Brave is the man who first laid eyes on a spiny and hazardous sea urchin and thought, "I’m going to eat that." And probably really hungry as well. Nevertheless, we have him to thank for the plump and briny lobes of orange roe that now grace our dinner tables. Uni - as it is called in Japanese - is traditionally eaten raw in Japan. While in Mediterranean cuisine, the creamy and rich urchin is used to flavour omelettes, soups and sauces. If, like us, you can’t get enough of this luscious ingredient, here are eleven reasons to indulge.
BOOK THESE TABLES HERE | KEYAKI, CHIKUYOTEI and CHIKUSEN | Fresh uni in a box | Uni in its natural, briny form is, in our opinion, one of the best ways it can be enjoyed. For city slickers, the next alternative to slicing freshly picked sea urchins open and slurping up its bright orange gonads, is to order one of these: at Pan Pacific’s Japanese restaurant, Keyaki, their uni is imported from Hokkaido and it is characterissed by its bright gold colour and firm but creamy texture. You can get a small order of approximately two slivers ($18) straight up; Chikuyotei serves a small bowl for $98, when it is in season in Japan (mid-June, likely); while Chikusen serves theirs at $28 an individual portion.
&SONS | Spaghetti sea urchin carbonara ($16) | A spin on the classic carbonara, the pasta here is given a creamy sea urchin sabayon of uni from Japan, eggs and butter. Guanciale (Italian style cured meat or salumi product prepared from pork jowl or cheeks) bits are lightly toasted to provide a crispy texture to the dish.
CASA TARTUFO RISTORANTE | Sea urchin & truffle risotto ($36) | It is hard enough to say no to sea urchin. Add Italian black truffles into the mix and even the strong will cave. Casa Tartufo’s risotto ($36) is a rich dish that balances the best flavours of both the sea and land beautifully.
THE CLIFFORD PIER | Uni glass noodles ($28) | Atop a mound of shirataki noodles tossed in black truffle vinaigrette and studded with ikura, caviar, chopped salted egg yolk and spring onions, is a quenelle of uni and mascarpone sorbet that brings balance to the riot of flavours.
ESQUINA | Sea urchin and crab bisque with sea grapes and smoked herring roe ($18) | The frothy, intense, sweet bisque that comes served in a sea urchin shell is made from reduced stock of crab and lobster shells, plus the addition of puree-d urchin. Top it off with sea grapes and smoked herring roe and it's like the ocean performing a tidal dance in your mouth.
IL LIDO | Homemade spaghetti chitarra with sea urchin ($48) |While not on the menu, this extravagant dish remains highly requested by regulars. The al dente spaghetti chittara ("guitar" spaghetti, so named for the guitar-resembling instrument used to cut the pasta) is coated in a luscious sea urchin emulsion, topped with plump tongues of fresh uni.
KINKI RESTAURANT & BAR | Botan ebi and uni aburi sushi ($33) | Pairing the sweetness of the spot prawn from Canada and saltiness of sea urchin from Hokkaido, the Botan ebi and uni aburi sushi throws in more flavour dimensions with the vinegared Japanese rice and a light touch of blowtorch searing ("aburi").
LOLLA | Sea urchin pudding (half portion $21, full portion $40) | This umami-laden dish of cold-set custard flavoured with squid ink and topped with tongues of fresh uni from Hokkaido might prove too rich for some. But if it’s unadulterated taste of the sea you’re after, order the full portion.
OTTO RISTORANTE | Spaghetti with sea urchin and grey mullet bottarga ($32) | Otto's signature pasta dish might be simple and straightforward, but just a spoonful of this spaghetti well-coated in a luxurious sauce of sea urchin and bottarga (salt-cured grey mullet roe), and you’ll know why diners keep coming back for more.
SHINZO JAPANESE CUISINE | Sea urchin tofu (varies according to season, $6-$8) | Using fresh uni from Hokkaido, chef Lawrence Chia blends them together with mirin, sake, egg and dash stock before steaming the mixture. The results? Silky smooth cubes of orange-tinted tofu that will glide down your throat.
WAKU GHIN | Marinated botan shrimp with sea urchin and oscietra caviar (part of ten-course degustation menu, $468 per person) | Arguably the most stand-out dish in Waku Ghin’s multi-course repertoire, this comes with briny lobes of uni and delicate juicy shrimp topped with a generous dollop of salty, indulgent Oscietra caviar. The accompanying mother of pearl spoon is said to enhance the taste of the dish.