Friday, March 30, 2007

March 28, 2007: Ume Nomiya

Michael had been keen to visit a Japanese restaurant near his Gertrude St workplace for a month or two. I've already mentioned once or twice my vegetarian reservations about the average Japanese restaurant menu, and so I didn't respond with much enthusiasm... until I tasted Umi Nomiya's shiitake mushroom balls at the Flour Festival last weekend. They were an incredibly tasty change from the tempura veges I always rely on when everyone else is gobbling down sashimi. Michael revealed that this was the restaurant on his wishlist and I was now much more amenable to a visit - so amenable that I made a wet umbrella-less walk to meet Michael there less than a week later, as the early dinner stop on a night out.

Ume is really more bar than restaurant - high stools along the bar, which offers a dozen kinds of sake, probably provide a third of the seating. It's small, dimly lit and sparsely but elegantly furnished in an urban-Oriental style. At 6 o'clock on a Wednesday there were few punters, and the girl behind the bar provided us with casual but very helpful table service. The menu is divided into sushi plates (all fishy: pass), bar snacks (two thirds vegetarian), and mains (1 out of 6 is vego). The vegetarian items are clearly marked and exclude fish, which makes skimming the options much simpler for V-kids like us! We picked out three of the bar snacks to share and settled in with a beer each.

Our snacks arrived, staggered over ten minutes or more, but this gave us time to inhale those shiitake balls and make room for another plate on our tiny table. We had to revisit those rice croquettes: "rice balls with caramelised onion, shiitake, konbu and umeboshi mayonnaise" ($8.50). This really is deep-fried food at its best! (And even more enjoyable with a cold beer, which we were without the first time.) Next up were the gyoza: "garlicky vegetable and ginger dumplings served with chilli oil dipping sauce" ($7.50). Michael absolutely loved these; I was less enamoured of the spinachy filling, but the skins had a nice charred edge to them. For round three we had the harusame salada: "soaked vermicelli noodles, melon, cashew, tofu and greens" ($10). It was a welcome respite from the deep frier: fresh baby spinach, crunchy roasted cashews and silken tofu, liberally doused in sesame seeds. The melon was also refreshing, but not an intuitive combination with the spinach and soy-sauced noodles for me. I have much to learn about the art of Japanese cooking!

These bar snacks are a cut above the $5 chip bowl that I'm accustomed to buying at the pub, and more filling than I initially thought. Ume Nomiya is a bit too flash to be adopted as my local, but I can feel some future shiitake rice ball cravings coming on...

You might have noticed the nice little comment from a Yuzu rep on our flour festival post. This turned up several hours AFTER I wrote this review so we didn't score the free drink, nor has it influenced the content!

Edit (6/5/2008): Unfortunately Ume Nomiya appears to have closed (replaced with a very hip looking Spanish place. We're not sure whether the catering arm of the business remains active.

Edit (26/10/2008): ... and now we've visited the Spanish restaurant in its place, Anada. You can read our review of it here.

Address: 197 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
Ph: 9415 6101
Price: vege bar snacks $5-10, vege main $14


  1. I just knew them as sun balls and I agree, they are fantastic!

  2. The best bit is that we don't have to wait for the next food festival to eat them. :-)