Bento – Japanese in a Box

90 Main Road, Moonah
03) 6278 5704
Open: 7 days - 11.00 am to 9.00pm. Takeaways.

Michael Zhicheng Zhang and Kauzhiro Kojima open their first Bento outlet in Launceston about ten years ago. Then they opened a second before deciding to franchise the concept. There are now 11 independent franchised Bento outlets around the state including four in Hobart with another due to open shortly in Elizabeth Street. In addition, the pair have recently opened Kosaten in Castray Esplanade, the latest Japanese variant on the sushi train model and the first of its style in Tasmania.

I’m not sure if all the Bento outlets have a standardised menu or if each does their own thing. But, at lunch at the Monah Bento last week the menu was extensive and, while if you were familiar with Japanese food there wasn’t any real surprises, the food was fine.

The place itself is small, squeaky clean in that Japanese way with seating for around 30 at small blond wood tables and comfortable black chairs. You take a menu or select from the display cabinet, order at the front counter, pick up your cutlery and napkins and take a seat while watching the continuing and ever-changing crowd – from scruffy guys in shorts and thongs to suited business types and elderly pomaded women – queuing for their lunchtime takeaways. On our visit it really was extremely busy, which understandably slowed the service a little. But, by the look of the queues, there seems to be little doubt that Bento is now the Japanese go to in Moonah.

As one would expect there’s a large selection of sushi rolls which you can watch being made in front of you. There’s also traditional salmon sashimi, gyoza, gyudon (beef bowl), eel don and three types of chicken curries served in bowls with rice plus udon noodles with beef, chicken katsu, fried chicken and teriyaki chicken. And, of course, there’s endamame – soy beans – to snack on

The bento boxes come in a variety of sizes – dinner, big and small – with a choice of 14 different ingredients, combinations and size of serve. We started with a palate cleansing serve of that wonderfully refreshing and ubiquitous Japanese wakame ‘salad’ followed by a very pleasant squid salad dressed, I think, with a sharpish ponzu sauce.

Our small bento box when it came was indeed small but the tempura batter on the two prawns and assorted vegetables was as light and crisp as the best you’ll find anywhere.

In addition to Moonah, there are now Bento outlets in Kingston, Shoreline Shopping Centre and Harrington Street down south plus four in Launceston and one each in Devonport, Burnie and Ulverstone.

Meanwhile, Zhang’s and Kojima’s latest venture, Kosaten, is a much more full-on restaurant featuring striking murals and an even more extensive menu of nigari, aburi and sushi rolls, sashimi, tempura dishes and assorted salads. The most interesting feature however is the way the food is delivered. Instead of the items parading past you as in the usual sushi train style, at Kosaten your order is sent from the kitchen on a computer-controlled track which stops precisely at your table arriving with a speed not much slower than a Japanese bullet train.

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