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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Umaimon, Sydney

EDIT: Umaimon has now closed.
UPDATE MAY 2010: Word is they have moved to 159 Oxford Street Darlinghurst under the name Yokozuna Japanese restaurant.

I love getting reader recommendations for restaurant.

Admittedly I can't always get to them. Factors like transport (I have no car), price (I pay for all my own meals) and friend appeal (I need to find someone who'll want to accompany me) are all considered. But one reader, Ian, put me onto a dining secret I couldn't resist.

Umaimon has been around for a number of years but I'd yet to discover it. No wonder. Tucked away at the base of an office block on Druitt Street, it's the kind of spot you'd never realise was there. Online research (I always google potential eating destinations) revealed it was family-run, small, hard-to-find and regarded as a reliable supplier of authentic Japanese cuisine. Add reasonable prices and a city location, and it was ticks in all boxes!

Ian was kind enough to give me detailed instructions on how to find Umaimon, but I found it easier to describe its location to my colleague as "diagonally opposite the new PricewaterhouseCoopers building on Sussex Street" (one of the three buildings with the waves on top). A sandwich board sign at the base of a ramp leads you up past a desserted Italian cafe and toward Umaimon.

Deep-fried tasty chicken karaage $8.90
served with rice, salad and miso soup

The cosy eatery has a laminated lunchtime menu stuck up on the counter, a drinks fridge in the corner and a few tables crammed inside. Assorted Japanese paraphernalia adorn the walls and ceiling, and there's a happy sense of clutter within this family business.

I'm tempted by the flame grilled tenderloin beef steak with very special sauce ($15.00) and the salmon chirashi sushi ($9.80) but not today, I decide. We take ages deciding on what to order, prepay for our meals at the counter and choose a table outside.

Whilst the views are mainly of traffic, it's a rare luxury to experience space and relative silence in the heart of the city. It's so nice not to have to jostle or shout during a weekday lunch.

A chicken karaage doesn't take long to arrive. Golden nuggets of chicken are piled on top of a bed of salad and mixed vegetables. I love its Japanese-y presentation - a lace pattern of mayonnaise on top and odd garnishes like pasta spirals which would ordinarily be out-of-place yet are oddly endearing here.

The chicken is juicy and tender on the inside, the batter crunchy and flavourful, as though it's been seasoned with soy or teriyaki.

Grilled fillet fish with crab meat, mushroom and tasty sauce $15.00
served with rice and miso soup

Our grilled fish fillet is nothing like we'd expected but it's deliciously good. A lightly battered fresh fillet of fish is adorned with tender cooked oyster mushrooms and bathed in a generous pool of gelatinous sauce, something akin to the puddle you receive with agedashi tofu.

We share the two dishes which is just enough to satiate us both. Free tea is available from a self-serve urn. The tea is dark and a little smoky, not the sencha or genmaicha I'm used to.

Spicy marinated tuna sashimi $18

So you know you're on a winner when not only do you visit a restaurant, but you return the next day for a follow-up visit.

This time I'm with Divemummy, looking for a light late-night post-movie dinner. At dinner time, more laminated A4 menus are visible on the counter. Handwritten in Japanese and English on plain sheets of white paper, it's hard to distinguish how many different sheets there are, but I'm happy enough to see the words "soft shell crab" - a dish I'd read online was one of their specialties. I also notice their takoyaki balls ($8.50 for 10) and grilled scallops with tartare sauce ($10.50 for 3).

We stick with sashimi and soft shell crab. The spicy marinated tuna sashimi is very elegant in presentation, a fan of richly coloured tuna slices doused with soy and garnished with perilla leaves, cucumber, shreds of toasted nori and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. The tuna is firm and fresh although I find the dressing is a little too strong with soy and chilli powder, overwhelming the simple and sweet flavours of the tuna.

Large deep-fried crispy soft shell crab salad $14.90

The crispy soft shell crab salad is a treasure trove of treats. Crunchy bits of crab legs and delicate shards of deep-fried lotus root match nicely with the health-giving properties of a lightly dressed salad.

We hoe in alongside Japanese couples, business workers and friends. Simple surrounds, reasonable prices and honest food. I'm happy. Ureshii yo!

Shop 5, 51 Druitt St
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone (02) 9283 0606

Monday to Friday 11am-10pm
Saturdays and public holidays 12pm-10pm

UPDATE MAY 2010: Word is they have moved to 159 Oxford Street Darlinghurst under the name Yokozuna Japanese restaurant.

