Review: Umai’s udon isn’t exactly artisanal, but it’s impressive udon regardless

By Gary Lim February 23, 2024
Review: Umai’s udon isn’t exactly artisanal, but it’s impressive udon regardless
Photo: Gary Lim/HungryGoWhere
  • This new udon specialty restaurant by the team behind Omote takes up a brightly-lit unit at the new Guoco Midtown.
  • Try four different types of udon in styles inspired by local, Korean, Thai, and even Italian cuisine.
  • The himokawa udon with niku shabu and spicy prawn hibachi is fantastic.

It’s not hard to get a bowl of udon in Singapore — there are so many places in Singapore for that, from the mushy ones in shopping mall food courts to the oftentimes lacklustre, but occasionally decent ones in certain Japanese restaurant chains. 

It’s the specialty restaurants though, like Tamoya Udon & Tempura or Tempura Udon by Mizuya, where you’ll find the best noodles — springy with a nice bite and usually handmade daily. 

Enter Umai Artisanal Udon Bar, the new udon concept at Guoco Midtown, located minutes away from Bugis MRT station.

The backstory

If you’re a fan of Japanese food, you might have dined at the popular chirashi restaurant Omote at Thomson Plaza. After opening two more outlets at Raffles City and Novena Square, the team is upping the ante with Umai. 

It’s a spacious unit at Guocco Midtown with plenty of natural light shining in, with a retro-chic-meets-Japanese-modernism kind of vibe. 

There’s a casual cheekiness in its branding that reminds one of Dumpling Darlings (cute mascot, neon sign and all), another popular noodle shop a few train stops away. 

umai udon singapore
The udon dishes are split into four sections based on the noodle style: Hippari, sanuki, hoto, and himokawa. Photo: Gary Lim/HungryGoWhere

With a whopping 25 udon dishes available, Umai definitely has the most udon varieties I’ve seen in one place. 

The menu is split into four types of noodle styles: Hippari, the skinniest, followed by the thicker sanuki, which is the common variety that everyone associates with udon. The hoto is particularly broad and thin, like local ban mian, while the himokawa, which has been gaining popularity on TikTok, is the widest and flattest of all noodle types.

umai udon singapore
Peek into the open kitchen to watch your food being prepared. Photo: Gary Lim/HungryGoWhere

Each type of udon is presented in three to four signature dishes that start from S$12 so you get the absolute best combination of soup (or sauce) and noodles. Some of these even come cold and stir-fried, so it truly comes in nearly any combination imaginable.  

There’s also a small range of rice bowls available, (but hey, you’re in an udon bar!) so let’s stick to the main stars of the show. 

Our verdict

Umai describes itself as an artisanal udon restaurant, though I wouldn’t get too hung up on the description. 

Yes, the udon here is pretty good. But its fusion flavours — inspired by local, Korean, Thai, and even Italian fare — lean towards the innovative and fun. So much so that udon purists or those looking for a serious and formal Japanese udon experience will probably not find that here. 

umai udon singapore
Expect to queue at any time of the day. Photo: Gary Lim/HungryGoWhere

As someone who loves all kinds of noodles, I warmly welcome this somewhat ingenious and affordable concept. Not everything was a hit during my visit, but most dishes were well-executed and hearty too. But is it worth waiting up to an hour during weekends? 

Perhaps, but maybe just visit on a weekday and turn up early to ensure you get a seat fast. Service is cordial and brisk as well. If everything is maintained as it was when I visited, Umai is likely to take Singapore’s udon scene to new heights. 

What it’s good for

umai udon singapore
Super wide udon noodles like no other. Photo: Gary Lim/HungryGoWhere

The oni himokawa udon with niku shabu and tempura deluxe set (S$25) is a mouthful in more ways than one, featuring the ultra-broad himokawa udon made famous by the now TikTok-famous Godaime Hanayama Udon from Ginza

You can get this in a hot shabu soup, but the cold version — recommended by staff — is extraordinary. The wide noodle is like a thicker version of kueh chap that’s slurpy and smooth, made better by tasty thin pork slices and the lightly-sweet, umami sauce below — it’s a real winner with its delicate texture. 

