If you’re a mole person, there’s lots for you in Edinburgh.
We’ve got the subterranean delights of Mary King’s Close, South Bridge Vaults, and, of course, all the lower level restaurants – Purslane, 83 Hanover Street, The Witchery, Chez Jules, Blue Parrot Cantina – happily clinging on under pavements, like barnacles on the bottom of a boat.
It seems we’re not that bothered about natural light.
Although some think of bottom deck as demotion, I like to imagine the weight of four floors of tenement above me, compressing the air like a wheel of cheese.
At new Japanese restaurant Umi, they’ve made good use of the venue, which is slotted under 687 year old (or thereabouts) Chinese restaurant, Ping On, in Stockbridge.
This place, whose name means sea or ocean, is owned by the people behind excellent Japanese eatery Kenji on nearby St Stephen Street and the used-to-be-decent-but-has-gone-skewiff Bentoya on Bread Street.
There are red crimped lanterns, a couple of horigotatsu tables with cushions, and a mural of a street scene. It has a relaxed vibe, like its sister venues, though the menu is slightly more experimental.
We started with the obligatory chicken and vegetable gyoza (£4.50). These were a bit fancier than your average dumpling, and more like hanetsuki gyoza – all five connected by a fan of crispy batter that was as lacey as Mary, Queen of Scots’ cuffs.
The filling was hot and suitably leeky, with a vinegary soy dip on the side.
Also lovely were the truffle edamame (£4.50) – a huge steamy bowlful, easily enough for three people, with sea salt crystals sparkling on every pod and a handful of chilli filaments on top.
The shishito pepper (£5.90) option featured around five wrinkled green capsicums, one of which gave me a buzz (apparently, only one in ten is hot), as well as toasted edamame beans and a nest of finely chopped crispy leeks.
Next, from the Cold Plates section, was the “hamachi carpaccio” (£9.90). It consisted of six palm-sized leaves of raw and smooth pale fish, each topped with a dark dot of grape purée and a drizzle of ponzu sauce to ceviche-like effect. Beautiful.
We were also impressed by the Umi Special Nigiri, with two pieces of salmon and cranberry (£5). They’d been restrained with the fruity Christmas stuff, adding just a tiny bead to the top of the silky grilled salmon and its rice plinth. Also, their pair of eel nigiri (£5.20) was suitably sticky and caramel cornered.
Another classic – soft shell crab tempura (£8.90) – featured a light and crumbly non-greasy batter, coating each of the six legs like bath suds. It was served with a dashi broth on the side.
I suppose ordering the sal mango roll (£11.90) might have been a mistake, but these were a sunshiny win, as if we were suddenly on the roof, soaking up the vitamin D.
There were eight of them, with pleasing centres (like when you get the orange one in a pack of Revels) of tempura prawn and cucumber, as well as a topping of daikon matchsticks, a tiny sliver of sunshine orange mango, raw salmon and sesame seeds.
We also had to try the tonkotsu ramen (£9.90), and it was decent and homely, with a creamy white broth, noodle fronds, a stiff sheet of nori tucked down the side, a halved and custardy yolked ajitama soft boiled egg and leeks.
They’d warned us that the chashu pork belly element of this dish wasn’t ready, so it was served with mince instead – nice enough.Because nothing goes better alongside sushi than ice-cream (and chips, but I’m not a total hog, and it was a bit far to L’Alba d’Oro), we decamped across the road to cafe Soderberg (3 Deanhaugh Street).
I was hoping they’d be doing their marzipan ice-cream, but there was none. Instead, we tried the salted caramel, a scoop of chocolate and a mango sorbet to Marie Kondo one’s palate (£2.70 each), all lovely, alongside flat whites (£2.80 each).
From the lowest floor, to the highs of caffeine and sugar.
Different levels, but all very much top deck.