Umami: does it deliver flavour?

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When you name a restaurant Umami, you raise expectations.

And when you you name an Indian restaurant Umami, you spark intrigue, too.
For the word is a Japanese one and refers to the fifth sense of taste – that deeply savoury flavour you get from, say, soy sauce, roasted tomatoes or Parmesan.

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So would these notes be skipping playfully over my tongue like fleet-footed Bhangra dancers at the curry house of that name in Harborne?
Afraid not, folks.
The meal I ate was as dreary as watching your gran do the hokey-cokey at at distant cousin’s wedding.

The food

Poppadums – plain and sprinkled with black pepper – were admirably crisp.
But the relishes with which they were served were dull – especially one in which lurked chopped onion in a red gloop that tasted a little like tomato ketchup.

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There was a similar overbearing tomato flavour in the garlic sauce that accompanied starters.
The tamarind sauce alongside was a peculiar thing – lacking that sharpness that makes tamarind such an enlivening ingredient and instead with a sweetness akin to blitzed prunes.
The murgh achari tikka I ate was bordering on overcooked and thus a little dry. I didn’t detect the pickled notes promised on the menu.
Alongside was a good fresh crisp salad.

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The allegedly crisp potato and spinach patties topped with yoghurt and tamarind chutney were, she sighed wearily, “a mess”.
We shared three vegetarian main courses.
Nicely squishy paneer dumplings were the star, arriving in a soothing and satisfying sauce.
Chickpeas came in a sauce that lacked the oomph that I expected to be delivered by the raw mango and pomegranate powder.

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Dal makhani had a dairy richness that put me in mind of over-reduced condensed milk.
Saffron rice was very well cooked. A roti was pleasant.
But the prominent flavours throughout the meal were sweetness and chilli, with none of the layers of flavour for which I’d hoped.
Which surprised me, for I’d heard good things about the place.

The place

It’s located opposite the swimming baths and has a modern frontage that leads to a stylish bar area.
The dining room itself is long and narrow and tastefully decorated, if a little gloomy.
And rather like a wind tunnel, too, when a staff member opened a side door temporarily.

The drinks

Umami has got a well-balanced wine list that begins at £17.95, a long cocktail list kicking in at £5.95, a good lassi selection and an uninspiring beer list.
There are teas, coffees and spirits, too.

The service

Waiters – or hosts and hostesses as they are termed on the website – are charming, efficient and knowledgable.
Orders were taken promptly, drinks and dishes arrived in a timely fashion and tables were cleared swiftly.

Need to know

We paid £55 for our food and two pints.
Costs could be cut by choosing bar snacks.
There are lots of vegetarian dishes.
It’s child-friendly.
Parking isn’t easy – it’s Harborne.

Umami
25 Lordswood Road, Harborne B17 1RP. 0121 427 8773.
http://umamiharborne.com

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