Value for Money: 6/10
I had the privilege of discovering Umami’s secret location one day, on the way to my friend’s house. It was a happy day – I had been following their Facebook page and website waiting for the big reveal that till this day has yet to come.
When I arrived at the secret venue, the first thing that caught my eye was this interesting sculpture enshrouded in smoke – an imagery that perfectly matched the mysterious air that the elusive Umami Hambaagu House took on.
Before you enter the restaurant, you see a sign on their door that says “Boring People Not Allowed” – a teaser to the kind of playfulness that rests within the restaurant’s walls. I went inside with no hesitation (presumptuous little me).
I was immediately pleased with what I saw inside, like a kid inside a candy store! As a fan of anime and all things Japanese, my eyes darted from left to right, taking in the knick-knacks that decorated the place. On one side of the wall, a TV showed Ponyo, one of Hayao Miyazaki’s recent masterpieces. Don’t know who Hayao Miyazaki is? The horror! He’s only the MOST GENIUS animated filmmaker there is! Here, take a look at Hayao’s impressive resume and be enlightened.
We finally settled down in a far corner of the room. On one wall – Japanese-inspired icons, on another – a quirky wall print of a cat, Godzilla, and sushi; in front – a pictorial description of their hamburger steaks. When the menu was laid on our table, presenting pages and pages of delicious photos, I was ready to get down to business and chow down!
The menu items are named as creatively as the interiors – most of which were inspired by Japan (2 were inspired by Hayao in particular). I decided between Battousai and Spirited Away, and ended up going for Spirited Away. As much as I love the wandering samurai, I chose Spirited Away because 1) I have always been a fan of foie gras and well, 2) I guiltily admit that Spirited Away is my favorite Hayao film (Haku!) My friend, on the other hand, chose the Hole in One.
Each hamburger dish you order at Umami comes as a complete meal. You get your hamburger steak, toppings and sauce depending on what you ordered, a side of thick-cut fries, Japanese coleslaw, a bowl of Japanese rice, and a plate of salted Edamame.
The Hole in One features a hamburger steak with a fried egg on top, dripping in a thick sweet tangy sauce that I surmise is based on Okonomiyaki sauce. My number one test to a perfect fried egg is the first slice of the yolk and the restaurant passed. I loved how the bright orange yolk oozed out and married well with the sauce.
The hamburger steak itself did NOT disappoint either. When I saw how thick the patty was, I was concerned that it was either uncooked or dry on the inside. Instead, I got a bite of a tender, juicy, and flavorful patty that wasn’t oily at all! Umami was kind enough not to keep the technique behind this a secret. To achieve this perfect bite, Umami pan fries then places the burgers in the oven to lock in the moisture. I think the fact that the patties were a mixture of ground pork and ground beef also contributed to their success.
The fries were clearly homemade and the rice was good quality Japanese rice. You also have a fresh side of crunchy Japanese coleslaw that is dressed in a Japanese sesame dressing. The dressing tastes like a lighter (and non-oily) version of peanut butter. The Edamame was, like all Edamame’s, delicious and fun to nibble on. I believe the plate of Edamame was intended to be an appetizer but I suggest you eat this in between bites. The reason behind this is that at one point, the taste of the hamburger steak gets monotonous, and the saltiness of the Edamame helps cut that. Since the salad dressing is sweet, it doesn’t help cleanse your palate either (perhaps a zesty dressing would be a better option?)
You’ll need the Edamame even more for the Spirited Away hamburger steak, which features the juicy Umami hamburger steak, caramelized onions, a chunk of foie gras (very glad they didn’t scrimp on this), and a fruity taste that ties in all the flavors together well. This dish, unlike Hole in One, is oily, which I attribute to the fattiness of foie gras. It is this fattiness and rich taste that contributes to a cloying effect after several bites. This is one dish I would really recommend being shared by several people. Consider also ordering their non-hamburger steak dishes for more variety.
While enjoying your meal, there are pleasant quirky tunes that weave throughout the place, which sound like they came from a Hayao Miyazaki animation. It’s a fitting soundtrack – Umami Hambaagu House is a hamburger wonderland that I believe Hayao himself would enjoy immersing himself in.
Umami Hambaagu House
Location: We’re honoring the resto’s request to remain mysterious Do try contacting them to ask for the address.