ql_own_ume_starterUme in Claygate is small – maybe 16-20 covers. This bodes well. Small is normally beautiful when it comes to restaurants; the very antithesis of the gargantuan chain restaurant where size and scale means everything at the expense of good things. I like small and intimate. One of my favourite restaurants is the Spice Valley in Lambourn, Berkshire. Like Ume, it had maybe 16-20 covers, no more. But unlike Ume, it didn’t rest on its laurels and serves some of the finest food in its niche (Anglicised Indian/Bangladeshi) I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, the end result at Ume is just resoundingly mediocre. There’s nothing wrong with Ume; it’s solidly satisfactory – unfortunately, with the restaurants of Surbiton and Esher within easy reach, that probably isn’t quite good enough.

Service and decor at Ume

Ume may be slightly on the dark side, but in terms of decor its clean, fresh and modern.

The service was excellent. This was in no small part to being the only diners at Ume that evening, but also because the waiter clearly enjoyed his job. It never ceases to amaze me how much of a difference that makes.

Drinks list was compact and a decent Beaujolais Villages at £18 even felt as if Ume were underselling themselves, and, importantly, you are greeted with prawn crackers! Glad somewhere is upholding the aperitif tradition!

Food at Ume

Ume’s menu is broad enough to contain all the classics you’d expect and some set menus to help out the indecisive. I was pleased to see that one of the set menus focussed on seafood, featuring Lobster, scallops, squid, prawns and cod. Whilst there is a fishmongers opposite and I would love to think local businesses support each other, I avoided this. Executed well, with fresh ingredients, the fragrant nature of Chinese food can really compliment these fruits of the sea. Unfortunately, the restaurant was empty and the takeaway business seemed slow. As it was midweek, I had a latent fear about how fresh the fish would’ve been. In hindsight I should have asked, as I may have been wrong.

Instead we opted for Ume’s middle set menu. The starter platter featured spare ribs, which were well executed, but nothing special. Crispy seaweed is a personal favourite, which means I gave it a little more scrutiny and if I want to be pedantic, I would say it was erring on the greasy side. The golden bread-crumbed butterflied prawns were excellent. Well breaded and well fried to be crispy outside and retain the soft juicy prawn. The only problem is that Ume doesn’t serve them with a dip, which is a crying shame.

The next course was Aromatic Crispy Duck. A quarter duck was served for two with the usual accoutrements. I am in two minds about Ume’s approach to this dish. There was a lot of duck meat, which was tender, thick and not dry whilst still being not too fatty, which is a huge positive. I just wish the skin was slightly crispier. But that wish being realised may well have negated the previous compliment. It’s been a long time since I have prepared this dish myself from scratch, so I may have to have a play (woe is me!) and see if it can technically be done before I pass judgement on Ume.

Main course of a king prawn sizzler was excellent; wonderfully aromatic and fresh.The crispy chilli beef was well spiced and flavoured, but the sauce was perhaps too liquid for my tastes. Special fried rice, neatly presented in a metal lined steamer was competent enough. Unfortunately, the portion sizes before were sufficient that we struggled to get to grips with the chicken in garlic and wine sauce, but I am told by my friend who had a doggy bag that was tasty enough the next day.

So there was have it. Ume, if located back in my old home village of Lambourn in Berkshire, in a monopoly position for restaurant dining, would be well frequented and there would be no quarms about it. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Ume. I know my expectations are perhaps higher because of my bias towards small and quirky. I also have had the benefit of visiting the competition recently. But that’s kind of the point. I have to travel to get to Claygate – the same time, distance and effort as going to Surbiton. And with that in mind, faced with a choice between Ume and Naturally Chinese, there’ll only be one winner.


The Essentials
Restaurant NameUme
VistedSeptember 2014
Price Range£30 a head (Dinner)
Phone01372 469 106
Address4, The Parade, Claygate, Surrey, KT10 0NU
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