Slotting into the hole left by Bonarche Burgers is the curiously named Bento & Studio.
In case the bags of Prawn Chips ($3) sitting on the sushi counter don’t give it away, their menu dishes up a hybrid of Chinese and Japanese cuisine.
It’s not fusion, say in the manner of Chuka cuisine, but a menu that allows you to eat both sushi and fried rice in the same sitting.
The small, narrow space has been painted salmon, and decorated with an odd collection of rudimentary paintings: Sydney Opera House at sunset; penguins dancing in a circle in the snow; a still life of giant poppies looming over a disproportionately small cut wedge of watermelon.
There is one desirable al fresco table, lording it over Norton Street, though on my first visit a lady has monopolised it by making it her office for the day.
The Grilled Eel Bento ($19.80) gives you miso, a bland, cold spring roll, a salad with Italian rather than Japanese dressing, two pieces of nori roll, pickled ginger and a generous double-layer of teriyaki-glazed eel with the rice to eat it on.
While the cooked chicken nori roll is a bit uninspiring, the eel is excellent, so I resolve to return and give the sushi a second go.
It’s a complete meal, so ordering the Sweet Corn Pancake ($9.80) as well was overkill, but I wanted to see how the cuisines worked together.
For the price of a twenty-cent container, the Chinese-speaking staff happily package up the rest of my pliable, generously proportioned chewy, corn-scattered pancake, served with a whirl of mayonnaise.
On my second visit some owner/chef intervention gets me hot Green Tea ($4/pot) rather than the commercial cold iced tea the young waitress offered when I requested it last time. Served in a pretty teapot with a matching cup, the tea itself is nothing special, just green and astringent.
I take it on the coveted outdoor table and enjoy watching Norton Street pass by. Most of Bento & Studio’s customers seem to be the bus stop crowd, craving a fast-takeaway bite on the way to, or home from work, so cooked nori rolls seem their biggest sellers.
I opt for Assorted Sushi ($12.80) presented on a wooden board as six pale-hued fishes and six baby raw salmon nori rolls.
The rice mix is distractingly vinegary, the tuna is underwhelming, the salmon is bland, though the prawn and kingfish perform okay.
Deep Fried Tofu ($5.80) offers up a generous four slabs of firm, creamy tofu. The crisp light batter and deep-frying are on point, but the soy sauce-heavy broth has Chinese punch rather than Japanese subtlety. It lacks balance and the delicate suggestion of mirin sweetness I like to see in a savoury tsuyu broth. The dishes here show how hard Japanese and Chinese cuisines are to marry, because the imperatives of one are very different to that of the other.
Bento & Studio
14 Norton Street, Leichhardt
Ph: (02) 9564 1228