Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

[Review] Bento at the Bonsai Bar, Dublin 2

I was recently invited* by Bonsai Bar to come visit and try their new bento box offering. I gladly accepted as I've always liked the creativity and sheer tastiness of Dylan McGrath's food and I was curious to see what twist he would bring to this Japanese staple which is essentially a pre-packed meal. The Bonsai Bar is located in the same building as Rustic Stone and Taste at Rustic, sandwiched between the two on the first floor. I remember reviewing it several years ago when it was called Bar Rustic, prior to its makeover into Bonsai. While the back bar has had a makeover, the overall decor hasn't changed significantly and those lovely black leather chairs that I liked so much first time around are still in use. 

The bento menu concept is available from 4pm - 8pm Wednesday to Saturdays only. There are three varieties on offer, simply called meat, fish and veg, each with 4 dishes and priced at €18 each.  Some of the constituent dishes are available to order separately for €7, so if you really want one particular element, you can enjoy it without ordering the full bento. 
Stitch & Bear - Bento at Bonsai Bar - Roast salmon
Roast salmon with broccoli and sesame

The bento boxes arrive at the table, but instead of the traditional pre-formed bento box dish, we each receive an elaborate tray holding the four constituent dishes. Our single table isn't big enough for the two trays and our drinks, so an additional table is dragged into service. Each bento comes with portions of pickled vegetables and a slow-cooked egg salad. The pickled vegetables are fine, but the slow-cooked egg salad which consists of thick udon noodles, veg and puff rice topped with a wobbly slow-cooked egg is a revelation. We are instructed to stir the egg into the ingredients, creating a creamy, dare I say carbonara-like, sauce, while little pickled enoki add a gorgeous touch. 

The fish bento contains a simple piece of roast salmon, with tenderstem broccoli and sesame which combines a virtuous healthiness with wonderful taste. Across the table, the meat bento has chicken wings with soya and sushi rice. All bentos come with a miso soup, but while mine is light with sea bream and shimeji, the other is darker and richer, flavoured with pork and truffle.

We didn't order the veg bento, but I couldn't resist the broccoli tempura with kimchi mayo and aged parmesan (a signature move of McGrath), and which turned out to be wonderful crispy and crunchy. If all broccoli tasted this good, sales of this vegetable would go through the roof. 
Stitch & Bear - Bento at Bonsai Bar - Slow-cooked egg salad
The slow-cooked egg salad that comes with all bento
Stitch & Bear - Bento at Bonsai Bar - Broccoli tempura
Broccoli tempura with kimchi mayo and parmesan
We are treated to some cocktails as part of our visit, all of which feature an oriental twist in keeping with the bar theme. There's a few too many vodka-based cocktails for my personal liking which limits my choices, but I start with a delicate and pretty Sakura Blossom (gin, maraschino, pink grapefruit liqueur, pink grapefruit juice and a sparkling rose sake, €14). The shorter Tokyo is a stronger affair with gin, yuzu, suze liqueur and white vermouth, teapot bitters and a pandan mist (€12). 
Stitch & Bear - Bento at Bonsai Bar - Cocktails
Shiso mojito and guest cocktail 
Stitch & Bear - Bento at Bonsai Bar - Cocktails
Sakura Blossom and Tokyo cocktails
The dessert offering is simple with a choice between a green tea and black sesame ice-cream sandwich (€7 each). We receive one of each to try, consisting of a thick slab of ice-cream sandwiched in a stickily-lacquered puff pasty bun. While I love the concept, I'm not crazy about either variety, but in the end the green tea version shades it as the favourite. 
Stitch & Bear - Bento at Bonsai Bar - Ice-cream sandwiches
Green and black ice-cream sandwiches
Final thoughts? Well, as you'd expect from Dylan McGrath, the food is tasty, balanced and very good.  That slow-cooked egg salad, salmon and tempura broccoli linger still in my memory, while the cocktails are creative and a little different to the norm. It's high-end food, offered in a casual way at reasonable prices. 

However, the Bonsai Bar itself is still a bar, and I never felt fully comfortable when eating due to the low tables and chairs, while the background music (you know, that terribly bland and shite electronic background lounge music) didn't make the atmosphere conducive to enjoying a meal. Treat it as a place to grab a different type of quick bite while sipping a tasty cocktail. 

*Disclosure: All food and drink was provided free of charge by Bonsai. There was no request made for a review or coverage in return for the meal. 

The Bonsai Bar, 17 South Great George's Street, Dublin 2
Tel: +353 (0)1 526 7701
URL: www.thebonsaibar.com
Twitter: @bonsaibardublin
Instagram: @bonsaibardublin


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