Although Japan Centre moved to its current lower Regent Street location a few years ago, somehow I’ve not visited since it was on Piccadilly. I know if I worked nearby, I’d drop in to the onsite Umai Sushi Factory for lunch on a regular basis.
I was invited along recently to try a selection from their menu.
There is a small bench seating area if you would like to eat in, but the majority of customers buy to takeaway.
Oddly, the tempura is served cold – perhaps this is common unless one asks for hot? I would definitely prefer them freshly fried and hot, but the cold ones served were still lovely and crispy and with good flavour, the aubergine perfectly cooked inside the batter. A prawn piece and a generous slice of aubergine come to £2.70.
There are also other fried items available, such as panko-coated fish and spring rolls, as well as gyoza (dumplings) and steamed buns.
The selection of sushi in the fridges opposite the counter is enormous and freshly made each day. I chose these California crab salad and chicken katsu mayo rolls mostly because the orange roe around the rice made them stand out, visually. Priced at £3.60 takeaway/ £4.30 eat in, these were very good, packed with well-balanced flavours and textures and very good value – each piece was nearly 2 inches in diameter.
The eel nigiri sushi (£4.20 / £5.00) were a little disappointing, and not as good as I’ve had elsewhere in London. A small portion for the price and with not much flavour to the eel. I wouldn’t recommend these.
My friend chose the Hakata Tonkotsu Ramen Noodles and it was a great choice. Generous amounts of soft barbeque pork, kikurage black mushrooms, red ginger, bean sprouts, spring onion, sesame seeds and crunchy nori seaweed sheets over a tasty broth full of ramen noodles. At £8.30, this was a very filling lunch on its own. A spicy version is also available.
New to the menu are Umai’s rice burgers – instead of bread buns, fillings are served between two cakes of rice. We chose the Teriyaki Beef & Wasabi rice burger priced at £3.79. Rice cakes make these more filling than a similarly-sized burger in a regular bun, so perfect for a takeaway lunch on their own and again, very good value indeed.
Taste-wise, this was delicious with the sticky, shredded beef filling winning me over immediately. However, they’re not very practical to eat as the rice cakes break apart too easily, and there’s far too much lettuce getting in the way. Ours was also placed into the box over a napkin which promptly welded itself so firmly to the bottom cake of rice that it took me several minutes to peel and pick the tissue away bit by bit, making an enormous mess. We did feed this back to staff, so hopefully this will not happen again.
With the fantastic Japan Centre shop behind, and such a wide range of lunch items to choose from, this is an excellent stop for lunch, but a very busy one. We met just before noon and beat the crowds, but just ten minutes after noon, the queues were impressive and by the time we left, there was quite a wait.
Kavey Eats dined as a guest of Umai Sushi Factory.