Putting a cherry blossom tree inside a bar is a sure-fire way to attract attention but did Mei Ume’s Cherry Blossom Festival live up to the hype?
“Would you like to have a drink at the bar or would you rather go straight to your table?” When the creative forces behind a restaurant have gone to the effort of dressing the bar with the branches of a beautiful cherry blossom tree, it would be rude not to say yes to the drink.
We had arrived at Mei Ume, the Asian restaurant at Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square. The hotel occupies the former Port of London Authority headquarters in Tower Hill. Its grade-II* listed façade is one of London’s finest and, inside, its luxurious interior design is a sight to behold.
For two weeks, from 16 April to 5 May 2018, the pavilion-style bar at Mei Ume has a pink cherry-blossom crown. Under the floral spell, we ordered a special Cherry Blossom drink so beautiful it inspired an impromptu photo shoot. A cocktail of gin, yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) and sweetened with a splash of lychee liqueur, it came in the prettiest glass, garnished with cherries, berries, flowers and a gold, sparkly paper straw.
We moved from the bar to our table, taking in the glamourous dining room with its high ceilings, marble pillars, and silk screens. AB Concept’s Ed Ng and Terence Ngan worked around the original columns, taking inspiration from the building’s heritage as a gateway for merchants from the east and west.
The Mei Ume Cherry Blossom menu is available until 5 May and features ten seasonal dishes curated by head chef Tony Truong. It is advisable to order two starters, two mains and a side from the menu to share, that way you get to sample half of the special menu in one setting.
We also ordered one dish from the a la carte menu – yellowtail carpaccio with truffle ponzu and just a hint of chili and coriander on top. The pairing of truffle and ponzu resulted in a sauce bursting with citrus and heady with the aroma of the prized fungi – it was so good we didn’t want to part with it once the yellowtail had disappeared.
From the Cherry Blossom menu, pan-fried wagyu beef gyoza and Mei Ume golden dragon rolls arrived in tandem. A clumsy move with my chopsticks and a delicate parcel of juicy wagyu, thinner than a dumpling, landed in its accompanying bowl of piquant Japanese vinegar to no ill effect. The dragon rolls housed Alaskan crab and avocado, topped with unagi (freshwater eel) and edible gold. Cue us reaching for our camera phones again.
The sommelier selected drinks to pair with the food, based on our preferences. A Japanese Junmai Daiginjo sake from Ikekame brewery (featuring a red, lucky turtle on its front) was an ideal starter sake – light, fresh, and a good starting point for those who may be uninitiated in the ways of this sometimes challenging rice-based wine.
Mei Ume's chicken teriyaki with tiny mushrooms and a pickled cucumber salad was simply the best chicken we have ever tasted, but the sea urchin and scallop fried rice, which came recommended by our waiter to accompany the chicken, stole the show.
Cooked in a traditional oven-to-table toban, the rice is unveiled at the table in a short, steamy show. Two types of rice mixed together with a mineral richness from sea urchin and scallop to create a combination of textures with a toasty essence from the heat of the toban (don’t try to touch it when you inevitably plump for a second serving).
A smooth yet complex glass of Boutinot La Cote Sauvage, Cairanne, Cotes du Rhône Villages had hints of morello cherry and was an ideal match for the teriyaki and rice union.
There is just one dessert on the limited-edition Cherry Blossom Festival menu, which took dilemma out of the equation – featuring a dome of fragrant jasmine tea mousse in a shiny, jelly-like case with cherry compot and sorbet, it was the perfect finale. Like cherry blossom itself, the Mei Ume festival is fleeting so get it while you can.