Updated: Feb 24
In an unassuming warehouse in the industrial backblocks of Glen Waverley lies one of Melbourne’s most unique dining experiences, writes Dan Stock.
It is the most fabulous name for a restaurant: Uni Boom Boom. And it certainly rolls off the tongue easier than Sea Urchin Gonads.
But that’s what we are here to do, in the industrial back blocks of Glen Waverley in a slightly gussied up warehouse. To eat the soft sexy bits of the spiky urchin.
Uni Boom Boom opened about six months ago, an “experience cafe” arm to Pacific Sea Urchin, Australia’s first export-licensed uni processor.
Known as ricci in Italian, called kina in New Zealand, uni (oo-nee) is the Japanese word for what is commonly referred to as roe but is actually the sea urchin’s reproductive organs.
The lobes of this living pincushion are prized as sushi and eating raw uni is heralded as one of the truly great food experiences.
Graded according to colour and texture, the highest, most expensive uni is bright orange and firm with a buttery, briny flavour. They are harvested throughout the east coast of Australia, from Hobart through Port Phillip and up New South Wales — long spine urchin in spring and summer, short spine in autumn and winter. The winter short spine uni harvested in NSW is said to be on par with Japanese uni — and commands prices accordingly.
Here it comes in many guises — in dumpling ($10), congee ($15) and miso soup ($6) form — but to truly experience uni’s luxurious decadence it’s best to opt for it the premium stuff draped raw across one of the donburi rice bowls (from $45), or as part of a sashimi platter ($88).
Our hot summer means uni harvested now isn’t as firm as when in its cold-water prime, but the grade-A Port Phillip uni on the platter was still fantastically delicate, slightly sweet and vibrant. Like eating ocean custard that dissolves in a sea breeze, this underwater pest is turned into a few mouthfuls of pure pleasure.
Joining on the plastic iced tray you’ll find a couple of pieces of o-toro, the prized fatty belly of South Australia’s prized blue fin tuna, four massive scallops from Hokkaido, Japan, and Tasmanian Huon salmon dotted with roe.
While the quality of the seafood is indubitable, its presentation too heavy-handed. Our salmon, both belly and body, comes cut against the grain in thick chunks; the huge scallops are served whole. Delicate they are not.
But while an overwhelming mouthful, the scallops are excellent and their luscious, creamy and slightly salty nature would only be enhanced had they been sliced into thirds. The salmon is likewise superb — vibrant, velvety and full of delicious mouth-coating fat.
A focus here on premium eating experiences coveted by the Chinese includes foie gras from France, local abalone and birds’ nests from Malaysia with the latter served in both soup and packaged to go form. The edible-nest swiftlet, whose nests create the namesake bird’s nest soup that’s a delicacy in Chinese cuisine, are graded on a complicated scale of colour and form — 200g of cave-harvested nests can be yours for $1600.
No swallow spit soup for us this time, but we did try the abalone on rice, a half dozen pieces of Queensland black lip braised sweet and tender served with a mix of mushrooms that came, apparently and pointlessly, from France. Served to the side, a “secret” abalone and oyster sauce that was sticky, meaty and fabulously more-ish. It’s a $55 bowl on which an incongruous few florets of steamed broccoli add colour.
More affordable lowbrow fun can be had with the cheesy “risotto” — a bowl of parmesan-stringy turmeric-flavoured rice dotted with charred corn kernels and topped with sharp green pickles, orange tobiko and on which terrific smoked eel (unagi) is placed.
It’s a kaleidoscope of colour, textures and tastes that’s a little bit addictive and terrifically tasty ($20).
Various flavours of tea are offered, from peach gum milk tea to rose oolong with fruity blends including cumquat plum and passionfruit mango erring to the very sweet, all served in fabulously camp pineapple-shaped glasses.
There’s also the chance to try “cheese tea” — the cult foam-topped drink that’s taken Asia by storm made from cream cheese powder that’s tastes, thankfully, more of cheesecake than cheddar and makes for a fittingly sweet finale rather than a complementary sipper.
Not even the maddest pregnancy would want to team this with uni.
While rough around the edges — with just a touch of Chinoiserie juxtaposed with the huge foil aircon vents calling this warehouse chic would be a push — where rarity reigns and costs, this is one of Melbourne’s more unique dining experiences for which bookings are essential.
For a uni education, it’s hard to beat.