161 Ormond Rd Elwood, VIC 3184
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat noon-2.45pm|
|Features||Cheap Eats, Wheelchair access, Family friendly, Vegetarian friendly|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||03 9531 2300|
If life is like a lunchbox, I want mine to be an Ebisu bento: balanced, compartmentalised and aesthetically appealing. Having it all – nutrition, flavour, texture, temperature – laid out in a symmetrical, colourful combination momentarily makes everything seem in control and all right.
Portion sizes are modest overall. There is something cold and peppy, such as inside-out salmon sushi: orange-topped, with roe, next to black, topped with sesame seeds, next to orange, next to black. There is something warm and earthy on the side in a bowl of miso, with slivers of shiitake and teeny, precise-cut cubes of soft tofu.
Then, over here, glistening beneath fresh spring-onion rings is sticky grilled teriyaki chicken. There's also fried, golden agedashi tofu with a welcome crispness at first bite, and a not-too-sweet sweet of green-tea panna cotta – a green cube, with white cream on top, a piece of strawberry and sprinkles of chocolate. It's pretty, but practical.
Every day is a different bento, and its contents are determined and prepared by the well-practised hands of chef Noriyuki Makino – who has worked at Chocolate Buddha, Taxi, Koko and Walter's Wine Bar. Makino's menu is nine lunch sets long, all including salad, miso soup, rice and dessert.
Each of the dishes in the bento is available as a lunch-set component, plus there are a few specials. Tuna tataki – seared at the edges, rare in the centre – comes under a quite heavy mustard miso mayo; while tempura prawns and asparagus spears, veiled in a delicate batter, has its tangy chilli mayo loaded to the side.
I'm a fan of having fewer options on a menu. It usually means what's offered is honed, and – privileged as I am, lunching in peaceable seaside Melbourne – spares me the paralysis that comes with having too much choice.
But, really, there simply isn't the space here to offer a more ranging menu. The limited offerings are due to the capacity of the place, and the small kitchen that is effectively a box in the middle of a dining room-shop.
Seating (for just 20) is variously available at a formal dining table, at two easy chairs angled towards each other in front of a heater, at a high-set bench opposite a shelf selling tea cups and sake sets, and at other small tables and bar seating along the front window – next to a rack of kids' jinbei (PJs). It's organic and homely, and evolving. Plans are with the council to almost double the capacity and offer seating at the back (where the vintage tea chests for sale are now stocked).
Ebisu's charm is its peculiar character – a mix of retail space, lounge room and low-key restaurant – that has evolved over 13 years here. Giving more space to the food side of the business is a win in the game of lunch.
Do … Make a free pot of tea at the self-serve station.
Don't … Try to order food after 2.45pm: no more orders, no buts.
Vibe ... Homely and whimsical.