Banyi Japanese Dining, 3-4 Bedford Row, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Tel: (01) 675 0669.
There was a time in Ireland when smoked salmon was the closest we got to raw fish but there’s now a proliferation of Japanese restaurants serving up sushi and sashimi. I am a huge fan of this simple and elegant style of cuisine which I often eat as a sort of palate relief from the western food I find myself reviewing. Hardly a week goes by without me indulging in a simple bento box in one of Dublin’s many Japanese eateries.
That said it is beyond my budget to do a comparative study with a trip to Japan so I brought a friend along to Banyi for support as he’d lived in Japan for some time. We brought another catering friend too. The visit gave our Japanophile the opportunity to show off some Japanese (one of the many languages he speaks) but sadly the waitress was Korean. We were a bit embarrassed by the whole exchange, after all, why couldn’t he speak Korean too?
The service was friendly and relatively informed but with a complex menu, mixing the raw and cooked traditions we really needed somebody to take control and offer some suggestions. We soldiered on nonetheless and to start we shared several dishes including some gyoza of chicken dumplings (€6.50), they had a generous pastry covering, a richly flavoured filling and a just-so caramelised edge from the final frying.
The teriyaki spare ribs (€6), were a chewier version than expected but I do like this style, I know others prefer the fall-off-the-bone method. Finger bowls were slow in coming and then we got a single hot towel between us. Bizarre. Indeed there was a lot of this ‘single thought’ service, a failure to properly anticipate some basic needs meant several trips for staff and long delays for customers.
We also ordered the nigiri and sashimi mix of surf clam (€4.50 for two), salmon (€3.90 for four) and halibut (€6.50 for four). This was served on a mini bamboo ship decorated with all sorts of peeled vegetables and what-nots. It is a very, very rare thing for something so over-gilded to actually taste as big as the visual impact and this was no exception. The halibut was particularly bad with bits of skin still attached to the flesh.
When our main course arrived the break-down in ordering was immediately apparent. The two bento boxes (€17.90 each) featured several items which we had started with so we revisited the same ribs and gyoza, and the exact same sushi and sashimi as we’d started with. The addition of some quality roasted lamb deserves a mention though.
I ordered the spider roll of soft shell crab (€12.50), delicious and all as it was the eight portions are really for sharing and far too much of the same thing for one person.
Desserts are a mix of western and the slightly more exotic. I felt that hot chocolate fondant was not the best test of a Japanese restaurant so we ordered the green tea ice cream (€6.90). This got the thumbs up all around, the sweet-savoury flavour and edge of perfume made for a light end to a meal.
The Japanese almond tofu (€9.50) was an entirely different story. The colours were beguiling, the pretty peach colour of half a cantaloup, with its green frame, was topped with a white filling and a sprinkling of toasted almonds. The eating experience was entirely different: the white filling was a sort of jellied tofu with an unpleasant texture and no flavour, this in turn was filled with balls of rock hard melon and the almonds just seemed like a spillage from a top shelf. Easily a nominee for the weirdest and worst dessert this year.
Our possibly prejudiced view of Japan sometimes fools us into thinking they are all about simplicity and clean lines. In reality they are as complex and variable as any culture, and so sometimes cannot resist the temptation to gild the lilly. Banyi would be better off saving some money by dumping all the unnecessary frills and investing dishes created with more care. Otherwise I’m not sure they’ll make it onto my list of weekly bento visits.
This first appeared in The Sunday Business Post, October 2013.