Review: Uma Nota serves street food with soul

Updated on May 17 2017

With its quick turnaround and fickle dining crowds, Hong Kong’s restaurant industry often focuses more on style than substance, with concept-driven restaurants relying on smoke and mirrors to cover up a lack of heart and authenticity. With Brazilian-Japanese food taking off as a “trend” locally (following the art-centric Djapa and the Peruvian-Japanese nikkei cuisine of TokyoLima), we weren’t sure if Uma Nota would be another copycat jumping on the bandwagon, or a real and worthy representation of São Paulo’s unique Brazilian-Japanese food culture. Luckily, there’s a lot to love about this new kid on the block.

Ambience

For starters, Uma Nota doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s all about providing a casual hangout for the neighbourhood, and you feel welcomed as soon as you step up the colourful tiled stairs, which also functions as an outdoor seating area for lazy afternoons.

Post image Related: Djapa: Brazilian street art and fusion cuisine in Wanchai

Inside, you’re greeted by a long bar and a semi-open kitchen, with vibrant South American-inspired murals, rattan wood furniture, and bright green foliage creating the atmosphere of a modern “boteco”, which in Brazil is a low-key spot for grabbing a drink and snacks at the end of the day with your buddies. Uma Nota recreates this vibe perfectly, with an unpretentious atmosphere that’s refreshing to come by in SoHo.

Food and Drink

We slid into a counter seat at the bar to kick off the meal with a refreshing cocktail. The list is short but sweet, and the Menina Geisha (HK$100) hit the spot — a cooling blend of gin, sake, elderflower liquor, lime, kaffir and cucumber syrup, and egg white to smooth out the balance of flavours.

Uma Nota

Another cocktail not to miss out on is the Caïpirinha — Brazil’s official drink made of sugar cane rum, lime and sugar. Choose the Cawasabi (HK$90) for a spicy kick, or go for the flavour of the day. On the night we visited, the bar was serving up a passion fruit variation, another native Brazilian ingredient which blended beautifully with the cachaça for a tangy, lip-smacking tipple.

Helming the kitchen at Uma Nota is head chef Dagoberto Torres, who previously headed up Suri Ceviche Bar in São Paulo. He delivers his signature bold flavours and Brazilian spices in a menu that revolves around street food, with bite-sized nibbles such as Brazilian-style croquettes and crackling pork belly squares meant to be consumed with several rounds of drinks.

We were big fans of the chicken and okra dumplings (HK$70) or “coxinhas” — golden-fried parcels with a tasty shredded meat and peppers filling encased in a layer of well-seasoned potato mash. With the accompanying spicy chilli mayo, these fried teardrop-shaped snackers were gone within a matter of seconds.

Uma Nota

We also tried the “pasteis de camarão” (HK$65), or Brazilian-style fried shrimp wontons. Although the filling could be more generous, the prawns were well-seasoned and perked up with a side of spicy salsa. The light golden-brown crust of the fried wontons provided a satisfying crunch.

From the raw selection, diners can choose between marinated tuna, scallop tiradito, a vegetarian ceviche, and a mixed ceviche with fish, shrimp and squid. We chose the latter, or ceviche goa (HK$150), which arrived as a tall mound of fresh seafood doused in a tangy coconut milk and lime marinade. The chunks of fish, shrimp and squid were substantial, and pickled red onions and red peppers provided just enough tang and crunch to balance out the fish and creamy avocado. This was by far one of our favourite dishes of the night.

Uma Nota

Other small plates include a few salad options such as a marinated pear salad and a black-eyed peas salad with watercress in a Brazilian vinaigrette; as well as a mix of skewers such as fish with salsa verde, squid with spring onion sauce, portobello mushrooms, chicken with chipotle and beef.

The skewers were excellent — our portobellos were rich and meaty with a zingy chimichurri sauce to lift the flavours, while the chicken hearts are a must-order when they’re available on the menu. We snapped up the last order and were treated to two delicious charcoal-grilled skewers, the hearts retaining a wonderful crunchy texture and umami from the smoky caramelisation of the soy-based marinade.

Uma Nota

While we found the snacks and skewers to be excellent, the large plates were more hit-or-miss. Our morning glory salad was pooled in too much sauce, stripping it of the crunch that typically makes these veggies so delicious. The aji amarillo and cashew sauce ladled over the top was an interesting touch, but we weren’t sold on the concept of this fusion dish. The sea bass (HK$220), although tender, was riddled with small bones. We ended up scooping around the fish to savour the bright and spicy tomato and Brazilian chilli stew that filled the cast iron pot.

There are no desserts on the menu, but we were given a few cocoa-dusted brigadeiros, or Brazilian-style chocolate fudge balls, to chew on for a sweet and satisfying ending to the meal.

Verdict

Big, bold flavours make this bohemian hangout on Peel Street a fun and free-spirited addition to the neighbourhood. A little finesse and attention-to-detail is needed to really hit the mark on every dish; however, if you stick with the raw dishes, small plates and skewers, you won’t be disappointed. Nipo-Brasileiro food has found a second home in Hong Kong at Uma Nota, and we hope it’s here to stay.

Opening Hours: Mon–Sat, 6pm until late
Recommended Dishes:
 Ceviche goa, chicken and okra dumplings, Brazilian jerk beef with pumpkin, chicken heart skewers, portobello skewers, marinated pear salad, crackling pork belly with tonkatsu sauce
Price: HK$400-600 per person with drinks
Noise Level: Medium
Service: Friendly and attentive

Uma Nota, 1/F, 38 Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong, +852 2889 7576