In Umu, Hotel Dusit Thani Manila’s claim to Japanese fame, every piece of art, furniture and woodwork is clearly designed with the menu in mind.

Umu, which means “born of nature” in Japanese, definitely lives up to its translation. You feel it the moment you step into the restaurant, with its walls lined with wooden tiles bearing the carved names of fish in Japanese calligraphy and with every corner of the sprawling venue given a tranquil view of the garden and koi fishpond. If that isn’t enough ambience for you, then Umu’s many dining experiences will surely overwhelm—guests can opt to eat either in the robata and sushi area, the main dining hall, in one of the three pavilion private rooms facing the garden, one of the three tatami rooms, alfresco at the terrace by the koi pond or teppanyaki style in one of its four teppanyaki tables. You wanted authentic Japanese? Umu’s got every option covered.

Of course, the atmosphere is nothing compared to the food. It only serves to enhance the exquisite array of dishes prepared by the team of Japanese Chef Kenichi Kanauchi.

We started off by checking out the sushi and robata bar, wherein assorted sushi—tuna, lapu-lapu, prawns, salmon, konbu (kelp seaweed), mentaiko (noodle with fish roe sauce), maki (sushi roll), California roll, and tamago (egg maki)—and selected robata items—lapu-lapu and salmon head, yakitori (chicken), ika (squid), pork belly block, and koebi karaage (deep-fried fresh shrimps)—are served.

If you happen to be in the area around 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and are a fan of sake, avail of their Happiest Hour promo wherein for only P850, you can enjoy unlimited beer, a selection of sake, and everything you can get your hands (and mouths) on at the sushi and robata bar.

If you like your food HOT (as in appetite-whetting  hot), make sure you do not leave the place without a sampling of their Spicy Tempura Maki—shrimp tempura rice roll with spicy tobanjan sauce (straight from Japan!). It is an explosion of flavor in the mouth. Their bestselling Unagi Maki Tamago comes a close lip-smacking second: pan-fried Japanese omelette stuffed with eel.

Of course, I am not one to pass up the opportunity for Teppanyaki, a personal must-try-or-die every time I visit a Japanese restaurant. Umu’s Wagyu Beef Teppanyaki did not disappoint. It was impossibly tender, seasoned well with red peppercorn and the best teppanyaki sauce…it haunts me to this day—pair it with Japanese fried rice and you are sure to sport the same dreamy, content smile that I did.

If anything, no other restaurant will ever top my experience at Umu, for the sole reason that it got me to do what I painstakingly avoided doing for the longest time—eat sashimi. It had to happen inevitably, and, apparently, my fate was sealed that day. They have this dish called Sashimi Gosyumori, which serves a selection of five different sashimi, and it is so amazingly presented (“smokin’” is the word that comes to mind—order it and you’ll see what I mean) that I couldn’t resist sampling the salmon and squid sashimi.

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It definitely changed my perception of eating raw food—it wasn’t as bad as I once thought. It was actually quite good, probably because of how fresh Umu’s fares were. Definitely a dining experience that’s one for the books.

Oh, and don’t forget to try their Japanese Ice Cream for dessert. I recommend the Red Bean flavor (below, the one above is Black Sesame which is sort of bitter). Yum. 🙂

Umu is located at the Lobby Level, Hotel Dusit Thani Manila, Ayala Center, Makati City. Open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 6 to 10 p.m. For inquiries and reservations, call (2) 867 3333 ext 3343/3344.

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