Izakaya Umina

Jackie McMillan
16th Jun 2024

The cost of living crisis has impacted heavily on the restaurant industry. One survival strategy for fine dining chefs is making the pivot from fancy to everyday. This is just what chef Tomoyuki Usui has done in Cremorne, remaking his former French-Japanese fine diner Restaurant Plage into Izakaya Umina: a casual Japanese gastro-pub. The internal makeover has seen wooden screens break up the two-room space into booths and private dining spaces. 

The menu has been remade into a more drinking snack-friendly selection small plates and sticks (yakitori). Refresh your palate with cucumber sesame oil, salted kombu and bonito flakes ($7) before getting stuck into skewered proteins. Tasmanian salmon ($13/each), black Angus beef tenderloin ($18/each), and Tasmanian octopus ($13/each) all eat well, with hints of French technique creeping into the octopus presented on cauliflower puree with diced cornichons and capers. You’ll also find hints of Restaurant Place in the fried cauliflower ($16) set on eggplant and saikyo miso with yuzu and mirin, and a dusting of pea and quinoa crumbs. Chef Usui is over-skilled and over-qualified for this sort of cooking which adds up to an izakaya that over-delivers at the price point. 

While you could easily stop there, we made a meal of our visit by adding in sashimi ($45/3 pieces) where Tasmanian salmon was the surprising standout over scallops and hiramasa kingfish. From the weekly specials, hibachi charcoal grilled broccolini ($12) shone against silky miso-butter. Pork ribs ($19) were the only misstep, feeling over-fatty rather than expertly rendered. All is forgotten with a delightful little bowl of sake steamed pipis ($18) with soy milk and parsley. This one should prompt a dip into the sake list: the Ima Nishiki Tokubetsu Junmai ($19/150ml) with mushroom and rice notes will work quite well. A final surprise for a drink-focused food venue is that you can also BYO for $8 or $15, depending on the night.