Molly Ringwald's sushi lunch was oh-so-sophisticated in The Breakfast Club, but that was 1985. Now that sushi has gone mainstream and Nobu has metastasized into a low-fat Hard Rock Cafe, Europe is ready for a lesson in kaiseki. At least, Ichiro Kubota, Umu's executive chef, thinks so. Kaiseki is a formal banquet
At Umu, London's most ambitious kaiseki restaurant, Kubota goes to extraordinary lengths to bring a Kyoto accent to the land of fish and chips. That means flying in speciality vegetables and Kyoto's soft water for the signature clear soup. He trawls from Iceland to Madagascar for fantastic fish. Grated Shizuoka wasabi not that fake electric-green paste accompanies the tsukuri, a sashimi course elaborately composed on handmade ceramics. Fragrant matsutake mushrooms evoke autumn, while Kobe beef melts in the mouth like foie gras. Dishes like sesame tofu are nods to Kyoto's Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. At the end comes the spiritual heart of the meal: rice, pickles and the best miso soup around.
If Umu sounds traditional, it isn't. The reinvented Kyoto flavors are restrained, but the trendy London setting is not. A hidden door on the streets of tony Mayfair glides back at a touch on a lighted panel. Inside, it's opulent yet relaxed, designed to make everyone look rich and beautiful.
Don't worry if you can't pronounce anything, because most of the wait staff are just learning themselves. They're happy to help navigate the extensive kaiseki, sushi and à la carte menus. Today's Bond Street sushi princesses take lunch breaks for $48, but a kaiseki set course costs between $170 and $245. Steep, but cheaper than flying to Kyoto for dinner. tel: (20-7) 499 8881; www.umurestaurant.com