AFTER the in-laws had been staying for two weeks, we hit an emotional ground zero.
Probably because I nearly crippled my 78-year-old father-in law by booking him a round of golf at Point Walter (the lady on the phone said it wasn’t too hilly) and he was now marooned on the couch watching re-runs of Quincy.
Taking them out for lunch was off the table, so I had to go on my own, tail between my legs.
So where’s a good place to have a meal on your own without looking like Billy Nomates?
During strange times, Japanese joints have always bailed me out, so I headed to JBento in Mt Pleasant.
I’d heard good things about it from locals, who said it was very impressive for a casual, suburban eatery.
Tucked away on Queens Road without much signage; JBento is a few streets back from The Esplanade and you would only know about it if you were local or through word-of-mouth.
The small Japanese eatery was super minimalist – concrete floors, black chairs, white and grey walls, industrial pendant lights dangling from the ceiling and an open kitchen.
Some of the tabletops were pretty scuffed and needed a varnish, and the walls could probably do with a colourful mural to brighten things up.
However you did have nice views of the palm trees through the floor-to-ceiling windows and there was some hotel lobby music playing in the background, which was strangely relaxing.
The plain, almost utilitarian, menu had a no-nonsense list of bento and donburi with chicken, beef, veggie, seafood and pork, as well as appetisers (takoyaki, lotus crips), salads, noodles, sides and desserts.
I got there early – about 11:45am on a Tuesday – but the place was already filling up with a mix of young asian couples and families.
It’s always a good sign if a place is patronised by ex-pats, so my stomach began to rumble in anticipation.
It wasn’t disappointed as the man behind the till arrived with my beautiful salmon sashimi (side $19.90).
Seven thick slices of glossy salmon with those telltale white “ripples”.
It looked the part and tasted just as good when dipped in the light soy sauce.
The little blob of wasabi was a nice accompaniment – not too hot and didn’t overpower the fish.
My only gripe – it could have come in a smaller portion size, as it was quite large and pricey for a side. Apart from that, it was top-notch sashimi.
The man behind the till was soon back with my Beef Bulgogi Bento ($18.90).
The presentation was first class and had that exquisite attention to detail synonymous with Japanese cuisine – everything was precisely arranged in its own little box.
I was soon tucking into the slices of fragrant beef with sesame seeds and soft onion.
It had just the right level of spice, with no fatty bits, and the gnarly black edges tasted divine.
After that smoky beef, it was time to refresh the palate with the little mound of seaweed; then I was hoeing into the potato salad topped with tobiko.
Normally I don’t like potato salad, but this wasn’t too rich and had a nice consistency (it wasn’t drenched in mayonnaise).
Salad is often a limp afterthought in a bento, but this had a clutch of fresh greens with a drizzle of slightly spicy mayo.
By the time I got to the two huge triangles of sticky rice, I was stuffed, but I had a few mouthfuls and it was spot on. It was a great bento box and one of the best I’ve had south of the river.
JBento serves up superior quality Japanese food and is well worth a visit for a casual lunch or dinner. The inside could do with a bit of TLC, but I guess the food is so good they don’t need to bother.
Now, I wonder if my father-in law likes deep-fried octopus balls…
21-23 Queens Road, Mt Pleasant
by STEPHEN POLLOCK