Monday 20 May 2024

Bansho Bistrot, Armadale, Melbourne

It it hard to find an interesting vegetarian or vegan sushi.  After I read a glowing review of Bansho in the The Age, I decided that would be the place for a Mothers Day dinner for Sylvia and me.  It was much more upmarket restaurant than our usual places to eat out and served interesting though pricey food.

Bansho describes itself as "a French & Japanese bistrot nestled at the heart of Armadale".  It had a cool laid-back vibe.  Think the Rat Pack in the 1960s.  The music was Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra easy listening.  The lights were dimmed.  The service was fantastic and friendly.  The colours were black, warm brown and beige, with tiling features.  Towards the front were a couple of booths and a bar.  At the back were seats that looked onto the chefs at work.  I wish we had asked for one of those seats but I enjoyed sitting by the wall with a view of the general activity.  The photo above was when we arrived at 5.30pm just after Bansho opened for the evening.  It got busier as the night progressed.

The menu was divided into Starters, Entrees, Mains, Sides and Desserts, We began with two starters.  The  Edamame: grilled edamame, salt & pepper ($10) was really good.  Sylvia, despite her love of salt, would have liked a big less of those big flakes of salt.  I really liked it.  It is always a pleasure to suck the edamame beans out of the pods and these were warm, really well seasoned and had a little of the charred taste of the grill.  We were drinking sparkling water and went through it fairly quickly with this dish.  Edamame is a favourite of ours but Bansho managed to elevate it to something a little more special than usual. 

The other starter was the Seasonal Mushroom with truffle oil ($12).  These were small but quite intense with the truffle oil and flakes of what I think were dried egg on top (if I understood our waiter properly).  What impressed me most were the crunchy plates of rice on which they were served.  They offered a lovely texture contrast to the soft pile of chopped mushrooms.  I would have preferred the mushrooms warmed but they were nice at room temperature.  We shared this plate of two pieces but could have easily had two each.

I ordered the Plant Based Sushi platter ($35).  This was my treat for Mothers Day.  It wasn't cheap for 6 small mouthfuls but it was innovative, despite a bit of hit and miss. It was served on a rectangular slab of black stone with lots of colour and attention to detail.  Condiments of pickled ginger and wasabi were on the side of the plate as well as garnishes of a carrot curl, a slice of radish and a slice of what might have been cucumber.  It was more of a starter than a platter.  Let me tell you about each sushi piece, starting with my three flavourites.

The Karkalla Gunkan comprised a cluster of beach banana leaves with kombu & tomato jelly.  This was my absolute favourite if a little mysterious.  At the time I could not really taste kombu but looking back I wonder if it was part of the flavour of the tomato jelly.  I've never heard of Beach Banana before.  It is an edible succulent that is native to the coastlines of Australia.  So Sylvia was right when she said it was like eating a succulent.  It is also known as Karkalla or Pigface.  They really missed a chance to have some fun in naming it pigface sushi but I suspect I wouldn't be the only vegetarian or vegan to be freaked out by the name.  It was crunchy and juicy as you expect a succulent would be.  I wish I had had a few of these as I found it hard to get my head around what I was eating and I liked the jelly but needed to taste it again to really get the flavour. 

The Red Capsicum with Japanese mustard was elegantly presented and of all the pieces, looked most like a traditional fish sushi piece.  It was a simple strip of cooked capsicum on rice with a spot of spicy mustard.  I found the mustard a bit spicy for my liking but was nice with the mellow capsicum.

The Lotus Root with nori strip & toasted sesame was also lovely.  It was really beautifully presented.  The lotus root slices with their lace like holes looked so pretty with the sprinkle of golden sesame seeds on the strip of nori that held it all together with the ball of rice. The crunch of the lotus root and the soft rice worked well together with a little addition flavour and texture from the nori and sesame.

The Herb Bouquet: pea shoot, samphire bouquet & finger lime was a generous bundle of greens but difficult to eat as either one mouthful or two.  I was excited at having samphire.  I don't remember eating it previously.  However I found it easier to recognise the pea shoots than to know what samphire tastes like.  I liked the red tart fingerlime pearls but wished to taste it more.  I loved the greens on rice but the samphire and fingerlime were too subtle for me.

The Baby Spinach Gunkan: spinach, enoki & sesame miso was another susihi piece that I liked but found that the generosity of greens overwhelmed more interesting ingredients.  Gunkan, a pocked of sushi rice in a nori pocket, literally means war-boat.  I focused too much on fitting all the spinach into my mouth to really appreciate the enoki and miso.

The Okra with umeboshi & koji was the most challenging of the sushi pieces.  Okra gets a bad rap but I wanted to overcome my suspicions. I think a whole piece of okra, even with it being sliced in an attractive was, just too much for me.  I had to psych myself up before I ate it.  It was lightly cooked and retained a bit of crunch but I still was not so keen.

Sylvia ordered a single piece of Lotus Root sushi ($5) and Tamagoyaki: house-made rolled omelette ($7) as well as a taste of some of my sushi platter.  She loved the lotus root and the cubes of layered omelette. 

We also had a side dish of Crispy Brussels Sprout ($16) to share.  The fried brussels sprouts were wonderful with additional crunch from artichoke chips served on top of a honey soy flavoured creamy sauce.  I wanted more.  In fact, it was so good it did cross my mind that I perhaps I should have just ordered this for my meal.

At the end of our savoury food, I was still hungry.  We had plenty of room for desserts and they looked so interesting that it was hard to resist.  When they came they were so pretty but dainty and small.

Sylvia had the Bansho Pavlova with chantilly cream, rhubarb, yuzu sorbet ($18).  It was a gorgeous little swirl of meringue with the sorbet and cream inside.  The filling was rather soft and flavourful.

I really wanted the profiteroles with chocolate sauce.  But this meal was about trying something different.  So instead I ordered the Bombe Alaska: spiced pineapple rhubarb sorbet, lemon yuzu ($18).  Bombe Alaska has fascinated me since I saw it on the 1960s Batman series as a kid.  According to the web it was Baked Alaska in Batman.  Rather than being baked or torched, Bombe Alaska is made by freezing ice cream covered in a thin meringue mixture and setting fire to it with rum to cook the meringue.  As you can see inside it was a layer of biscuit crumbs, a layer of rhubarb sorbet, a lot of pineapple sorbet and a layer of lemon yuzu.  Unlike Sylvia's pavlova it was frozen to be really firm.  I really liked it though I would have preferred a higher ratio of rhubarb to pineapple.  It was definitely worth being a little adventurous in my dessert choice.

It was difficult to work out how much to order at Bansho's and with hindsight I would order more.  The special was pumpkin gnocchi with truffle oil and gruyere ($24).  I was tempted but I was really there to try something new rather than restaurant standard dishes.  Otherwise there were no vegetarian mains.  The menu is pretty light on for vegetarian meals and even slimmer choices for vegans but I was really glad we went and had such an interesting meal.

Bansho Armadale
Shop 1/ 960 High Street
Armadale, Melbourne Vic 3143
Opening: Tues-Sat: 5:30pm-10:30pm

1 comment:

  1. It all looks very beautiful. I love Japanese food and it's always fun trying something new. But not getting quite enough is rather disappointing. Japanese restaurants are expensive over here - mind you eating out anywhere is really expensive these days.


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