Ume, formerly a fine dining Japanese restaurant on Bourke Street in Surry Hills, has reopened as a more casual izakaya-style bar and burger joint. The new incarnation — now called Bar Ume — suits the more casual approach with subtle Asian accents in the monochromatic interiors.
It's mostly table service here, but the compact space is home to a tiled bar with a few bar stools and is stocked with beautiful bottles of sake, shochu and Japanese whisky. The focus here is on the booze, but the food is a good reason to stay for the night.
I'm not sure if the considerable Japanese whisky and sake offerings have enough of an appreciation in our culture yet to be the focus of the menu, but I like the ambition and the huge list available by the glass. The food menu is burger focused with a meat and veg specials list that's updated daily and might feature snacks like fried oysters or charred asparagus.
As well as the whisky and sake menu, they have a blackboard wine list and some simple cocktails with spirits and mixers on offer and a really delicious non-alcoholic ginger and passionfruit soda. Japanese beer is big too with some craft and commercial varieties like Kirin lager ($7) finding good friends with crisp chicken karaage ($9) and some quality house-made pickles ($5).
If the test of a good pizza place is how well they can do a simple margherita, a burger joint can be judged on their traditional beef burger. It's a wonder something so simple can be done wrong so often. The Ume burger, however, is good. The bun isn't too sweet, the meat isn't too rich and the accompanying sauces and garnishes are simple with onion, cheese, tomato and Japanese mayo. The ebi burger ($15) is successful as well — a crisp prawn katsu patty is sandwiched with shredded cabbage and a nice, sharp tartare.
At the moment, Bar Ume is the only place to get Kerby Craig's burgers — but not for much longer. The owner and chef has been busy, and will open Ume Burger in Barangaroo later this year. In the meantime, Bar Ume is doing a good job for his reputation between the bun. Kanpai.