It took a while for Hong Kong to grasp the idea of South American cuisine combined with Japanese flavours, but now that it has, this concept is appearing everywhere! First there was Djapa, then TokyoLima, and now we have Uma Nota, which opened just last week in Soho.
Unlike the other two restaurants I mentioned, Uma Nota does not serve typical Nikkei cuisine; the menu instead features Brazilian street food with a cheeky Japanese twist. It is modelled on a Brazilian boteco, a neighbourhood bar that serves good drinks and tasty street food in a lively setting.
The first thing you’ll notice about Uma Nota is the beautiful, colourful mural outside the restaurant of a woman laughing a proper belly laugh, which appropriately sets the scene for the atmosphere you’ll find inside. A set of colourful tiled steps lead up to the restaurant, which double up as a seating area for people who want to enjoy some refreshing drinks whilst watching the world go by.
Inside, you are greeted by a long bar, at which you must order the daily caipirinha (we had passion fruit, followed by kiwi caipirinhas), before taking a seat in the casual, effortlessly cool dining area. The wooden wall, rattan panels, colourful tables and folding windows give the place a tropical vibe, as if you could indeed be dining in Sao Paolo.
Since the restaurant offers no reservations, it took a little while for our table of six to be seated, so owner Alex Offe brought us some dadinhos de tapioca to soak up our numerous caipirinhas. These little cubes of deep-fried tapioca and cheese were heavenly, particularly when dipped in the accompanying sweet chilli sauce.
Every country in South America has its own version of a pasty (or empanada, at least in Spanish-speaking countries). Uma Nota serves Brazilian pastéis de camarão – deep-fried prawn pasties served with a spicy salsa, which were perfectly crisp and flavoursome.
Even better were the coxinhas de frango, little deep-fried dumplings stuffed with shredded chicken and okra, with a homemade chilli dipping sauce. I could have devoured a whole serving of these on my own!
Although it looked a little simple, the marinated pear salad was surprisingly good. The fresh pears had been marinated in a tangy clementine sauce, and the leaves sprinkled with satisfyingly fiery togarashi, creating an interesting balance of sweet, sour and spicy that went really well together.
Tiraditos are a clear example of the two cultures coming together. We tried both the scallop tiradito and the Iemanja. The former consisted of delicately thin slivers of wonderfully fresh scallops, marinated in coconut milk, orange juice, coriander and mint. The latter, which is named after the “Queen of the ocean”, was rather a more acquired taste, consisting of quite a strong-flavoured white fish with smoked chilli, avocado and coriander. I liked it, but others were a bit put off by the “fishy” flavours.
Another clear Japanese influence was seen in the skewers, of which we tried the chicken thigh skewers and the baby squid skewers. Both of these were excellent, succulent and tender, the chicken served simply with soy sauce, whilst the squid was drizzled in a kind of pesto and served with a delicious spring onion sauce.
One of my favourite dishes of the night was the porco crocante – incredibly tender pork belly with crackling that lived up to its name, drizzled in spicy tamarind sauce.
The sides of grilled sweet potato and fried cassava (or yuca as I know it) also deserve a mention. The sweet potato was soft, buttery and simply divine, whilst the fries were pleasantly crisp, although I do wish there had been more of them.
As Uma Nota opened only last week, on our visit the menu still wasn’t 100% complete, so there were sadly no desserts, although we were given some complimentary typical Brazilian brigadeiros to round off our meal.
The food at Uma Nota is delicious; the drinks are adventurous and refreshing; the prices are very reasonable (for our table of six, we paid $600 a head for more than enough food, a few rounds of cocktails and two bottles of wine). So, what lets this place down? The service. At times, the food came far too quickly, whilst at other times there were long gaps between dishes. On numerous occasions, the staff attempted to serve us dishes that we had already eaten and were supposed to be for other tables. Drinks also took forever – even the wine, which was brought out but not opened and left on a service table outside of our reach. Service is one of the most important factors contributing to a restaurant’s success, so if only Uma Nota could improve its service, it would be pretty perfect. Then again, it’s important to remember that Uma Nota was only four-days old at the time of our visit, so we can cut it a bit of slack!
38 Peel Street
Tel: +852 2889 7576