Suminoya – Return of the Bento
It happens sometimes – you get caught up in the awesome whirlwinds of fine dining, and then forget to talk about the little guys that have food that’s just as good – simply in a different way.
Here I am, eating at fancy places like Tetsuya’s, Est., Gastro Park, Flying Fish, Momofuku, (see the trend here?), most of the time with no/little occasion. The act actually gets old pretty quickly if you do it too often – it’s a refresher then, to settle back on some of the basics, but delicious, delicious basics.
The bento box is not associated with fine, or expensive dining, and yet, when you think about it – could be thought as such. After all, you have an almost degustation-like menu due to the kaiseki nature of the box – many small dishes, each with its own flavours and textures. Yes, it takes less effort to produce, but it costs so much less too and is still immensely fulfilling.
Ahh the bento box, welcome back.
Date Visited: 29/11/2012
Address: 1 Hosking Pl Sydney, NSW 2000
Go-to dish: bento box or their char-grilled BBQ
Suminoya has one of the better bento boxes out there, to the point where I go here on a regular basis – that’s not something I do unless it’s food I just can’t get tired of.
The restaurant itself will not be easy to find if you’re a first-timer. You have to walk down what is essentially an alleyway that runs parallel to Martin Place & Hunter St – it’s in between them. The entrance is rather discreet as well, but you won’t forget it again.
Also nice to try at Suminoya is the char grill BBQ which is definitely more of a Korean thing. If you’re going to fling that “but Koreans running a Japanese restaurant? NOT AUTHENTIC” BS at me please pay me a visit so I can defenestrate you. If you’re still picky, rest assured the place is co-owned and the staff DO speak fluent and native Japanese, so let’s just move on from there – frankly, if you can do two things well than just one, why the heck shouldn’t you do it?
Suminoya’s pricing is quite reasonable for a city restaurant – you’d have to really pick on the sashimi if you want to tear a hole in your wallet.
The char grill BBQ can be served to any table thanks to the active ventilators at each, which is awesome. I don’t review it here, but let me assure you that as long as your own BBQing skills are up to par, you won’t be disappointed by the BBQ. Dedicated Korean BBQ places are still likely to do better, but hey – find one this close to Martin Place (I work around the area).
Of course, I was here for the bento, and bento here we come. This is the “Lunch Box A” version which costs $24.9. There is a “B” version that costs $5 less – the difference lies in the sashimi. Ahhh, makes sense.
Quality bento starts with quality fish – rare do I get a bento that does not have sushi. The sushi is top notch as far as “fast” food Japanese goes – it doesn’t taste like it’s been pulled right out of a fridge (but you know it is, as you can still see some signs of water-spread and late-stage defrost), and so actually retains good flavour and importantly, texture. Particularly impressive is the salmon – it’s not even salmon belly but approaches the fatty flavour of one.
The miso soup here is a little richer than those from other fast Japanese restaurants. That said, it still leaves me wanting, but it’s good enough and a far cry from some of the instant stuff you may see out there. Plenty of umami!
Soft, slippery noodles with a thin piece of tofu curd that really soaks up the light broth, this is a very enjoyable small dish that is great to have in winter. It doesn’t technically complement the bento box, but it tastes great enough on its own.
This time around the tempura was a little under par – there wasn’t the appreciable crunch to the veggies, nor the batter, though the prawn fared a bit better by virtue of the fact that it was a good prawn in the first place. Suminoya’s tempura is generally as good as those of other fast Jap places though.
Surprisingly delicious thanks to the yuzu miso dressing – that can turn any dank and bland salad mix into something delicious. It’s all in the dressing!
And finally, the sashimi (though I eat this first). The scallops were a bit of a non-event, I could not taste much there, and the texture was somewhat inconsistent, like it did come out of the fridge. The salmon belly was a chock-full-of-win (they do good salmon!), while the sea beam retained its full on flavour, despite it being not served at room temperature. A mixed bag, but on the whole more enjoyable than not.
Overall, great quality bento, and a major part of the reason why Suminoya is one of my staples for a work lunch.
Look out for the review of its BBQ next time!
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three
The Good: delivers the goods on its bento for reasonable value…
The Bad: …with just a few misses
I give Suminoya a grand total of eight Caesars out of ten – 8/10