Yes it's been there years, but Gordo has only just got around to visiting... and how he hates himself for it
Confidential writers have been championing Japanese sushi restaurant Umezushi for years now. You’ll find it – with some difficulty - beneath a railway arch close to Victoria Station on the way to Strangeways. It took a chef (Terry Huang) who is either barking or genius to set up shop here. Still, Gordo doesn’t like sushi. Never has. So didn’t go.
Until the 19th January this year, on the occasion of his birthday, when The Fat One – alongside editor-at-large Jonathan Schofield and veteran reviewer Neil Sowerby - decided to finally pay a visit and bring a bottle of his own booze, a very good premier growth Montrachet (Gordo was worried the wine list would be a bit hipster and New World). By this time he was beginning to tire of listening to his writers squabble like ten-year-olds over who got there first.
On arrival the Front of House, Hanna Michnowicz, was looking at the three overgrown schoolboys with a sphinx-like smile, underneath she was probably groaning. Gordo’s wine was superb, but so was their list, which took him by surprise.
The afternoon turned into an evening, culminating in the Fat One tripping up as he approached a cash machine, head-butting the exposed brickwork above. The following morning Gordo woke bolt upright as punk rockers Devo kicked in on the Sonos sound system, a pillow stuck to his head with dried blood.
He had a dim memory of liking the sushi, and totally loving the eel nigiri – the one with a slice of protein tied to a thumb sized roll of nicely sticky rice, along with a prawn that had just turned opaque with a whiff of heat.
During a debrief the following Monday in the Abercrombie pub, Gordo and Schofield were both marvelling at just how good the meal was, at least, the part the two of them remembered. In fact, so good that a second (sober) review was imperative - which is why we are here.
Late on this Sunday afternoon, with a sturdy Manchester drizzle dripping off his nose, Gordo opened the front door of Umezushi and requested a walk-in for one. He got a place at the ‘bar’ overlooking the kitchen where studied genius was working.
Let’s cut to the chase…
Hamachi sashimi (£8, sashimi pictured above), otherwise known as Japanese Amberjack, is at its best around about now, as this is when the fat content is highest, apparently. Served expertly sliced, the flavour is masculine with a steely, punchy finish, especially when given a smear of wasabi and a little slice of ginger which blows the whole thing up in slow motion. Next door were a couple of slices of Toro sashimi, (£9), tuna belly, full of buttery fat, which needed nothing at all. The finish was long on the palate giving stupendous mouth-feel.
Dear God, this was great.
Botan Ebi sashimi (£8) was a big prawn, the flesh of which was so opaque it was as if the chef had simply used a hot hair drier to ‘cook’ it. The flavour was immense. Sucking the juice out of the head (not least to teach it a lesson for staring at him) gave Gordo one of those little thrills in life which make a day spent listening to Nicola Sturgeon go on with herself almost worth it.
Fresh water eel nigiri was perfect: oily, deeply umami with the look of dragon flesh. This was one of the dishes Gordo could fully remember from his birthday lunch, being every bit as good, if not better, than before.
Wagyu nigiri (£13.50) was the thinnest slice of beef, flash grilled, and provided the same fatty, flavour-packed palate assault on the senses as the belly tuna, only better. If Gordo had been drinking, a Domaine Dujac Burgundy would have been the only thing to do it justice.
Finally, a slice of sirloin from a beast of Celtic Pride (231 grm, £31.30) had been in the sous vide for some time, then finished off on the grill to promote inherent flavour and a smoky boost. It was one point off perfect, the tail end having become a little ‘gamey’ through the ninety day hanging process. Gordo has always thought that anything over five weeks is showing off a bit.
Brown rice tea (£2) was being refilled as he went along. Gordo will be on Amazon as soon as this copy is filed to order a chest of it.
The whole experience here is, for Gordo, the best of the past two years. The staff are a sheer delight and the kitchen team a joy to watch. When Gordo was asked about the steak and offered his opinion, the chef was dragged by Hanna round the front (not usually the best of experiences for chefs), hungry for constructive criticism, displaying a desire to do even better. I love him for that.
Gordo loves this place. It could be in Tokyo, Moscow, or New York’s meatpacking district. There could even be dead bodies lying beneath the neighbouring railway arch, awaiting the attentions of Inspector Jane Tennison. It doesn’t matter, because you’re witnessing one of the best curated Japanese dining experiences, not just in Manchester, nor England, but the world. Astonishing.
Umezushi, 4 Mirabel St, Manchester M3 1PJ
Eel Nigiri 10, Toro Sashimi 9, Botan Ebi Sashimi 10, Hamachi Sashimi 10, Wagyu nigiri 10, Celtic Pride Sirloin 8, Brown rice tea 10
Cosy, intimate and a joy to watch
Staff are a sheer delight