Ocean-Inspired Gastronomy: Umi by Vikram Garg

Umi Waikiki

Umi by Vikram Garg is a modern Hawaiian seafood restaurant located in the lobby floor of Halepuna Hotel, Hawaii. The name Umi means ocean in Japanese and mother in Arabic and his restaurant is an ode to the ocean and what she provides.

Umi Waikiki

It has been just over a year since we stayed at Halepuna Waikiki, the little sister hotel to the renowned Halekulani and in that time, in March 2023 UMI by Vikram Garg has opened up where Halekulani Restaurant used to be. Chef Vikram Garg was born in India, trained in French techniques but was inspired by Japanese cuisine. He has worked all over the world at restaurants like The James Beard House (NYC), L’Épuisee, Marseille (France), Food Cellar Matarkjallarinn (Iceland), and Tabla (North Carolina) and he returns to his roots as a former Halekulani executive chef.

Umi Waikiki

The restaurant is full this evening and has a modern feel with booths and sea inspired art works. And if you hold up your phone to the QR codes near the art work you'll find clever filters and information about each art work.

Umi Waikiki

A large table of 30 is celebrating and there's a convivial atmosphere. Chef Vikram spends a lot of time on the floor chatting to customers. The menu has an a la carte selection as well as three tasting menus: the 4 course Waikiki menu for $99 per person or the 5 course UMI menu for $139 per person. Service is fantastic and accommodating.

Umi Waikiki
VG Negroni $25 Pink Lady $12

We start with a cocktail. It's a Pink Lady for me, a mocktail fragrant with rose and sparkling grapefruit juice which is perfect for me while Mr NQN orders their mysterious negroni made with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Campari, Vermouth Di Carpano while the rest is said to be a secret and this drink has a limit of one per guest. Mr NQN really enjoyed the negroni and describes it as markedly smoother than a regular negroni.

Umi Waikiki
Kampachi, Jicama, Fennel, Shishito Vinaigrette (Waikiki Menu)

The Kampachi is paired with diced jicama, fennel and a shishito vinaigrette with dabs of lime mayonnaise. It's a refreshingly delicious start with a sweet accent to it. The green chilli dabs on the side provide heat.

Umi Waikiki
Scallop Carpaccio, Cucumber Namasu, Dashi (Umi Menu)

Mr NQN starts with the scallop carpaccio, thin layers of scallop interleaved with cucumber namasu pickles in a light dashi broth with slices of red chilli for heat. The dashi broth is delicate and never overwhelms the scallop or cucumber. We are instructed to lift the bowls and drink the remaining dashi once it is finished.

Umi Waikiki
Abalone, Mushroom Crust, Sea Asparagus, Ogo (Umi Menu)

Normally I don't order abalone because in the wrong hands it can be chewy and tough but here it ends up being one of my favourite courses. The abalone is served already sliced and superbly tender and topped with a mushroom miso crust similar to a gratin. It's topped off with sea asparagus and ogo with a lacey black sesame tuile. I end up eating most of this as I didn't really want to share it!

Umi Waikiki
Popcorn Soup, Spiced Lotus Seeds, Burnt Butter (Waikiki Menu)

That's fine because Mr NQN and I have opposite taste buds and he loves the popcorn soup, a rich corn soup with burnt butter at the bottom and popped, spiced lotus seeds.

Umi Waikiki
Ogo Lobster, Shellfish Essence, Togarashi, Forbidden rice (Umi Menu)

The UMI menu has an additional course so we end up sharing it and it is another favourite course. It is Ogo lobster with shellfish essence, togarashi pepper and forbidden rice. The key to this is how perfectly cooked the lobster is and how well it pairs with the black rice. It is brought together with the potent shellfish essence.

Umi Waikiki

Umi Waikiki
Tenderloin, Koji-Aged, Okra Tempura, Ulu Mash, Soy-Pepper Sauce (Waikiki Menu)

The next course is steak and both menus have steak with the same accompaniments and sauces but with different side dishes and different cuts. Mr NQN is a big fan of the tenderloin two perfect medallions of the most tender beef. Both steaks are tenderised by ageing in koji and paired with okra tempura with a soy black pepper sauce (one of my favourite steak sauces and not often seen in Australia). The side dish is an ulu mash, an incredibly delicious mash that is otherworldly creamy with the flavour of browned butter.

Umi Waikiki
Prime Ribeye, Koji, Okra Tempura, Soy-Pepper Sauce (Umi Menu)

With the UMI menu you can get the tenderloin or the prime ribeye and I had the prime ribeye which is my favourite cut as I love ribeye. It too is aged with koji and served with okra tempura and a soy black pepper sauce. It also has king mushroom with a sweet glaze and a side of rice with sauteed greens on top. I love the luscious unctuousness of the ribeye and it goes well with the rice and is cooked perfectly medium rare.

Umi Waikiki
Pavlova Lilikoi, Mango, Hibiscus, Anglaise, 24k Gold (Umi Menu)

By now we are sated but not groaningly full so there's room for desserts, or three as the case may be (research right?). There is no dessert on the Waikiki menu but on the Umi menu you can choose the dessert you would like and we end up choosing some extra ones. We start with their version of a pavlova with a meringue base, lilikoi or passion fruit and finely diced mango with whipped cream, hibiscus and a creamy anglaise sauce and 24k gold on top. It doesn't quite have the chewy centre of a pavlova but I do love the anglaise paired with it and the fresh fruit and cream.

Umi Waikiki
‘UMI’ Black Sesame, Ginger, Butterfly Pea, Matcha Sponge

The black pebbles are actually black sesame with a thin coating of cocoa butter with a sweet ginger butterfly pea sauce that gives it a natural blue hue, matcha sponge and small pieces of black sesame praline.

Umi Waikiki
Mango Popsicle, Rose Yogurt, Pistachio, 24K

The signature dessert is the mango popsicle, a playful version of mango kulfi with rose yogurt and crushed pistachios and 24k gold to finish it off. The outside is white chocolate and the ice cream inside is intensely mango flavoured.

Umi Waikiki

Breakfast is also an absolute treat and offers a la carte items like Croque Madame, shakshuka, Mai Tai pancakes or salmon tartines. If you're hungry go for the set menu for $45USD a person. Here you'll get a choose your American style breakfast with a starter (choice of fruit salad, yogurt parfait or granola), your choice of main and an excellent coffee or tea. Coffee is Abby Garg's passion that extends to when she and Vikram are at home and she carefully calibrates the water temperature just right to bring out the ideal flavour from the beans.

Umi Waikiki
UMI Fried Rice $32USD

The umi fried rice is a tasty combination of koshihikari rice dotted with tender prawns, bacon, egg with tsukemono pickles on the side that balance each rich mouthful. On top is a perfectly cooked onsen egg that dresses the rice when you stir it up.

Umi Waikiki
Loco Moco $32USD

My pick is the loco moco with a flavoursome, thick beef and pork patty, a rich Hamakua mushroom gravy (mushrooms grown on the north of Hawaii Island) on a bed of koshihikari rice. Loco Moco usually has a fried egg on top but the onsen egg really suits this dish well giving that creamy, delightful quality to it.

So tell me Dear Reader, do you usually opt for tasting menus or do you go a la carte? And which breakfast would you pick?

NQN and Mr NQN were guests of Umi but all opinions remain her own.

UMI by Vikram Garg

Halepuna Hotel

2233 Helumoa Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815, United States

Monday & Tuesday 7–11 am Tuesday

Wednesday to Sunday 7–11 am, 5:30–10 pm

Phone: +1 808-744-4244


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