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This Week I Ate...Umu

16/06/2014 17:02 BST | Updated 16/08/2014 10:59 BST

As trains leave Banbury, the market town in Oxfordshire (where at some point a white lady did something on a fine horse by a cross with a cock, or was it a cock-horse and a fine lady on a white horse, I can never be sure) there is graffiti on a wall by the track. It reads 'Free Palestine', which is not a message that seems particularly pertinent to the people of Banbury.

I'm thinking of stealing my way down to the tracks and adding a few words that will tickle me but also mean nothing to the good folk of Banbury.

Because for some time now I have been pondering on my campaign which just as it is for the Palestinian Liberation Organisation can be summed up in two words: 'Free Umu'.

And here follows my thesis: Umu is one of the most magnificent restaurants in London. It is a Zen-like haven, a spa for the soul, a pleasuredome for the eyes and palate.

The place is so good for you. But it's a bit pricey so I think it should be free.

Unlike the idea of a free Palestine, a cause which doubtless its followers feel would benefit millions, my campaign is a selfish one. I only want free Umu for me. One can't let the hordes in, it would spoil the atmosphere, which as anyone knows who has been, starts in the street.

For Umu is the only establishment I know where a sign invites you to 'Press To Enter' and the sleek wooden door slides to the left. It does a shushing sound like the doors do on the Starship Enterprise. Or if it doesn't my imagination is so intense that I believe it does.

Bowy sort of people greet you - they only sort of bow - and you notice a funky curved table ahead which does nothing except show off the groovy patterns in the wood. It's a table that says 'I'm too cool to be functional'. Which I suppose makes it art. And that's fine by me, because most of the rest of the art in the place you pop in your mouth.

And you do it having made wow noises. Which you also make when you look through the wine list. Actually it's more of a chuckle as it's so enormous and baffling to someone without a WSET certificate at worst that it too becomes more art than function.

My host did however know his way around it which was most impressive. So we sipped a chilled Puligny Montrachet from Etienne Sauzet which was pretty special; a delicate chardonnay, just right for the ensuing onslaught of fishy finery.

Now one strives for accuracy in this business but with a Japanese place like Umu, it's complicated. Umu serves a cuisine that is known as kaiseki; ie meticulous and multi-course. There are different styles of courses with names like Mukozuke and Yakimono.

There is doubtless a traditional form it should take, but the bottom line is that here in London at Umu the chef does it using as many home-grown ingredients as it is possible to find.

So let's start with the fish. Much of it comes from Cornwall and from fisherman who deliver their catch to the door of Umu themselves - ie no middlemen - and who have had the Umu chef on their boat - which isn't fun for him because he gets seasick - but is crucial because he taught them how to kill the fish in the way that produces the flesh he wants.

So now the fishermen use a technique called ikejime which involves sticking a spike into the fish's brain which kills it immediately. Which means they don't just get flung onto the boat to flap about, gills gasping until they conk out. Which means they don't stress, so their flesh is tenderer, clearer, more translucent. Better to look at and silky smooth to pop into the mouth. And texture is key to Japanese cuisine. As key as how it looks and tastes.

Of course it's key in any cuisine - think crusty French baguette - but here we are talking about a more intense and acute experience.

As to the actual food there was salmon topped with daikon (Japanese for radish), then a broth made with turnip and other Japanese veg, produced especially for Umu from a farm in West Sussex. We ate little chunks of dover sole with a really crispy skin. The magic here was how the skin was so crisp and the flesh so soft. Apparently they pour hot oil on it (without cooking the flesh too much) and then char it on the grill.

Actually while all the sashimi was wonderful, faultless, presented like jewels, the gohan was possibly my favourite; sushi rice with chopped shiso leaf - a little like basil - and topped with Cornish lobster.

I don't remember such perfect, nutty, just tender enough rice.

There was eel too - oily and wonderful. And great little puddings. French and Japanese peaches with tiny little meringues. And a dish of wild English strawberries on top of a little purple cake.

Everything at Umu edges close to perfection. It is supposed to be the sort of place you might find in Kyoto. In which case the residents of that city are a lucky bunch. This is certainly the finest Japanese food in London. Save up for it. The classic tasting menus cost around £115 per head. Just think of it as a holiday without the flight cost.

Or find someone with a healthy bank account and explain to them your own delicious need for Free Umu.