Contemporary sake gastrobar Umami 10 on Telok Ayer Street offers a range of eclectic European-inflected Japanese tapas-style dishes.
I’ll be absolutely honest – I didn’t like Umami 10 at first sight. What was self-styled as a “yoshoku sakaya” on Telok Ayer Street – that is, what the Japanese call a restaurant that served Western cuisine – looked instead like a flashy disco lounge, the kind that attract (or are run by) triad members in search of after-hours entertainment. It’s hard to make sense of the dark interiors contrasted by gaudy golden panels and abstract art on the walls, and the random pulsating music that’s punctuated by loud guffaws from surrounding inebriated patrons.
But all became well once we were seated.
Maybe it’s because we’re settled at the counter fronting the open air kitchen, where chef-owner Mark Tay and executive chef Victor Tan holds court. Here was an oasis of tranquility, where both veteran chefs – together they have over 50 years of experience in Japanese, French, Italian, and Mediterranean cuisines – calmly compose and put out dish after dish with very little fuss.
That experience probably explains the approach at Umami 10. Yoshoku as a culinary style emerged during Japan’s Meiji period, when Japanese people were encouraged to incorporate Western ingredients into their diets so they could grow stronger.
But don’t expect the yoshoku classics – curry rice, hamburg steak, omurice, or hayashi rice – here. Instead Umami 10 takes familiar izakaya favourites and give them a contemporary European spin. We love the Soft-shell Prawn Tempura, which eschews the usual panko crust for a slightly breadier one flecked with seaweed for even more savouriness. If you enjoy oysters, go for the large Premium Hyogo Oysters topped with uni and ikura.
It gets better. The Asari Clams tweaks the classic Japanese dish with cream and San Marzano tomatoes, elevating what is supposed to be a light broth base into one that’s a lot richer and even more flavoursome. The yakitori staple, Tsukune, on the other hand is a more delicate version of its usual meaty self; chef-owner Tay incorporates tofu into the mixture for a fluffier, lighter texture.
The Buta Kakuni here is ridiculously good. Their version of the Okinawan braised pork dish -usually made with Awamori too, no less – is utterly melt-in-the-mouth, and is so unctuously redolent with flavour you’ll be smacking your lips in delight.
Less exciting is Umami 10’s drinks programme. For a contemporary Japanese gastrobar the sake list is rather lean, even if they do offer a number of sakes that are exclusive to them. Our recommendation? Start with beers – Suntory The Premium Malt’s is always dependable – and then follow up with a bottle of sake. A good option is the Semi Junmai Ginjo from Kumamoto, a clean tasting yet rich drop that should pair well with most dishes. We’d have loved to see more options on its skimpy wine list as well.
Would we return? Yes. The food alone demands revisiting. But make sure you ask for the seats at the counter where the action is; Tay is a great host and conversationalist. If you can look past Umami 10’s kitschy lounge feel you’re going to enjoy this modern twist to Japanese gastropub cuisine.
Address 163 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068616 (Google Maps link)
Opening Hours 11.30am to 2.30pm and 5.30pm to 10.30pm on Mondays to Fridays; 5.30pm to 10.30pm on Saturdays; closed on Sundays
Tel (65) 6513 5789