Living the ultimate dream of the slightly upper middle-class 23 year-old, we handed the keys to the valet, stepped into the elevator, which opened straight into Umame (Japanese for the fifth basic taste along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter), the new fine dining restaurant that has come up in place of dull Valhalla.
We were escorted to our table besides the bar inside the sedate 4,000 sq ft space, which was enhanced by wooden walls and tables with comfortable high-backed cushioned chairs. Within seconds, the chairs were pulled back and the menus were gracefully handed over.
While glancing through the elaborate and exotic offerings, the first thought that crossed our minds was how easy it would be to congregate a mob of Mumbaikars outraged by a restaurant that charges above Rs 1,100 for mains, in addition to three kinds of taxes and service charges. We ordered for Siu Mai of Prawn and Pork belly with Salmon Roe (Rs 390) and Pan Grilled Potato with Thai spices and Fresh Holy Basil (Rs 290). The well-trained but pushy wait staff, that was used to dealing with the crowds stepping out of lavish sedans, didn’t look amused with the restrained order of single portions of appetiser and a dim sum. The food arrived within minutes; we realised that problem with Umame isn’t the pricing; it’s the restrained portions of food.
However, it’s not all dull. Despite the discomfort on the table that rose from where we came rather than where we were seated, we remember the outstanding food that we savoured. The four small pieces of Siu Mai, served in an authentic bamboo steamer, were moist, delicate and were packed with beautifully seasoned pork belly and tiny bits of prawn. The lingering after taste, the enticing aroma and the texture transported us to a restaurant by the Quay in Singapore. The pan-grilled potatoes ordered for the sole vegetarian on the table was cooked perfectly, seasoned well but lacked the character and vibrancy one expects from Asian cuisine.
We were massively impressed by the vast options and next, intimidated by the pricing. After asking for recommendations we opted for seafood: Oven Baked Scallops with Shimeji Mushrooms and Creamy Spicy Sauce (Rs 1,250). While we stepped out to the warm al fresco section and stared at dimly lit, deserted streets and the Oval Maidan, the restaurant staff (three of them) gave us three reminders in a minute that our food was ready.
They brought the dish out insisting that we experience it while it was still hot. What came our way were four beautifully plated scallops, generously topped with a creamy sauce spiked with just the right amount of chilli, comforting mash, asparagus, broccoli and bell peppers. We comfortably ran our forks through the scallops, made a perfect bite by coating it with some sauce and mash. The scallops were tender, perfectly cooked; the sauce didn’t mask its natural flavour and each bite left us craving for more. From the moment we dropped it in our mouths to five minutes later, when we wiped the plate clean, there was silence, a remarkable feat when you are a bunch of hyper, talkative young women.
Just when we thought that food couldn’t get better, we encountered the dessert, Walnut and Hazelnut Tart topped with Toffee Banana accompanied by Rum and Coke ice cream (Rs 350). Generous amounts of chopped nuts on top of a flaky, crunchy tart and the rum and coke ice-cream was what gods possibly eat when they crave for sweet. With our stomachs craving for more but our palates content, we stepped out as the valet brought our car. What stood between our fiber body hatchback and us was a Porsche 911 Carrera S, a not-so-subtle reality check.