Japanese cuisine available in Australia tends to fall into two distinct categories: the expensive fine-dining restaurants and the smaller, moderately-priced chain/franchised outlets that serve average sushi/ramen/bento/donburi.
So it was incredibly refreshing to come across The Bonsai, which deftly brings together gourmet Japanese fusion cuisine and an informal dining environment, at a reasonable price.
In fact, two words come to mind when dining at The Bonsai: Iron Chef.
I had the opportunity to dine at The Bonsai during my recent trip to Perth, which serves izakaya, or Japanese-style tapas. Local food & wine writer Jason Boudville had suggested we go there for dinner, so we turned up on a Friday night with his partner Bec. As it was our first visit, we were unsure of what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised throughout the evening.
The Bonsai is divided into a lounge/bar area and communal-style restaurant, and the first thing you notice is the chic, modern industrial decor and dim mood lighting. I felt it was a bit too dark, but the the low light does create a cozy, intimate ambience. Share-plates are The Bonsai’s specialty, and after perusing the extensive menu, we ordered the following:
Seaweed Salad (with optional fried wonton skins)
Salmon Sashimi on Asparagus
Salmon Sashimi Bites
Pan-Fried Mushrooms with Karashi-Su-Miso
Agedashi Eggplant & Mochi
Creamy Prawn Spring Rolls
We didn’t order wine as Jason wasn’t impressed with the wine list. So we ordered Japanese tea instead, which turned out to be genmaicha.
The food arrived relatively quickly and we were surprised with the Seaweed Salad, which was not the cold plate of wakame seaweed we were expecting. Instead we got a huge bowl of Western-style mixed salad greens and seaweed topped with nori and the crispy fried wonton skins we ordered as an extra. The mustard dressing lent a tangy, yet refreshing taste to the salad.
The Salmon Sashimi on Asparagus was beautifully plated, with thick slices of salmon sashimi atop asparagus spears with a thick yukke sauce drizzled on top. The sashimi was incredibly fresh, while the sauce added wonderfully complex flavours to the salmon.
Salmon Sashimi Bites resembles an oyster platter, and indeed the texture of the miso-flavoured sashimi goes down like a fine oyster. Meanwhile the witlof leaf the sashimi is served on adds a satisfying crunch and contrasting texture to the salmon.
Pan-Fried Mushrooms with Karashi-Su-Miso was my favourite of the evening. The slow-cooked Portobello mushrooms were bursting with flavour, and stuffed with a miso-flavoured filling which can only be described as exquisite.
Agedashi Eggplant & Mochi was an interesting dish that had both flavour and texture. I normally think of mochi (rice cakes) as a tea-time snack, so it was surprising to see it paired with eggplant. This resulted in a rather chewy dish, but not overly so as the eggplant was cooked to perfection. And the agedashi sauce was made with excellent dashi stock, complemented with a blend of delicate flavours.
As for the Creamy Prawn Spring Rolls, it was deep fried to perfection, the pastry wonderfully crisp without being oily. The prawn filling was divine, with a melt-in-the-mouth texture. Mustard on the side was an unusual twist, but complemented the prawn filling well. This plate was so delicious, we even divided up the remaining spring roll.
Meanwhile, our initial trepidation had long vanished as the three of us savoured the East-meets-West flavours of the various share-plates. Each dish was bursting with a myriad of complex flavours, and we spent most of the evening guessing what ingredients went into the various sauces.
Indeed, these share-plates would not be out of place on Iron Chef. The three of us felt like the Iron Chef judges, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over each exotic plate that appeared on our table. While decidedly Japanese, the food is infused with a modern-fusion flavour.
It’s clear that The Bonsai’s chef and kitchen take great pride in their work, as the quality of the food was superb. The ingredients used were extremely fresh, while the portions were reasonable. Even a big eater like me felt pleasantly full (but not overly so) at the end of the meal. When the bill came, we all felt it was incredible value for money thanks to the quality of the food.
Service was quick and efficient, and the waitstaff friendly and polite. However, dessert seems to have been an afterthought- we were told to check out the display fridge at the bar when we asked for a dessert menu. The various cheesecakes on offer weren’t very exciting, and it would have been better if the desserts featured the same innovation we saw in the share-plates.
As mentioned earlier, the wine selection was rather limited, although there was sake available. I would also have liked a wider selection of Japanese teas on the menu. A good pot of quality sencha (green tea) would make a wonderful accompaniment to the richly flavoured share-plates.
In all, dining at The Bonsai was a sensory delight, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The Bonsai Restaurant and Cafe Lounge
30 Roe Street
Northbridge WA 6003
+61 8 9227 5756