From its Central Park location, the original Obentos has long served healthy fare for the CBD set in a landscape dominated by greasy, expensive and otherwise unidentifiable lunchtime options. In short, for a healthy meal Obentos is always the first… takeaway menu to come out.
Yes, we admit that even in our desire to be healthier, we would more often than not order in rather than get some cardio and walk to the restaurant, which is often packed and only has a short menu.
The new location in Liangmaqiao, however, should change all that. The space is bigger, more comfortable and has a menu that elevates the previously simple concept into the realm of sit-down dining.
Located in the Grand Summit, we see what Obentos always could have been if given the space to spread out. The high ceilings are accented with cream-coloured fixtures; soft earthen tones blend with polished hardwoods and matte black steel. In a seemingly impossible feat of design, the space is modern and hip without sacrificing on comfortable seating. Can we get an amen?
The menu will be recognisable to anyone familiar with the Central Park location, but less so for those familiar with the Japanese lunch box. Obentos is not in the bento box business, but the concept certainly resembles the principles of the Japanese packed lunch.
Available all day, Obentos’ ‘bento boxes’ combine a chosen main like grilled mackerel with daikon (58RMB) or seared beef tenderloin with yuzu miso dressing (76RMB) with a choice of brown rice or daily salad. The sets include a selection of Japanese sides like steamed green beans with lemongrass, pickled lotus root with miso and shitake mushrooms or sake kale with bitter greens.
The proteins are lightly seasoned and minimally cooked to preserve nutrition, but this does negatively impact the degree of flavour in the final product. We appreciate the clean, natural flavours but other items on the menu, such as the salad and grain bowls, are more flavourful and filling options for the money. Try the spicy soba (58RMB), given an extra kick thanks to a spicy honey dressing.
For us, however, the new space really comes into its own at dinner and on weekends, when the shared plates are on offer. With larger portions and flexible options on side dishes and small plates, it’s easy to scale things up or down depending on the occasion. We recommend the grilled eel with aubergine and pickled ginger (102RMB) or the miso chicken with mushrooms (68RMB). Both are relatively mild, but the smooth eel and tender chicken present pure, uncompromised flavours with a clean, guilt-free finish.
The new location also expands the delivery network north of the CBD and serves breakfast daily. Between the healthy options, reasonable price point and central location, the new Obentos is sure to garner a steady following.
By Nick Gollner