Umami Restaurant is a fine dining place nestled into a corner of the very popular Buitenhof square in the Hague. Umami is of course also the ‘fifth’ taste. ‘Fifth’ only because understanding of it arrived after sweet, sour, bitter and salt. At least to Western cuisine. Described alternatively as ‘brothy’ or ‘meaty’ and prominent within foods like mushrooms, seafood, sea vegetables and aged cheese like Parmesan. I think it might just be my favorite of the basic tastes. So when a restaurant actually names itself Umami I am compelled to visit and investigate!
Everything I experienced at Umami made for a wonderful dining experience.
The food I sampled within a parade of small plates was was mostly excellent but that was not all. What helped to really enhance the experience was a delightful presentation of each dish from my wonderful dedicated server. As she brought out each dish she described it to me and happily answered my questions. This primed me to fully focus on and savor the food. As empty dishes were collected genuine curiosity was expressed for my impressions. This was the kind of service I would expect at an upscale fine dining restaurant. To find it at Umami which charges a very reasonable fixed price for their ‘Social Dining’ menu was a fantastic surprise.
Umami Restaurant, by Han?
Umami in the Hague is one of several Umami’s in NL, Finland and Beijing. They have the uncommon benefit of having their menu designed by owner Han Ji. Han is the Head Chef at a Michelin starred restaurant. The outcome of this is that the Umami menus can be described as Michelin star quality.
There are two menus. The ‘Gastronomic’ is a set dish tasting menu. Dishes from this set menu are used to regularly refresh a more a la carte style 3 course ‘Social Dining’ menu which offers lots of choices.
Within the ‘Social Dining’ menu each course, or ‘Act’, comprised of 2 small plates. This meant that a full ‘meal’ consisted of 6 plates plus a starter, not including optional dessert. Good chefs and epicurean diners alike know that no matter how gorgeous a single food is the sensory enjoyment of it diminishes after several mouthfuls. What begins as remarkable becomes merely pleasant. The small dish Umami ‘Social Dining’ menu is therefore set up to provide sensory delight.
Umami Restaurant for the gluten free diner
I contacted Umami before deciding to visit as per my routine ‘new place’ protocol. I spoke with someone that was familiar with coeliac and who recommended I make an advance reservation with my gluten free requirement known.
Safety is first priority but I always also want to determine whether I actually want to dine in this place? How much of the menu can I choose from?
In response to this I was told that within the 3 course ‘Social Dining’ menu about 15 dishes were gluten free and within each course there was at least one option that was both gluten free and vegetarian. Later, I learned that each course features two dishes so this is not somewhere I can recommend to gluten free vegetarians or vegans. For flexitarians and those that eat seafood I absolutely can.
Online, Umami only provide their menu in Dutch and without any allergen information. This could and should be changed. The printed menus are in English and also do not have any allergen information but this was no problem as on arrival I was greeted with a pre-prepared menu card on which staff had highlighted the gluten free dishes. Great service and very welcome and reassuring.
After emphasising extreme sensitivity & asking about cross-contamination risk my server consulted with the head chef. One dish was removed from the options as it included beans deep fried in oil also used to fry foods with gluten. Assurance given that separate or cleaned boards, pans and utensils would be used to prepare my food.
I also gained confirmation that no soy sauce would be used or included in chosen dishes.
Umami Restaurant gluten free dishes
My smiling and attentive server began with an apology that the Umami house starter of sesame & garlic bread was not gluten free. I received a cucumber, radish & seaweed dish instead. The bread might be very good but please keep a secret? I was happier with what I got! This was a ‘fly in my soup’ moment. Give me fresh veggies in a tasty vinaigrette over bread almost anytime.
Within ‘Act I’ I choose a Little Gem Salad with a rice vinaigrette. Yes, more veggies! This simple dish reminded me how delightful fresh salad & a simple vinaigrettecan be together. So much so that I experienced regret. Why so? Well I ate the whole salad before beginning my Mango Prawns dish which had the most gorgeous sweet mango sauce. Did I have any salad leaves left to mop up the sauce? Nope, and chopsticks don’t work at all well for this. Note for next visit. More planning needed!
I had tremendous fun within ‘Act II’. Both the Salmon in Cucumber & Sea Bass were succulent & tender. The fun to be had though was with quail egg halves slippery within their dressing. Attempting to actually pick these up with chunkier chopsticks than I am used to presented a major challenge to my chopstick skills! I persevered without resorting to cutlery and captured the eggs. They may have tasted even better as a result of the ‘hunt’ :-P
Act III contained one delight and one relatively mild disappointment. The delight was the red curry sauce within my Bangkok Prawns dish together with the unexpected rice bowl side. I enjoyed the sauce so much that had I not had the rice to immerse within it and soak it all up for devouring I would have dismayed.
Saffron Sauerkraut with Parsnip Puree & White Curry sauce was however all the way through my meal the most anticipated dish. I love Sauerkraut & have found it is wonderfully complimented by something creamy. Alas my expectations were just a little too high. I have a taste for very strongly fermented sauerkraut, which I make continously at home. Like most sauerkraut served commercially this was very mild. For my personally, underwhelming. For sauerkraut beginners it may be goldilocks ‘just right’.
Umami Restaurant Recommendation
Everything I experienced at Umami enriched the sensory pleasure of eating . . .
. . . being put at ease on arrival by the staff showing me what dishes were safely gluten free on a marked up menu
. . . the wonderful variety of dishes to select from, with seafood a speciality but inclusive of some enticing vegetarian options too
. . . the elegant interior with stunning decorative plants & minimalist beautiful decor
. . . fantastic food presentation
. . . gazing out into the lights of the busy square beyond the windows
Go to Umami and expect a rich dining experience at a very reasonable fixed cost.
So I loved it yes, but there are some notable and I dare say easy ways for Umami to improve. I appreciated that staff had prepared a menu card for me by highlighting gluten free dishes. However given this can be done and the menu does not change very frequently, why not simply capture it and make it routinely available online and printed?
Second, dessert options. More please! Only one of four, a Melon Sorbet, was suitable. There is even a Brownie on the menu. A Brownie that is not gluten free. What on earth? Aren’t all Brownies now required to be gluten free to comply with EU Allergen laws? Adding another one or two gluten free dessert options would nicely complete what is otherwise an enticing gluten free menu.
Umami will be featured in a Gluten Free Guide to the Hague I am preparing. Please subscribe or follow me via Facebook or Twitter to ensure you see it. Until then hit the tag The Hague Gluten Free for more reviews.