soy sauce, the other with salt)

Umi Fugu

Blowfish from Yamaguchi | フグ

Umi Aji

Aji (Jack / Horse Mackerel) from Hokkaido | 鯵

Umi Aoyagi

Aoyagi (Surf Clam)  | 青柳
(one eaten with soy sauce, the other with salt)

Umi Anago

Anago (Conger Eel) from Nagasaki | 穴子

Umi Prawn

Botan Ebi Shrimp from Hokkaido | ボタンエビ
(one eaten with soy sauce, the other with salt)

Umi Shako

Shako (Mantis Shrimp) from Hokkaido and Ehime | 蝦蛄
(one eaten with soy sauce, the other with salt)

Umi Ikura

Ikura from Iwate | いくら

Umi Katsuo

Smoked Katsuo (Bonito) from Nagasaki and Kyushu | 薫製鰹

Umi Karasumi

Karasumi (Japanese Bottarga) from Nagasaki | カラスミ

Umi Kinki

Grilled Kinki (Thornhead) from Hokkaido | 金色魚

Umi Squid

Ika (Squid) from Hokkaido | 烏賊

Umi Kisu

Kisu (Sand Boarer) from Hyogo | 鱚

Umi Grouper

Hata (Grouper) from Shizuoka | 羽太

Umi Tilefish

Amadai (Tilefish) from Wakayama with sauce made from its liver | 甘鯛

Umi Akami

Maguro Tsuke (Lean Tuna Marinated in Soy-based Sauce) | 鮪漬け

Umi Otoro

Otoro (Super Fatty Tuna) | 大とろ

Umi Kohada

Kohada (Gizzard Shad) from Kumamoto | 小肌

Umi Saba

Saba (Mackerel) from Osaka Bay | 鯖

Umi Akagai

Akagai (Blood Cockle/Ark Shell) from Miyagi | 赤貝

Umi Anago

Anago Tsume (Conger Eel) | 穴子ツメ

Umi Tamago

Tamago (Egg) | 玉子

Umi Interior, Exterior and Sake.

Umi (海味)
3-2-8 Minamiaoyama, Minato, Tokyo (map)
+81 3 3401-3368
Reservations only, book a few days in advance.

So fellow foodies, which restaurant has your favourite master and apprentice relationship?


One thought on “Sushi Umi, Tokyo

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