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Welcome to the sea of clouds: Unkai shines in new splendor
September 8th, 2010
Old strong points clad in a new Kimono - that's how the changes of new Unkai are summed up at best. When the then owners of the Grand Hotel Wien, the Japanese Airline All Nippon Airways (ANA), opened the Japanese Gourmet Restaurant Unkai (= sea of clouds) fifteen years ago, they introduced a hardly known, new culinary world to Vienna. Since then the Unkai on the 7th floor of the Grand Hotel Wien has built up and kept a reputation as the most authentic and best Japanese restaurants in Austria.
In 2010 Unkai and its head chef Hiroshi Sakai were awarded two toques by the most important Austrian Gourmet Guide Gault Millau and restaurant manager Fumiko Kato and her team operate the restaurant according to all laws of Japanese hospitality.
"The restaurant's reputation has always been undisputed with regards to our cuisine," explains the Food & Beverage Director of the Grand Hotel Wien, Siegfried Pucher. "But the interior and the furnishing definitely grew old and it became clear to us that there was a need for action. So we decided to level the old furnishing with the high standards of cuisine and service."
A contemporary, Japanese Design for Unkai
In order to achieve this goal, friends of Japanese cuisine in August 2010 had to make do with the Sushi Bar on the ground floor of the Grand Hotel Wien. In the meantime, the Viennese architects office Baumann und Partner, responsible for the new concept, implemented the rebuilding on the top floor.
"Our starting point was classic Japanese design from the end of the 80ies, dominated by the covering of most of the roof windows and a rather intricate architecture. We wanted to transform that into a contemporary, open and light flooded restaurant, as they are standard in Japan these days as well." explains Ralf Baumann his concept.
The new restaurant first and foremost is now characterized by lightness and openness. Because of the exposure of the roof windows Unkai now lives up to its name 'sea of clouds' and is grander and friendlier. With regards to furniture and interior design Ralf Baumann stayed true to the materials that had already been used for the original Unkai, wood and stone, and combined them with a new floor plan and an innovative light concept. The restaurant now offers various different seating qualities: from withdrawn tables that offer more privacy to an area in the middle of the room with tables for a quick business lunch. The popular Teppanyaki tables right next to the entrance and the traditional Tatami rooms in the back of the restaurant are also still available. Perfected is the new concept by especially designed lamps for the walls and the ceiling, Bonsai trees, two Japanese gardens and a water installation at the entrance.
Sake-Sommeliere and a vegetarian Kaiseki Zui-Un menu
Next to the new interior design, Unkai currently also features exiting new culinary highlights. The traditional 'Kaiseki Zui-Un'-Menu for the first time is also available in a purely vegetarian sequence of courses. 'Kaiseki' means 'stone in the stomach' and originated from the 16th century when Zen priests put hot stones in their kimonos to reduce the feeling of hunger during their hours of prayer. Today the term is a synonym for the highest culinary art of Japanese cooking. A "Kaiseki Menu" consists of several courses, all of which are prepared differently: pickled, raw, grilled and roasted delicacies are combined with a special focus on seasonal specialties.
Starting from the middle of October, Unkai will furthermore feature a new selection of sake specialties served by a sake sommelier. The new sommelier will assist the guests at Unkai to choose from the vast selection of sake, among them rare and delicious sorts like cherry blossom sake. And for those who would like try many different tastes, a special degustation menu is available.
Those who would like to enjoy a great deal of different sushi should definitely try the famous and popular Unkai Sushi-Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. And if one would like to not only eat sushi but also learn where they come from and how they are prepared, the cooking course at Unkai is the place to be.