East Meets West: Mei Ume
Report by David Newton
Nestling like an exquisite Ming vase in the breathtaking grandeur of the former Port of London Authority building – now the Four Seasons Hotel at Ten Trinity Square – is Mei Ume. Its name derives from the Chinese and Japanese words for Plum Blossom and this union of two different, yet complementary cultures, especially voiced here through exquisite food, sets the tone of the restaurant. And how perfect to be located within the building (see below) that once oversaw the glory days of trade ships to-ing and fro-ing between London and the Far East.
If I were to design my fantasy Oriental restaurant it would look, feel and taste a lot like this. As we entered we noticed immediately how masterfully the old and the new merged, bringing out the best of traditional Eastern aesthetics, whilst satisfying the demands of modern customers.
Designed by Ed Ng and Terence Ngan of international design studio AB Concept (this is their first London project), Mei Ume is high-end Asian luxe. Although destined to be a Square Mile expense account lunch destination par excellence, in my opinion places like this are best experienced after dark. The Chinese are world leaders in creating the theatre of the night – this is the nation that invented fireworks, after all – and my goodness, Mei Ume is one firecracker of a restaurant. Choose any of the three Signature dishes from the menu (Peking Duck, Wagyu Beef or Lobster) and you will be treated to a mouth-watering performance by the chef or another staff member, as they slice and serve your meal.
Ah yes, the food. My companion and I both agreed – repeatedly – that we hadn't actually tasted anything like it. Well, we had tasted Asian food like it… but this took it to new levels. And that's not to imply it was overly fancy or try-hard: quite the reverse. The lobster, for example, was blissfully, deliciously simple and I realised that I had been needlessly putting up with rubbery, chewy lobsters for years, as this one melted in the mouth.
You know a kitchen is doing something amazing when what you are eating is the same traditional ingredients, but in a noticeably new and advanced way. And speaking of new, I did a double-take when I spotted yellowtail tuna carpaccio (above) on the menu… until my co-diner reminded me of the centuries-old relationship between Italy and China, which resulted in a thrilling cross-pollination between these ancient nations. And the carpaccio was actually quite mind-blowing. I had never experienced it with truffle ponzu before and it was one of those dishes you try to eat in slow-motion to stop yourself wolfing it down.
We shared the lobster (above) and then also shared the Peking Duck (below), which, again, vaguely resembled your standard Friday night crispy duck pancakes… except, instead of being shredded into oblivion, the bird was carved into beautiful, succulent slices by the chef. The best I have ever had.
I could go on! Pudding was a divine gooey chocolate sponge with green tea ice cream (below), and, like my partner's dim sum starter, came garnished with edible gold leaf.
Showmanship pervades the dining experience at Mei Ume, but not in an annoying eager-to-please way, and any seriousness is always lightened by the friendliness of the (very well-informed) staff and touches of brilliant humour, like the hilarious cocktails.
I had two: the Black Turtle (above: rum, black raspberry liquor, black rice, black cardamom and sugar) and the Vermillion Bird (tequila, pisco, strawberry purée, chocolate and grenadine), which came in wonderful ceramic animal-shaped "mugs", with garnishes aplenty. Aside from the humour, there is a very astute sommelier on hand, who paired our lobster with saké (inspired!) and, on a purely personal note, we found Mei Ume to be the only London restaurant we knew of that stocked wine from a fantastic South African vineyard (Waterkloof) that we visited last year.
I am seriously trying to think of a slight criticism to add, that will make this a "well-rounded" review, but I can't think of one! Yes, it's not cheap; as previously noted, this will be expense account land, but it's most definitely an occasion restaurant and what's more, there is a very reasonable tasting menu set at £29 per person. My advice: go at night! Highly recommended.
MEI UME at Four Seasons, Ten Trinity Square
London EC3N 4AJ
Tel: +44 (20) 3297 9200
Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:15 pm
Dinner: 6:30 pm – 10:30 pm
Bar: 12:00 pm – 3:30 pm; 5:30 pm – 11:30 pm