YUMI (Taj Samudra).

YUMI does really good sushi in a cosmopolitan location. It’s new and a bit of a surprise to find in the Taj Samudra.

For a long time the Taj was one of Colombo’s most neglected five star hotels, followed only by the Inter-Continental. I’ve been to the location that the YUMI now occupies and it was a largely empty and somewhat lame bar. What a change.

The Taj itself is undergoing extensive restoration and it’s looking much better. We’d say that a highlight worth checking out is the new YUMI sushi bar. They’ve transformed the space such that it actually looks and feels quite hip, and the food and service we had was excellent. Kudos to the Taj for being scared enough of the Shangri-La sized hole in the ground next to them to up their game, a lot (they’re building a Shangri-La next door).

The Food

The Tori Teri Bento Box

Sushi is hard to do right. You need excellent ingredients and chefs often have to wait years before they even touch a knife. In Sri Lanka you have to import a lot and the chefs, once they get trained, often export themselves to better paying jobs in the Middle East. For raw fish with three condiments, it’s surprisingly hard to prepare.

YUMI has a mercifully small menu and it ain’t cheap, but it is good. Personally, I think the difference between good sushi (where you close your eyes and bliss out a bit) and mediocre sushi (which is just a carrier for soy sauce) is a chasm. YUMI is on the good side of that divide.

Maguru Nigiri

The basic components of sushi (I’m using the term generally) are vineagered rice, fish (or veg), and the accompaniments of soy sauce, wasabi and ginger. If you get any of them wrong it’s crap. To me the most important thing is actually the rice. The fish, if you have a sharp knife, can be passable but if the rice is off the whole thing fails. For hardcore sushi chefs it can take five years before they’re even allowed to make the rice. Anyways, the rice is good. For me that means it largely gets out of the way, providing the right balance to everything else.

In the maguro nigiri (Rs. 750 for four piece of tuna nigiri) the rice is perfect and the slice of fish on top is generous and eye-closingly good. They serve it with an excellent soy sauce (very important), medium spicy wasabi and fresh ginger. It’s very nice. We’d say it’s on a level with NihonBashi, though their menu has far less range.

While the tuna is imported, they serve a variety of snapper sashimi (we think they call it modha) which is local and really interesting. It’s almost sweet.

If you’re popping in for lunch (as we did) they serve a good selection of bento boxes. We tried the tori teri bento (Rs. 1,900) which includes miso soup, a generous amount of sashimi, a lot of teriyaki chicken, rice and sesame salad. It’s tasty and filling, and presented well.

California temaki

They also do a solid California temaki (Rs. 950).

In terms of value for money we’d say that it’s not cheap, costing about Rs. 2,500 per person, but, honestly, cheap sushi is not really a good thing. If you’re having sushi it should be excellent because, as mentioned, the chasm between amazing and mediocre is wide.

Location

The location is quite hip. The chairs are orange and mad plush and there’s an extremely long bar. You can eat poolside if you want, but the interior itself feels very expansive because the ceilings are so high. I’ll confess that I thought the Taj was stodgy and lame for a while, but this new refurbishment is making it kind of cool.

YUMI had a happening city feel to it even though it was relatively empty at lunchtime. We’re told that they have a flair bartender and DJ music in the evenings. The space is quite modern and if it feels up we think it could have quite a buzz.

The Service

Yu Mi Staff, Chinthaka De Silva, Senior Chef

The service we had was very nice and helpful. The first fellow that sat us down was jokey and smart, though the guy who took our order got a bit confused and seemed unable to take a request (changing regular rice in the bento box to garlic rice). He was still very nice.

After the meal the Senior Chef Chinthaka came over to ask how everything was and he was quite pleasant and seemed to enjoy his work (as he should, being a sushi chef is awesome). He gave us his card to contact him if we were coming again, which was a nice touch. I also filled out the ‘how are we serving you’ form and they had an interesting question, asking what other restaurant I’d visited recently that was good. Shows that they’re trying to learn.

Conclusion

YUMI is a hip new sushi bar in the Taj. I know, the Taj has not been renowned for hipness, but we think it’s coming round. This place has excellent sushi in a cosmopolitan location. Two chopsticks up.

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