Tucked in a rather accessible location I can’t disclose (yet), I spent Thursday afternoon having non-traditional Japanese burgers with Carina, Mikka and Dwight. I didn’t know much about Umami but when Mikka texted me about heading over and trying their food before everyone else could, I jumped at the chance. The place opens this coming Tuesday and I was among the chosen few to get a sneak peek! Magic dust and many thanks go out to Charles and Dwight!
Usually on a trip abroad, I find myself on the lookout for independent coffee shops I can waste an afternoon in. And whenever I find some place interesting looking enough to warrant all that wasted time, I always wish that someone would open that kind of place in Manila. Stepping into Umami, I was confronted with the expensive dilemma of wanting to hang out there everyday. The place reeks Japanese pop culture but in a completely non-offensive, cute way. Stuff I spotted: Super Mario’s hat, a huge pack of Choco Baby, Totoro’s smiling face in the printed wallpaper and a stuffed version of the girl from Milky. I also really appreciate it when establishments make an effort to actually come up with a brand identity. Umami Hambaagu House exudes such a distinct character, which reflects in its design; from its interiors to the photography and graphic design on its menu. Visually, it already whets the appetite.
On to the food! I may have said more than once on this blog that I am not a burger person. To correct that confusing statement, I am not a burger sandwich person. Throwing the bread out makes a world of a difference. As a life long member of the Jollibee Burger Steak appreciation club, the selection at Umami was overwhelming. I wanted to order everything.
After flipping through the menu and asking Dwight for his recommendations, I decided to get the Maison du Japon (Php 340). I went for simple flavors that’d be hard to get wrong, it’s a burger just topped with Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions. He mentioned that they were still in their ‘test kitchen’ stages and that we had to give them feedback so they’d know what to work on before they open shop. It wouldn’t be fair to me to really review this but I’ll write about it anyway because I had a good time. When the order arrived, it was way bigger than I expected. Each order came with a bowl of rice, fries, salted edamame and unlimited cabbage salad topped with sesame dressing. Their dressing was so good, it was full and far from watery.
I learned here that the difference between Japanese burgers and Western burgers is that they’re made up of a mixture of ground beef and ground pork. I was first confused about the color of the meat when I cut into it, it looked a little paler than usual but it was good none the less. They have an option where if you add Php 20, they’ll serve you a Chicken burger instead. The Maison du Japon was pretty safe compared to the other options on the menu (yep, they have one topped with foie gras and another topped with wasabi mayo cream) and because I ordered safe, safe is what I got back. Umami serves glammed up comfort food; the patty was tender and cooked just right but it lacked a bit of salt. The onions were sweet and the gruyere was rich but it didn’t make up for the lack of seasoning on the burger. After I added a bit of salt and togarashi, all was well in the world.
The Roppongi Hills burger (Php 420) has a generous helping of thick, truffle cream slathered on top of the burger. This was pretty darn good and Carina was tons happy with it. We definitely appreciated how generous they were with the sauce. It just smelled really nice.
Mikka ordered the Takeshi’s Castle (Php 345) which reminded me so much of takoyaki, since it practically shares the same uppers. As a Okonomiyaki inspired burger, it’s topped with Bulldog sauce, bonito flakes, nori and Japanese mayo. The Takeshi’s Castle was a sure-fire winner. It was the tastiest of the bunch and the one I’ll probably order the most. The balance of tastes was perfect and it wasn’t overpowering at all, it kept the meat interesting all throughout the meal.
Umami has a well-rounded drink menu fit to rival tambay milk tea houses and coffee shops with their selection. It’ll take many visits to be able to taste ’em all. With their meals, both Carina and Mikka got this Roseberry Fruit Tea. I’m not sure if it’s actually called that but it’s rose + blueberry tea with basil seeds. I’ve been a long time fan of basil seeds thanks to my Tita Ginger, they have this transparent jell-o like coating that makes them fun to bite on.
After we wiped out the entire table, it was time for dessert and since we were pretty filled up, we all decided to get dessert drinks. I ordered the Green Tea Latte topped with Cheese and both Carina and Mikka got the Grilled Caramel Macchiato. As coffee drinkers, they were both satisfied with their drinks.
My tea was excellent, kind of reminiscent of the Happy Lemon Rock, Salt and Cheese concotion but warmer and richer some what. The cheese top reminded us all of Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts. Mmm, I’d imagine it’d be perfect to drink on a rainy afternoon.
Before we left, we took a bunch of pictures and admired the interiors some more. The owner, Charles was so nice, he gave us custom made Umami Keep Cups. I first learned about Keep Cups through Carina when she ordered some on the net from Australia. What makes it so cool is that it’s the first barista standard reusable coffee cup and it’s made from 100% recycled material. These ones all had the Umami Hambaagu House logo in the cup band. Awesome!
Verdict: I know the place isn’t open yet but without even an edamame bean ounce of bias, I think it’s a definite must try. If you want to know where it is, you’ll have to comment and ask! The owner wants to try something else in terms of marketing it so the guys at Pepper.ph told me not to publish its location. I’m allowed to tell people though but just if they ask. Read Pepper.ph’s Umami post and win an invite to taste test Umami before it opens to the public.