When meeting friends for lunch on a recent weekday, after finding both our intended destination and its hastily determined replacement venue closed, we headed to the Oak Bay Village.
I have visited Bon Sushi several times. It's a casual neighbourhood haunt of simple design, but clean and cosy. Seating for about 30 definitely has its better areas for some; specifically, if you don't appreciate top-40 pop, sit close to the door.
We grabbed the only table for four left at the far end of the room and suffered through the sounds of a boombox for several minutes before we could get anyone's attention. This achieved, however, they immediately turned it down, which made the atmosphere much more pleasant.
As the name suggests, there's plenty of sushi on offer, along with a few options. Noodle, rice bowls and sunomono salads are no surprise, but others like "Italian" red snapper with roasted garlic in a tangy olive oil sauce seemed strangely out of place to us. Korean influence is evidenced by the soju listed with Japanese beers and hoi dup bab -- layers of rice and fish with piquant sauce that makes a nice change from chirashi sushi.
To begin, we shared three rolls along with some excellent seared tuna dressed with ponzu sauce and a sprinkling of sesame seeds and finely diced scallions, served on crisp slices of English cucumber -- a great combination of contrasting flavours and texture. Equally delicious was a crunchy tempura batter-dipped roll with tuna dressed with a sauce containing just enough chili to counteract the oil without overwhelming the delicate flavour.
Jay's pick, the hot night roll stuffed with prawn tempura, real crab and avocado, covered with spicy tuna, was excellent, as was Phil's selection packed with fried calamari, avocado and crab roll.
If my rating were based solely on these dishes, it would be much higher, but much of what we ate next didn't live up to expectations.
Terri's rice bowl topped with lightly dressed tuna was sound; the fish here is of excellent quality, particularly the fatty tuna and albacore.
The rest of us were unimpressed with our bento boxes. Phil noted the teriyaki was far too sweet and, indeed, it was much closer to Korean bulgogi, but without the much-needed smokiness. We enjoyed the wakame salad and the sushi (California roll for me, tuna and salmon nigiri for the boys) but the vegetables were limp, and as Jay observed, gyoza served room temperature on the surface and ice cold in the middle don't appeal much.
Unfortunately, it is my experience that the bentos here are inconsistent, and I have ordered my last one from Bon Sushi. On the other hand, the tempura is spectacularly good, and a recent udon bowl was loaded with fresh vegetables, braised gluten and slivers of nori in a delicate broth and is excellent value for less than $7.
We agreed service was polite but lacking. Mirroring other visits, simple questions were met with smiles and "I don't know," something not necessarily followed by "but I'll check." I don't expect encyclopedic menu knowledge, just a basic description of the "spicy" tuna. Apparently, floor staff do not have this knowledge, because the kitchen won't share its "secret recipe," which incidentally is largely the combination of mayo and chili-based sauce that a million other sushi places use.
Tea refills came twice in 90 minutes and when we asked about dessert, we got a guilty smile from our waitress as she shook her head. When Terri pointed out that the sign outside the front door advertises ice cream, she told us they don't buy it anymore because "it goes bad in the freezer." Well, time to change the sign then.
In short, Bon Sushi is definitely worth visiting if you need a sushi fix. There's a good range of nigiri and temaki, as well as maki rolls, though the menu could use a little attention with regard to descriptions. There's plenty for the traditional sushi lover and specialty rolls if you're feeling adventurous; we all drew the line at baked sushi. Something about hot sushi with mozzarella makes me feel queasy, though a nearby table on my last visit was raving about it.
It seems busier during lunch than in the evenings, worth noting if you're starving because if it's busy, it can take a while to get served. That being said, the kitchen is fast once they get the order. Also, if you arrive close to their lunch closing time of 2:30, it might be more non sushi than Bon Sushi. I was amazed to see someone turned away at the door for takeout food when the clock on the wall said 2:29, which wasn't even the correct time.
A tip to the owners: Adjust the clock in your restaurant, currently about 10 minutes fast, because a large outdoor clock within view of your front door is more accurate.
Rating 1 Below bad
Rating 2 Below average
Rating 3 Average
Rating 4 Above average
Rating 5 Excellent