• Review: Bento Boxes at Sunset by Australasia

Review: Bento Boxes at Sunset by Australasia

13 August 2018 by Neil Sowerby

IT was a toss-up between Afternoon Tea or Bento Box as focus for reviewing the reincarnation of what was once Grand Pacific Terrace Bar on The Avenue.

Reincarnation sounds flowery enough for a makeover that is a teeming floral overload. Settling into the over-roseate bower we thought hosepipe ban; however are they going to water this abundance of blooms? Then we realised they are all artificial. 

The Sunset’s interior was equally pink – and as ornate as Madame de Pompadour’s boudoir – but wasn’t it always that way back in the day before Living Ventures transferred the GP name to their new acquisition, Room? Whatever, it is charmingly cosy, perfect for a  couple of summery cocktails (we asked our sever to turn off the ski heaters) or the lime-laden Aussie Riesling that accompanied our supper.

Perhaps lavish Afternoon Tea (above) would have been more appropriate for our exploration but ever since a couple of Japan trips I’m a sucker for lacquered wooden lunch boxes and Sunset is serviced by the accomplished Australasia kitchen below.

Sushi, sashimi, tempura and robata are obvious staples of the all-day grazing menu with the basic nine piece bento boxes aimed at the lunch trade. Alas they are plain wood and serviceable but you can’t have everything.

Signature, vegan and premium respectively cost £17.50, £15 and £25. Trade up to a 15 piece (“for the larger appetite or enough for two to share”) for £25, £22.50 and £40.

Our larger appetites ruled. To compare large signature with large premium. 

The £15 difference between the two is the appearance of ‘luxury’ ingredients black cod, scallops and wagyu beef; the first two were gorgeously enhanced, the beef unimpressive. 

So is the premium price worth it? The jury’s out. Their substitutes in the signature version were tired California rolls and nigiri. Otherwise, the bento box constituents were much the same for both  – bean and tofu salad, fried rice squares with spicy tuna and avocado, spinach with miso dressing and puffed rice (tasty), rainbow salad, squid tempura (dull), chicken skewer bowl (lovely), duck roll (not so) and sharp pickled veg (radish, cucumber, and red onion).

I loved most of all the pots of beef broth poured over braised short rib, enoki mushrooms and spring onion. Overall, though, the expansive choice exposed surprising weaknesses I’ve never noticed in the menu of the mothership, Australasia.

Sunset by Australasia, 1 The Avenue, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3AP. 0161 831 0288.