The cherry-blossom branch is still painted onto the wall. Bottles of sake are still the focal point above the bar, and you can still see straight through to the kitchen if you're standing out front. But now it’s called Bar Ume.
Kerby Craig has renovated and rebranded Ume Restaurant, and the new venue opened quietly on Saturday night. The lack of fanfare around it might be because Craig closed the restaurant, renovated the space, flew overseas to Japan for an “inspiration trip”, and returned home to open the bar all in the space of just two weeks.
“I thought I’d take the opportunity to go to Japan and eat my weight in hamburgers,” he says.
The menu has completely changed and now features a regular list of burgers and side dishes alongside specials, which will change weekly. Fans of the Ume burger pop-ups can have the ebi prawn burger (a katsu-fried slab of prawn mousse with tartare sauce and cabbage) and the Ume Burger (with the signature Wagyu sauce) alongside umami fries or house-made pickles. There's also fried-chicken nibblets and a sesame-rich salad. Both pair nicely with the extensive selection of sakes and 17 Japanese whiskies. House-made sodas – in flavours such as yuzu and passionfruit ginger – are also available, and Craig says creative highball cocktails (including an oolong-tea version) will soon feature.
Craig has hired head chef Joe "Chewba" Siahaan (formerly of Vic's Meat Market and Merivale restaurants) to run the grill and oversee the new direction; he’s been involved with the pop-ups since the start.
There are also small but important aesthetic changes (banquette seating along the main wall; more, brighter lighting; stools around the entirety of the bar). Craig wants the space to be as fun as the pop-ups, with the technique and quality of the former restaurant.