Monday, 16th September 2019 – Umami, Strasbourg
I’d mis-recorded the booking for Tuesday not Monday and didn’t realise until quite late on Monday, so it was all a bit of a panic to get out of the door and back into town on the efficient and prompt tram system. We then managed to get off at the wrong stop and discovered yet again just how useless the map app on my iPhone is. Once we’d sorted ourselves out and used a paper map instead, we found our way to the door of the tiny one-Michelin star restaurant Umami on the Rue des Dentelles, close to the gingerbread shop we’d been in earlier in the day (from where the map had been supplied to us).
It’s a small, intimate space, lots of wood, just 16 covers, which the owners describe as “our little box”. It’s run by just a couple, the Fiegers, with Jessica in front of house, and René in the kitchen. As a result there are just two choices of tasting menu, one for vegetarians and one for meat and fish eaters, and the resulting dishes very much represent a fusion of French and more exotic cuisines, the flavours packing a punch. We opted to have the meat and fish version, and the matching selection of wines for an extra €35 a head.
On the table at the start was a small bowl of salted caramel popcorn which was excellent and could have occupied me quite happily for quite a long time. We enjoyed munching our way through it over a glass of very good Champagne.
An amuse-bouche was swiftly forthcoming, an absolute treat of a cauliflower mousse, rich, creamy, full of flavour and a great start to the meal.
There was some very good bread, inevitably perhaps as we were in France (although I must admit I think some Alsaciens might not take kindly to being described as living anywhere but Alsace, thank you very much).
The first “real” course to hit was described very simply as lobster, wasabi and cucumber. That in no way did justice to what we were served, which included substantial chunks of sweet-fleshed lobster, lightly pickled thinly-sliced cucumber and a dressing cut through with the lightest touch of wasabi. It all served to enhance the lobster.
Next we were presented with the “fish of the day”, which I think was hake, beautifully cooked, accompanied by some nicely cooked black rice, in a glorious crustacean broth that had started life as an excellent bisque, with a full-on depth of flavour. It was enhanced by some coriander leaves, and had an unexpected addition of some mange tout, still with enough crunch to make things really interesting.
We moved on to the first of two meat dishes, a confection of venison, spaghetti squash and caramel. It was one of those dishes that looked brown, but which was colourful in the mouth. The venison was shredded and tender and the spaghetti squash was so similar to “real” pasta that it was hard to tell the difference. The whole was autumnal and rich and sweet in the best sort of ways. I’d eat that happily most days of the week given half a chance!
My only reservation was the speed with which the kitchen was sending dishes out, but it’s my guess that with just one person in there, it’s a case of having to go at their pace, especially with this sort of precision cooking. The second meat dish was a pink-cooked piece of veal that bore no relation to the veal that I once ate in Monte Carlo many years ago that gave me the most horrendous food poisoning, the memory of which can sometimes put me off ordering veal. This more than made up for that, and I think may have overwritten the horror of that night on the Riviera. This came with a nectarine marmalade and a jasmin jus. It also had a scattering of wild mushrooms (chanterelles), and what I think was a pea puree. It was a lovely dish and that jus was glossy and gorgeous and shiny and made me want more of it. The last of the bread was used to mop it up.
In closing we ate a dessert of local plums (in addition to grapes the locals seem obsessed by plums and their cultivars with quetsche, mirabelles and many other types of plum featuring on menus, in cakes, in spirits, made into wines, you name it in fact). This was accompanied by a toasted buckwheat ice cream full of fantastic crunch, and an interesting bitterness alongside the intense sweetness.
It was an excellent finish to the meal. I can’t tell you what the wines were because the wine list is not online and nothing was written down. Thus you’ll have to take my word for the fact that they were well-chosen and worked perfectly with the food. They weren’t local wines which was something of a disappointment, but they tasted very good so I’ll not quibble over-much about that. It was a superb dinner, and we travelled home on the tram very happy indeed.