Umami by Han is a chain of restaurants in several cities in the Netherlands, and is part of the Han Group which has a Michelin star restaurant, HanTing, in the Hague. It is a trendy social dining restaurant that does Asian-French fusion. The concept works this way: everyone gets to order about 6 dishes on the menu (2 per course), and the dishes are then shared with everyone at the table. To be honest, just sounds like tapas to me, but I guess if we call it ‘social dining’ it’s fancier. Also, isn’t dining usually social? Anyway, for the relatively low price of €21.95, you can have a three course meal. The place had been getting good reviews, and their restaurant in Eindhoven even made the Bib Gourmand list, so we were eager to try it.
We had dinner with a group of 6 people and started our evening by teasing our waiter a bit. He brought out the amuse, which was popcorn with “Asian spices”, so naturally, we asked what kind of spices? He wasn’t prepared for this question and couldn’t give us more than ginseng. He offered to ask in the kitchen and we told him we would like the percentage per ingredient as well. He never did come back as I do think he realized we were just kidding, but we when we tasted the popcorn all we could detect was seaweed and salt. When we looked at the wine list we were surprised to see that they didn’t mention the region or the name of the wine producer, it would simply say: chardonnay, USA, or tempranillo, Spain. They did group the wines by one or two flavor descriptors. Honestly this is a bit odd, you basically have no idea what you’re getting! We got over this and ordered a bottle of white wine, can’t really remember which one. The second bottle we had was the chardonnay and finally we ended with a shiraz. The wines were alright, and all were under €30 a bottle.
Before the first course arrived, they served bread with dip. The waiter called it a brown bean dip. We tasted it, and Pano, our Singaporean friend, and myself, simultaneously said, “this isn’t brown brean, it’s fermented soy bean!” Which is obviously better than brown bean, but the ‘Asian spices’ incident combined with this made it clear to us that he would not be a source of useful information that night. No matter, we were there to try lots of food.
In the first course we tried beef sushi, vinai beef, jellyfish duck, spicy wrap with duck, mango prawns, mayo crayfish, tuna tartare, and the sushi mix. The sushi was ok, similar to any all-you-can-eat sushi place. The beef and duck were tasty. The spicy wrap tasted mostly of cheese, and the prawns were served with a mango sauce as opposed to actual mango. The crayfish was pretty good and the tuna tartare was not. It didn’t taste very fresh and the marinade overwhelmed it all. They also had gado-gado on the menu and I flat-out refused to order that, nor did I allow my friends to order it. I just haven’t found any Indonesian food in the Netherlands that actually tastes like home and I’ve stopped trying any Indonesian restaurants. I just couldn’t bare the idea of them trying it there as I was so sure it wouldn’t be right so I promised them instead, “if you want good gado-gado, I’ll make you some.”
For the second course we ordered orange chicken, Beijing duck, beetroot bacon, lamb skewers, tempura prawns, black bean salmon, panko scallops, and tempura enoki. The orange chicken was so-so, as were the lamb skewers. The prawn were covered in tempura batter, there may have been more batter than prawn. The salmon was cooked so hard we thought it was dry chicken. And the tempura enoki was soaked in oil and had no crunch, it was like putting an oily sponge in your mouth. On the brighter side, the panko scallops were good and thankfully not overcooked, the Beijing duck was pretty crispy and flavorful, and the best dish of the night was the beetroot bacon, where the saltiness of the bacon combined very well with the sweetness of the beetroot.
By this time my enthusiasm to take pictures had wavered, so no pictures of the next course. The honey pork was pretty good, mostly just sweet. The teriyaki chicken did not really look like teriyaki chicken, it was very pale. The sauce tasted like teriyaki sauce however. The lamb green curry, and the prawn red curry were good – tasted like your usual Thai curries. These dishes probably had the most flavor of the evening, but then again, they’re curries. The black bean beef and the sesame beef were not that flavorful, and the sesame batter just felt powdery. The plancha veal was quite tough. The miso halibut was alright, still overcooked but not like the salmon. And lastly, the XO rettich and the tofo wrap were quite flavorful as well. They served fried rice and noodles with the third course, and there were chunks of celery in it, which was not working.
I think I can sum up the experience in less words. Basically, the food was alright. Some dishes were good, others were absolutely not good, but none of it was spectacular or surprising. As you can see in the pictures, they spend a lot of time on presentation. The food all looks very pretty, but I rather wish it had more flavor. The flavor combinations weren’t exciting or surprising and should be more pronounced, several dishes were just too bland. Perhaps we have different expectations when we sit down to Asian food. Fusion cooking, in this case, just seemed to dull the sharp flavors of Asian food. I can understand, however, why these restaurants are doing so well in the Netherlands. Most people are not used to the strong flavors of Asia, so this is an easy and fun place to start, and their social dining concept, for the low price, will appeal to many.