Related GrabYourFork posts:
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Japanese--Ichi Ban Boshi, Sydney (Feb08) and (Aug05)
Japanese--Ju Ju, Kings Cross
Japanese--Kagaya, Hurstville
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16 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/30/2008 01:25:00 pm


  • At 10/30/2008 4:46 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    looks yum and soft shell crab looks very tasty. easy enough for a lunch time spot when i get a chance.
    s :-)

  • At 10/30/2008 6:05 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ahhh yes, I've been to Umaimon ages ago. It was recommended by my Japanese teacher when I studied Jap at TAFE few years ago. That place is quite popular with the Japanese, and I love the shop just run by 2 old couple.

  • At 10/30/2008 7:40 pm, Blogger thesweettoothfairy said…

    Has anyone recommended a restaurant where you can get great tempura? I love Japanese food and have found my fave sushi, ramen and karaage places but sadly have not found any tempura places. They tend to be limp or overly battered I find.

  • At 10/30/2008 9:06 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've been here many times too...this place is excellent!!

  • At 10/30/2008 10:40 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Tabetai! I agree it is quite hard to find a serene place to dine in the hectic city but I don't go city as much anymore so it will be a while before I can try this place :( The tuna sashimi looks extremely good and the soft shell with the cute little fried lotus :)

  • At 10/31/2008 2:02 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'd just like to thank you for all these reviews on these restaurants. I thought I lost all hope in finding good food in Australia but you've certainly 'up-ed' the standard. I'm looking forward to giving this place a visit sometime soon and I will certainly let them know it was by your recommendation so maybe they should be the ones paying you to eat! =)



  • At 10/31/2008 9:02 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I miss this place it used to be my lunch place when i worked on Sussex, try the tartare fish! It comes with rice and pasta, which is abit strange but nice none the less.

  • At 10/31/2008 10:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The owner lady is really nice and sweet! Last time I was there, she was told us of this really cute story about her feelings towards the japanese lemonade. Very comfy surroundings indeed!

  • At 11/03/2008 8:50 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Simon - I forgot to mention the soft shell crab is only available at dinner. Enjoy!

    Hi Billy - Yeah I loved the fact that there are always Japanese people eating there. A good sign of authenticity (and I didn't know you studied Japanese at TAFE!).

    Hi Miel - I think tempura can be a bit hit or miss depending on the chef in the kitchen. I've found the tempura at Tomodachi and Ju Ju is quite good.

    Hi Anon - It's quite a find isn't it. Glad you agree!

    Hi FFichiban - The peace and quiet was an added bonus, quite intriguing given the view over the expressway :) Hope you make it into the city sometime soon!

    Hi Jo - Aww thanks. I think there are lots of great eats in Sydney. I certainly appreciate the great range of fresh food we have in Sydney whenever I go overseas (although Japan is perhaps the only country when my stomach is sad to leave!). Hope you enjoy your meal. Happy feasting!

    Hi Chris - Tartare fish sounds like the kind of thing Umaimon would do very well! Rice and pasta does sound strange but then the Japanese do seem to have a knack at making crazy things taste so delicious!

    Hi Teresa - And what were her feelings toward Japanese lemonade? It sounds so cute! I find those lemonade bottles with the marble ball inside so bizarre but cute as well. Just so Japanese!

  • At 6/04/2009 9:59 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Umaimon disappeared? Went there for dinner but found it is now changed to new korean japanese restaurant....

  • At 10/13/2009 2:23 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Yes I heard that Umaimon had closed - a pity as their food was great!

  • At 5/09/2010 12:06 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Umaimon has moved to Oxford st and re-opened as Yokozuna. Similar menu & price. Still very good!

  • At 5/29/2010 7:49 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    For Umaimon fans, they moved to 159 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, and it's now called Yokozuna Japanese Restaurant. I love the grilled scallops with some sort of tartare sauce on top. They were fat, juicy, and bursting with flavour. The best scallops that I had so far.

  • At 6/01/2010 1:13 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Thanks for the update. Will have to go and check it out!

    Hi Anon - Thanks for all the details. Those scallops sounds amazing!

  • At 7/31/2010 1:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yes it's 100% TRUE! they moved to Oxford St called Yokozuna. Dont know why do they change the name but the owner, the chef, and especially the food are all still the same!

  • At 8/11/2010 5:54 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Thanks for confirming. Must get there soon!


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