The burgers have won, fine dining is dead. Or at least, that’s the direction the smoke seems to be blowing when owner Kerby Craig decided to close down his semi fine-diner Ume Restaurant, reopening it as Bar Ume. Gone are the delicately plated works of art almost too pretty to eat. Instead, it’s burgers, burgers, and burgers. Well that, some sides, and some drinks.
Say hello to Surry Hills’ newest izakaya – headed by a hatted chef, no less!
Date Last Visited: 18/09/2016
Address: 478 Bourke St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Go-to Dish: Ume Burger
Price Guide (approx): $20-$30 before drinks
Before I start off, I’ll stick to form and mention that I’ve visited Bar Ume twice – the first time under my own dollar, the second time under invitation from the lovely folks at Wasamedia. As such, The Usual Disclaimer applies.
For those who’ve been to the old Ume, you’ll notice that very little has changed. The exterior is, like the interior, much the same. The main difference is in the banquet couches – previously, it was discrete tables to cater to the more private nature of fine dining. Thus, Bar Ume can seat more.
But of course, the biggest change is undoubtedly the food. Here, Kerby’s done a complete 180. But here’s the thing – you shouldn’t be surprised. It’s a trend that’s being going on for some time now, with Tomislav Martinovic opening up Five Points Burgers after closing shop at his eponymous Tomislav fine diner being one of the first to kick off the trend.
In many ways, I do lament this. While I adore burgers (I mean, I only wrote an 18,000 word treatise on 30 of Sydney’s best, after all…), I also love every other tier of eating out and that certainly includes fine dining. Ume (Restaurant) was always a bit of a hidden gem – Kerby served Japanese food at a fine dining level that was easily amongst Sydney’s best.
Well then, all I can hope for is that his burgers also rank amongst Sydney’s best. After all, they comprise the only substantive eats on the menu – sides are sides, and I don’t really drink (though the drinks menu is extensive), so it comes down to a battle of the buns. With ex-Vic’s chef Joe Siahaan helming the kitchen (Kerby’s focused on Ume’s Barangaroo outpost), it should be a tasty fight. Let’s get started.
Currently, Bar Ume is serving four types of burgers – one of which is vegetarian. Sorry folks, once again you know which one I’ve left out – the cows were calling, and I always answer that call with a most enthusiastic moo.
The Ume burger is unsurprisingly Bar Ume’s signature. The easiest way to describe it is “HOLY SHIT”, but perhaps a more descriptive narrative is in order. It’s essentially a sloppy joe burger – a meaty, toothsome intermixture of wagyu mince sauce was what gave this burg its signature kick.
Further to this was the textural beef patty which was quite chewy in its own right, whilst commanding a firm beefiness. As for the bun – well – this could be one of the best milk buns in Sydney. Hokkaido milk was the secret, with a texture that’s more cushiony, buttery and ultimately as satisfying as the best of the rest. Plenty of cheese wraps things up and while there might be a lot going on, it’s actually a fairly small serve, all things considered.
It’s wholly delicious, even if it can be a bit overwhelming to first-timers who are used to a “cleaner” burger. Don’t worry – if that’s your calling, there are other burgers for you. But for the rest of us, your journey starts and stops at the Ume burger. Don’t forget the napkins.
Bar Ume’s second claim to uniqueness is the Ebi burger – essentially an umami-licious prawn mousse cake, served with lots of cabbage and tartar sauce. For those who’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Land of the Rising Sun, ebi burgers will be most familiar – they’re ubiquitous in Japan.
Once again, it’s great stuff – the buns were on point as always, the prawn cake full of friable crunch, and the tartar sauce delivering enough of an aioli-like kick to keep the flavour train choo-chooing. I wasn’t the biggest proponent of the shredded cabbage – it was a bit dry and tended to suck flavour out of the burger.
For those who just want to drink some beers/whisky/poison of choice and prefer something that isn’t too outlandish, the bacon cheeseburger (with the option of going double) is your safe bet. Same buns, same beef as used in the ume burger, but out goes the sloppy joe sauce and in goes pickles, onions, leafy greens and of course bacon. So really, you’d be asking yourself is the bacon any good.
It was. Crunchy, salty, and goes darn well with the rest of the burger – why wouldn’t it?
The outlier with this burg would be the pickles – they do make their presence felt, so best ask to customise this aspect to your tastes. That’s my PSA to all pickle-sensitive readers 🙂
Now, while you certainly can survive only on burgers, that wouldn’t be capturing all that Bar Ume has to offer. For example, you definitely shouldn’t leave without trying their koji fried chicken. Koji refers to the fungus that’s used to ferment, amongst other things, sake and miso. A koji-based marinade imbues a serious quantum of flavour into the chicken when done over several days, hence its use here. No surprises then when I tell you that it tasted ridiculously flavourful? It’s true Japanese-style fried chicken – there’s nothing else quite like it.
Full of flavour, full of juiciness, barely needed the mayo – that’s when you know you’ve got good fried chicken. It may be less attractive to those who prefer a lot of crunch, as the skin for this particular rendition was a bit soft, but by no means was it chewy. It’s simply different, and worth ordering.
A healthier version of hot chips (also available on the menu) to graze your teeth on are the renkon (lotus root) chips. These are very crispy and would do great as drink fodder (or so I imagine they would). Flavour was brought on by the seaweed salt, as well as the starchiness of the lotus root itself.
It’s not quite as satisfying as actual hot chips – but you wouldn’t go wrong here. Get both? Portions are small enough!
I know what you’re thinking – don’t diss asparagus man. Especially not when it’s so fresh, and served with karasumi (cured mullet roe). That’s the secret, and what turns this dish Japanese – the salty, briny and slightly fermented taste of mullet eggs brings new life into this everyday vegetable. Maybe just a bit too much of the briny flavour, actually.
I also noted that the asparagus was a bit softer (or soggier?) than I’d have liked, so I’m glad there was a bit more to it than just asparagus on the plate. It’s also not the cheapest thing at eleven bucks – you’re really paying for that roe. I would be a bit hesitant to order it again based on that.
There was only one dessert on the menu, and it involved the green powder that we all know and love and is so on trend – matcha. Specifically, in the form of a matcha miruku (milk) pudding. It’s pretty simple really – a matcha pudding that doesn’t hold back on the intensity of the matcha (YAY!), topped with a layer of kuromitsu (black sugar syrup), served with fresh blueberries & hazelnuts on the side. While the portion might look small, don’t be deceived – you’ll still want to share this. It’s basically pure fat and sugar – but oh so deliciously creamy fat & sugar.
I mean let’s get real – you’ve already had a burger (or two), the dieting can wait till tomorrow.
So there’s Kerby Craig’s new vision for the Ume name – it’s certainly living up to the Bar Ume moniker, with an extensive drinks selection (that I did not try but have faith in), bar-centric food, and a wholly casual vibe.
While things are currently looking good, there’s still a bit of a ways to go. The menu is too limited – burgers are great, but they shouldn’t be the alpha and omega of a menu. The list of sides was also a bit on the low side, and the seating felt a bit…tight. But most importantly – I miss the old Ume, and Bar Ume has yet to completely win me over. I hope one day it will!
This post is based on an independently-paid visit and one sponsored visit to Bar Ume.
Anyone else feel nostalgic about the old Ume, or is the new kid on the block where it’s at for you? Let me know in the comments below!
- Sydney’s burger scene has just received another strong contender
- No fuss, no-frills food but still with a unique twist
- The menu is extremely limited (for now)
- Seating is very close together
- Bar Ume has yet to convince me that it’s a better shindig than the old Ume Restaurant.
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F6.5 | S3 | A2