Traditional Japanese bento boxes elevate the simple packed lunch to an art form. And when dining at Sono Japanese Restaurant perched above Brisbane's bustling Queen Street Mall, it's clear you're in the presence of accomplished masters.
My bento box arrived, laden with assorted sashimi, shrimp cocktail salad, soft shell crab karaage, miso soup, steamed rice, three chef's special morsels and a choice of assorted dishes. (I picked the familiar chicken teriyaki, though other options included fish shioyaki, deep-fried crumbed pork cutlets or assorted tempura.) It was a masterpiece, and mouthwatering. My companions, meanwhile, chose bento boxes featuring assorted sushi alongside similar inclusions.
Vegetarian and other types of bento boxes are also on the Sono Japanese Restaurant menu. So are set meals featuring such items as wagyu steak, salmon or chicken teriyaki, vegetable tempura, sashimi and sushi. Rice and noodle dishes such as nabeyaki udon (udon cooked in a pot and topped with chicken, vegetables, egg, fish cake, tempura prawn and eggplant) feature too. Then there are a la carte options - think Pacific oysters served with ponzu, grated white radish with chilli and shredded shallots. Eel, scampi and sea urchin are among the more exotic sushi options.
Traditional Japanese seating. Image courtesy Sono Japanese Restaurant.
Tucked away above the madding crowd, with its own inner city rooftop garden, Sono Japanese Restaurant is a haven of peace and quiet. Kimono-clad waitresses for whom English is often a second language provide attentive but unobtrusive service, gently nudging diners in the direction of Japanese etiquette. ('Please remove your shoes,' a waitress politely implored one customer who was reluctant to shuck his footwear before taking his placed in the traditional Japanese seating area.)
Sono Japanese Restaurant offers private rooms, Japanese booths, modern seating and a sushi bar. Having opened in Brisbane's CBD in 1998, it has since spawned a sister establishment in Portside which is also highly regarded. The restaurant prides itself on having a high proportion of chefs who are trained in Kaiseki - the highest level of authentic Japanese cooking. To accompany their meal, diners can select their favourite wine, sake or Japanese beer from a private cellar. Kanpai!