Updated: Feb 25
I'm confident in saying that there are no other restaurants in Melbourne even remotely like
Uni Boom Boom. That's partly because it's not a restaurant anyway: it's a warehouse you can eat in. Also, it specialises in two prestige ingredients - sea urchin and birds' nest - that are rarely seen separately, let alone in unlikely confluence.
Other unique features of Uni Boom Boom include a scuba diver mannequin in the foyer and the gift of a sea urchin fridge magnet as you leave. Oh, and Uni Boom Boom is in a nondescript Glen Waverley backstreet, which makes the massive sea urchin inflatable by the roller door even more striking.
Uni Boom Boom is the dining offshoot of Pacific Sea Urchin, a company that harvests sea urchin ("uni" in Japanese) from southern Australian waters.
That's mostly an export business but the Teoh family who own the company are also long-time importers of Asian delicacies, such as edible birds' nests (made by swiftlets with their saliva), and sea cucumbers, elongated blobs which live on the seafloor. Both are considered to have medicinal properties in the Chinese pharmacopia and they're displayed in museum cases along one wall of the restaurant.
You can also eat the nests in drinks and desserts. I had a "beauty edible nest milk tea" which was sprinkled with gold dust. The nest softened into a jellied mass and didn't taste like much but I suspect my skin became smoother with every sip.
There are hundreds of indigenous varieties of sea urchin in Australia but one of them - the long-spined sea urchin - has become a big problem in Tasmania. Lured by warming water, its larvae drifted down from NSW in the 1980s and grew into voracious, invasive kelp-munching reef destroyers. There are now billions of long-spined sea urchins in southern waters and they're a serious pest. Eating them may nibble at the edges of this ecological disaster.
Uni Boom Boom pushes the environmental gourmet message: eat a luxury hand-harvested ingredient to save the planet. There's something in it, but you're going to have to eat a few billion to make a dent.
Sea urchins (or, more accurately, the orange gonads lurking within the unwelcoming spiky exterior) have long been considered a delicacy in Asia but Australia hasn't hitherto been a massive market for the unctuous lobes with their pungently oceanic flavour.
The menu here caters to urchin newbies and aficionados with an eclectic selection of Japanese-inspired dishes. If you're scared of strong flavours, you might choose a niblet of urchin dolloped over fluffy white bread covered in marshmallow and melted cheese. It's as frankenfood as it sounds.
If you are a low-key urchin fancier, you might go for one of the ramen soup noodles, eel perhaps, with a long-steeped sea urchin broth to pour over it.
But if you really love your urchins, you'll be ordering a bowl of them straight up.
The urchins are excellent and the concept is unique and earnest. I didn't think the food overall was amazing but it does showcase a fascinating ingredient at a fair price.
If you love sea urchin, you have to go. And if you just like fun food adventures, I reckon you'll appreciate Uni Boom Boom too.