There’s a bowl of peanut sauce on the side that’s ever-so-slightly savoury and very nutty for dipping your udon. It’s an interesting pairing but I much prefer the noodles without it.

umai udon singapore
The tempura batter is impressively light and crisp. Photo: Gary Lim/HungryGoWhere

The udon set comes with a good mix of tempura: A full tiger prawn, eggplant, okra, long beans, and baby carrots. The vegetables, while not as sweet as I would have liked, are fresh and well-fried — the staff say the tempura are fried twice so the batter stays airy and crispy — without any lingering greasiness. 

The tiger prawn is a little less impressive. Its mushy meat is possibly a result of overcooking or being kept in the freezer for a tad too long. Thankfully, it was made a bit more palatable with the smooth tempura sauce.

umai udon singapore
The spicy prawn hibachi is a sweet umami bomb. Photo: Gary Lim/HungryGoWhere

The spicy prawn hibachi ($19) doesn’t look like much when brought to your table, but rest assured there’s plenty of tasty things hiding in the murky brown broth

First the broth — it’s full of sweet, robust crustacean flavour without being overpowering. The hippari udon is thin with ample bite and absorbs the mildly spicy soup nicely. Each strand is so easy to slurp down, however restrained you might try to be. 

My bowl only came with three prawns, but they were nonetheless sizeable and fresh. More flavour comes from the small sakura ebi and big chunks of minced kurobuta pork that you’ll find in every spoonful of broth. 

umai udon singapore
A highball for kiwi lovers. Photo: Gary Lim/HungryGoWhere

Beverages at Umai include various types of Japanese and Korean teas, as well as Calpis sodas, but how can I resist boozy highballs and cocktails for S$10? It’s not quite bar-quality, but the kiwi highball (S$10) has a certain charm to it. 

The beautiful green highball is lightly sweet, tangy and acidic with hints of citrus and melon, and most importantly, doesn’t skimp on the whisky. In other words, it’s a very refreshing and easy icy drink that’s always welcome in this weather.

What it could improve on

I saw a review online recommending the truffle tako (S$16) — one of some 10 to 14 side dishes at Umai, alongside things like tater tots and barbecue tontoro (fatty pork) — and made a regretful decision to follow said source. 

The glaze of savoury-sweet truffle sauce bordered on too salty and the fried octopus was tough and rubbery. I’m also not convinced that truffle is a good flavour-pairing for octopus. You can barely taste any of the pleasant oceanic undertones that I typically enjoy of octopus meat. 

There are plenty of tempura crumbs, but they don’t add anything to the dish. Sure, the portion is somewhat big, but it’s an expensive side dish, considering the udon bowls go for around the same price.

Our quick takes

Is it conducive to conversation? There’s not much space between tables so keep any juicy secrets to yourself.

Is a reservation necessary? Highly recommended if you don’t want to come early to queue.

How to get there? Umai is on the first floor of Guoco Midtown, a four-minute walk from Bugis MRT Station Exit D.

HungryGoWhere paid for its meal at this restaurant for this review.

Hungry for more? Read our list of places to dine at Rail Mall after a hike at the rail corridor, or find out about how Dignity Kitchen is bouncing back after an unfortunate blaze. 

Do explore the new GrabFood Dine-in service for awesome deals.

You can also book a ride to Umai Artisanal Udon Bar at Gucco Midtown.

Umai Artisanal Udon Bar

Guoco Midtown, 01-05, 124 Beach Road
Nearest MRT: Bugis
Open: Monday to Sunday (11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30pm to 8.30pm)

Guoco Midtown, 01-05, 124 Beach Road
Nearest MRT: Bugis
Open: Monday to Sunday (11.30am to 2.30pm, 5.30pm to 8.30pm)

Gary Lim-HungryGoWhere

Gary Lim


Gary eats and knows things, which he attributes to over 30 years of eating and drinking — surely that must count for something, he surmises. He was previously the deputy editor at City Nomads and content lead at Burpple.

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