I visited a Japanese restaurant in Shropshire and discovered a warm glow and considerable comfort (2024)

The answer, usually, is that it doesn’t have to be any of the above. Good food is frequently about conviviality. It’s about being comfortable. It’s about being in enjoyable surroundings where you can relax and switch off while enjoying high quality produce that’s been cooked with love and skill by a passionate chef.

It doesn’t have to be about whistles and bells – though there’s nothing wrong with those every once in a while. It’s about letting your shoulders drop, about eating dishes that bring pleasure, and about eating in rooms where the staff are glad that you’ve graced them with your presence.

And that’s why Umai, a Japanese restaurant in Shewsbury, is so enjoyable. There may be other restaurants that use fancier ingredients or are located in more desirable parts of the UK. There might be some that come with a higher price tag, higher level of expectation, and more kudos.

But Umai, put simply, is a delight. A welcoming, unfussy, uncomplicated restaurant, it’s the sort of place where diners can kick back and relax. The team behind it are reassuringly helpful and polite, the standards are high, and while it might not be the sort of place that dazzles with elite and elevated this, that, and the other, it is the sort of place that brings a warm glow and considerable comfort.

It’s located in Golden Cross Passage, in Shrewsbury town centre, and fits in with the town’s reputation as a centre for good, affordable, independent restaurants.

I visited a Japanese restaurant in Shropshire and discovered a warm glow and considerable comfort (1)

Shrewsbury really seemed to ignite when the town launched its own food festival and since then there’s been no shortage of operators who’ve been keen to showcase cuisine from around the world.

Umai isn’t the town’s only Japanese offering. There were forays into the world of ramen at The Peach Tree, some years ago, as Chris Burt pioneered new styles. The town’s market offers classy food over a period of time while Itadakizen has drawn a loyal following to Fish Street.

The town hasn’t been able to attract the sort of high-end restaurant that Ludlow was once so well-known for, though The Walrus is one of seven Shropshire restaurants that are listed in the Michelin Guide.

I visited a Japanese restaurant in Shropshire and discovered a warm glow and considerable comfort (2)

However, when it comes to independent restaurants offering food from Thailand, Bangladesh, Japan, India, China, Italy, Spain, Greece, France, the USA, and other parts of the world, Shrewsbury has most bases covered. It’s a delightful town to visit, where the cobbled streets, old world charm, and magnificent architecture provide the perfect backdrop to food from around the globe.

Umai is quirky and quaint. The menu is wide-ranging and offers plenty of opportunities to sample authentic Japanese dishes. Service is good, with staff being polite and attentive, while never being intrusive or overbearing. They get the balance just right, making sure people are comfortable, at ease, and made to feel welcome.

Here are the dishes we chose to eat at Umai Japanese restaurant in Shrewsbury

I started with a bowl of miso soup. The broth was thick, hearty, slightly sweet, and rich with umami flavour. Tangy and flavourful, it was like a hug in a bowl, the perfect start. Edamame were delicious. The immature soybeans served in the pot were protein rich and felt like the gastronomic equivalent of a workout at the gym.

A rich, comforting jasmine tea had a sweet, floral taste and aroma that complemented the bitterness of the base tea.

The mains were magnificent. Tako wasabi was octopus in wasabi. It was hot – perhaps a little too much so – and the delicate, salty flavour of the octopus was a little overpowered by the pepperiness of the wasabi. Frankly, it was the sort of dish to eat to combat a summer cold, where clearing the sinuses is a priority.

A wasabi tiger was far better. Featuring tempura prawn, salmon, avocado, tobiko, cucumber, and Japanese wasabi mayonnaise, it provided a range of textures and flavours and showcased so many of the things that are desirable about Japanese food. The stand-out dish of an enjoyable dinner, it showed good skills on the part of the chef and a winning combination of ingredients.

I visited a Japanese restaurant in Shropshire and discovered a warm glow and considerable comfort (3)

The avoidance of excess fat and carbohydrate is one of the many pleasing aspects of Japanese food and so a filling dinner left plenty of room for dessert. Moochi ice cream, in vanilla and mango flavours, were light, flavoursome, and pleasingly sweet and brought the curtain down on a bravura performance from Umai.

The food had been on point, save for a little too much wasabi on the octopus, while the service had been a delight.

Independent restaurants have to work hard to stay afloat at a time when people have less disposable income, where operational costs of restaurants have risen exponentially, and when a hard-up Government showed no signs of budging on the issue of VAT. It’s hard to make ends meet, much less become profitable or successful, yet there are many who are devoted and passionate about their chosen profession. And that – the love and the passion – are what comes through most at Umai.

It’s relaxing and chilled, it’s personable and welcoming, and the food is fairly priced and flavoursome. That’s the recipe for a good experience.

Fun times, indeed.

Rading for Umai Umai, Shrewsbury: 9/10

I visited a Japanese restaurant in Shropshire and discovered a warm glow and considerable comfort (4)

Sample Menu

Starters:

Tori Kara (Japanese style fry chicken) £7.80

BBQ Pork Spare Ribs with Honey £8.80

Takoyaki (4pcs octopus balls) £7.20

Main courses:

Veg Yaki Soba £12.00

Beef Yaki Udon £13.50

Beef Ramen (tonkatsu (pork) soup base) £14.50

Bento Boxes (Lunchtimes only)

Chicken Teriyaki £11.50

Salmon Teriyaki £11.50

Tuna Teriyaki £12.50

I visited a Japanese restaurant in Shropshire and discovered a warm glow and considerable comfort (2024)
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