I always think that there’s two types of Indian restaurant: the type you want to be able to fall into at 1am after a few drinks when the cravings for greasy, fat food have set in, and then the fine dining type: elegant, with white table cloths and low, soft lighting. Umami falls into the latter.
The small, unassuming frontage opens up to a casual seating area and fluorescent-lit bar. A long narrow corridor leads you to the restaurant area, which is surprisingly large, and includes little corners and cubbyholes with tables for a more private dinner. The tables are well spaced, and they’ve avoided that overcrowded sat-on-each-others-laps feeling.
The restaurant had such a lovely atmosphere. For a Tuesday night, the place was pretty busy, and had a lovely low hum of chatter. The lighting was also low, which was beautiful, but has made my photographs a bit fuzzy. For that I apologise. My iPhone 6 just wasn’t up to the job that night.
The waiter recommended the Regal Pre-Fix Menu, a selection of lots of little dishes, to get an overall feel for the food that the restaurant has to offer. So that’s what we ordered.
We were brought a basket of poppadoms and a tray of onion, mint sauce and mango chutney. We ordered a couple of glasses of cold, crisp Riesling: a white wine that I always find goes really well with spicy, Indian food. It was lovely.
The starters arrived on one long platter with another tray of accompanying sauces. These were REALLY good. The Chilli Paneer Wah Wah : crispy cottage cheese tossed in a spicy mix of indo-Chinese spices was incredible. The cheese was firm and smooth, chargrilled with green peppers, onion and green chilli.
The Murgh Tikka: marinated morsel of chicken cooked in the tandoor, was so juicy and delicately spiced. Yum. And the Punjabi Somosa Ki Chaat: dough pastry encasing spiced mixed vegetables served with combination chaat chutney was to die for. They were covered in sauce, so the pastry was soggy, which I thought I would hate, but I actually really liked. The occasional pomegranate seed gave it back some crunch. A gorgeous tamarind sauce served alongside was stunning: sweet and sour, it was flavoured with deep, sweet molasses. The mint sauce had too much dried mint for my liking though, and the tomato sauce seemed unnecessary.
Our plates were cleared, and my mouth was humming from the heat and all the lovely spices. We were really looking forward to the mains. Our waiter laid clean, warmed plates and topped up our drinks. Then the banquet arrived.
The sheer amount of food was a little overwhelming. The waiter informed us that we could ask for any of the dishes to be replenished as we ate. We tucked in. And we were so disappointed.
The naan and Zafrani Pilau Rice were lovely, but everything else was just, well, a bit dull. The Butter Chicken: strips of tikka chicken cooked in a buttery tomato gravy with a hint of fenugreek and chilli, was VERY mild and sweet. The Harra Bharra Gosht: tender lamb simmered in spinach, fenugreek, coriander and mint flavoured with cinnamon and cumin, was ok, but again very mild, despite having a hot ‘two chilli’ rating on the menu, and the meat fatty.
The Dal Makhani: creamy black lentils simmered overnight with indian spices and butter, was nice, but again, very mild, as were the mixed vegetables. The dish of raitha was lovely and full of different spices, but it just made everything even milder. We hardly touched any of it.
For dessert Matt tried the mixed Kulfi: pistachio, mango and coconut. The coconut tasted of holidays and was full of lovely chewy, desiccated coconut. I had the steamed Sultana Pudding with Toffee Sauce. It was rubbery and burnt.
We drove home wondering what on earth had gone wrong. The starters were SO good, and the service was perfect from start to finish. Maybe it was just me. I wouldn’t like a mild, sweet curry from anywhere, so I would have to try something with a bit more kick before writing this review. A few nights later, we ordered from their takeaway menu.
Aloo Tikka Channa Chaat: pan fried potato patties and chickpeas. Beautiful! Patties filled with peas, and served in the same pomegrate studded sauce we’d had with the samosas in the restaurant.
And then the mains. Hyderabadi Dum Biryani: chicken cooked with basmati rice, onions, ground spices, fresh mint, cloves, cinnamon, bayleaf and yoghurt, finshed with lemon juice and served with vegetable curry and raitha. Absolutely gorgeous. The portion of rice was HUGE and was plenty for me and Matt. The rice was full of different spices and was exciting to eat. I loved the fresh, cooked mint which gave an unusual freshness that cut through the rich, medium-hot curry sauce.
We also ordered the Chicken Chettinad: chicken simmered in a sauce of black pepper, roasted coriander and curry leaves. We asked for it to be hot, and it was. Woah, this was good. It was packed with fresh green chillies, and was heavily perfumed by the curry leaves. SO good.
If we had had these takeaway dishes in the restaurant, it would have all made sense. They absolutely lived up to the expectations set by the amazing starters. It seems the only mistake the restaurant has made is recommending the Pre-Fix menu as a good overall sample of what they do, when in fact it doesn’t do them justice at all.
Disclaimer: We were invited to visit the restaurant, and all food and drinks on the night were courtesy of Umami. The takeaway was paid for by me, and was ordered and collected in a different name to remain anonymous for the second review.