Opened recently, Yum Yum Ninja is the latest gourmet offering from the Brighton restaurant maestros behind Due South located on the sea front (recently renamed Arch 139), and Riddle & Finns situated just a few doors away in Meeting House Lane. Conceived by joint-owner Robert Shenton, who has long been influenced by his early kitchen experience working in a Japanese restaurant, he and co-founder Adam Brian were excited to share this evocative cuisine with their established audience.
Arriving via a large private courtyard, dramatically decorated with parasols, striking black furniture and red Chinese lanterns – symbolising harmony, happiness and prosperity, we were greeted warmly by the manager who showed us inside and seated us at the end of a long Japanese-style wooden table, politely informing us of their table sharing policy. The dining area is divided into two – one with communal seating and a sushi counter overlooking the open-plan kitchen, the other sectioned into ‘shoji’ rooms offering private dining and easily adapted to suit the size of the party with the use of screens.
With birdcage light shades, the decor, designed by Oliver Heath, incorporates traditional Asian design with modern informality and is unlike anything else we’ve seen in Brighton. Upstairs the cocktail bar is cleverly lit and looks down on the pretty courtyard below. Both restaurant and bar serve a comprehensive selection of Sake, Japanese whiskey and Umeshu; a Japanese liqueur made from steeping plums in Sake and sugar, and the innovative Asian-inspired cocktails (£7.50) featuring a myriad of unusual ingredients such as liquorice syrup, lychee liqueur, plum wine, and shiso leaves. Yum Yum have a no-reservation policy but the cocktails make it a bonus to be kept waiting. Despite this type of food having a typically quick turnaround, Yum Yum is the sort of place you’re quite happy to dedicate an entire evening to.
Yum Yum’s menu is diverse, exciting and bold; a fusion pairing of Pan-Asian flavours and techniques with the freshest locally sourced ingredients, served tapas-style and designed to be shared between friends. The menu journeys from soup to Bincho skewers chargrilled to order, Dim Sum, to fresh seafood and oysters served with either Wafu or Ponzu dressing. The choice is mind-bogglingly inventive. Having been seated for no more than five minutes we were served our drinks accompanied by Yum Yum’s homemade prawn crackers – a black and white polka dot variety. Made with tapioca pearls and squid ink they, were served with soy sauce, Nori – Japanese seaweed, and pickled carrot.
Yum Yum have already begun to establish a following with the young trendy Brighton crowd and continue to introduce their loyal customers to the new concept. Even to the uninitiated, Yum Yum’s menus are informative and explanatory, as were the staff. Our attentive waiter Mathew suggested 3-6 dishes per person with the addition of rice and vegetables. We were intrigued by the crispy pig’s ears under the heading of ‘Snacks’ – and had to try them even though he warned us that ‘they’re not to everyone’s taste’. He got that right. Although pretty much anything tastes good when breadcrumbed and deep fried, chewing on cartilage doesn’t really do it for me.
Dishes arrive as and when ready, so soon we had forgotten all about the ear and were tucking into ‘Yum Yum Dim Sum’; fried quails eggs coated with prawn paste & vermicelli (£3.95), but it was the baked Asian roast duck puffs (£3.55) which lived up to the meaning of dim sum – ‘little parcels of goodness’. Three morsels containing divinely flavoured slow-cooked duck, encased in a pastry crust. They were the tastiest thing I’d eaten in a long time. I could have devoured at least ten in one go and had I liked my dinner companion less I would have happily fought over them, reminding me of the old Chinese proverb eat first, talk later.
We followed with o – Banzai ninja style – a traditional Kyoto style of dining; o-banzai refers to a procession of tapas style plates designed to entice, delight and satisfy the senses. Chef’s mixed sashimi (£10.75) which changes daily according to the catch of the day, was a pristine selection of salmon, scallops and seabass. One of the most interesting things about Yum Yum is their use of the freshest local seafood – we ordered half a chargrilled Sussex lobster with house special octo dressing (£15.00) and the whole wok fried Singapore chilli crab (£18.00) both served in decorative Japanese Bento boxes.
Desserts made a refreshing change in a world of never-ending sticky toffee puddings and crème brûlée, with M ordering lemon grass mousse, coconut sorbet, grapefruit gel and coconut biscuit - the mousse subtly fragrant and as light as a feather. My eyes being naturally drawn to the word ‘chocolate’, I opted for the organic chocolate tart with cardamom ice cream - which I also tasted with M’s coconut sorbet for a Bounty bar effect. Our waiter, who had spent a portion of the evening assisting on the pass, returned at the end of our meal with sake; a perfect end to a memorable evening.
Yum Yum Ninja, 15-18 Meeting House Lane, Brighton, BN1 1HB. Tel: (0) 1273 326 300. Website.