A little Japanese, a little French but a lot to love at this Armadale passion project

Don’t be deterred by the words “fusion food”. At this High Street newcomer, two cuisines meld with sensitivity and purpose.

Dani Valent

Good Food hat15/20


When you hear the words “fusion food”, do you feel excited or alarmed? The term always makes me think of the respected American chef and author Norman Van Aken, who’s often credited with coining the phrase in the 1980s. He celebrated the thrill of influence and interpolation but also cautioned against melding flavours simply for kicks. “Someone might say, ‘I’m going to put together blueberries and squirrel meat because nobody has ever done it’,” he told Smithsonian magazine in 2014. “Maybe there is a reason they’ve never done it. When it is forced and it is done to surprise for the sake of surprise, it becomes something that has little value, if any.”

Rest assured: there’s no squirrel and blueberry at Bansho, a Japanese-French restaurant in upscale Armadale that opened to little fanfare at the end of 2023.

Rather, the food here is thoughtful and accomplished and the dining experience warm and enveloping. When Japanese and French flavours and techniques are melded, it’s done with sensitivity and purpose.

Salmon tartare with ginger oil and pickled plum: a jaunty snack.
Salmon tartare with ginger oil and pickled plum: a jaunty snack.Bonnie Savage

Take the tartare ($15), which uses king salmon, farmed in New Zealand. The fatty, finely chopped fish is very French, but the tart seasonings – ginger oil, pickled plum – lean towards Japan. The salmon is spooned over mustard leaf, turning a fork dish into a jaunty but luxurious hand snack. There’s chawanmushi ($22), a Japanese set custard. It’s studded here with spanner crab and – in a daring move – topped with celeriac vichyssoise. Japanese steamed egg layered with creamy French soup? Well, yes. It’s delightful, the variations in silky savouriness playing like gentle but persistent ripples.

The chicken roulade: comforting food hug meets elegant culinary ballet.
The chicken roulade: comforting food hug meets elegant culinary ballet.Bonnie Savage

I’ll always order a dish that sounds strange. Would the chicken mousseline roulade with kombu-dashi bechamel ($32) be Bansho’s squirrel-berry catastrophe? Chicken breast is rolled around herbed mince that’s slow-cooked before being tempura-fried so the skin is crackle-crisp but still light, closer to oven-baked perfection than finger-lickin’ calorie dump. Some of the milk in the bechamel, a classic French white sauce, is replaced with dashi, a Japanese stock. Also on the plate, a golden bake of thinly sliced potatoes and a red wine jus. Sorry, rubberneckers, it’s delicious, a happy midpoint between comforting food hug and elegant culinary ballet.

When Japanese and French flavours and techniques are melded, it’s done with sensitivity and purpose.

Bansho is a passion project by first-time restaurateurs Larry Xie and Mira Wu. He’s from Melbourne’s western suburbs, where his parents ran cafes and a motel before shifting to Adelaide, where they owned casual Japanese eateries. She grew up in China. The couple met in Chicago as architecture students and bonded over a shared love of dining out. The restaurants that captivated them were cosy bistros in New York neighbourhoods and the fancy French restaurants of Tokyo.

Back in Melbourne, they cooked up the idea for Bansho with Japanese chef Tomotaka Ishizuka, who has three decades of experience. I first encountered Tomo-san’s food at the exquisite Melbourne kaiseki restaurant that still bears his surname. He later had a four-year stint as chef de cuisine at Crown Resorts. The trio is hands-on at Bansho which feels professional but also personal, like the people running it care deeply that it works.

Bansho’s owners have created a harmonious and welcoming dining room.
Bansho’s owners have created a harmonious and welcoming dining room.Bonnie Savage

You see nothing of Bansho from the outside. Before I dined here, I stood on the street one bright autumn day and squinted pointlessly into the dimly brown dining room.

Once you walk in, though, the setting is harmonious and welcoming. The curved lines, brass railings and booths read a little art deco, but there are Japanese elements in the printed wallpaper, natural stone and open sushi counter.

You could just come for sushi or sashimi: it’s exquisite. You could even visit for vegan sushi: the plant-based menu is amazing, a product of Ishizuka’s time designing kaiseki, a style of dining that entails a progression of set courses and includes many vegetables. I loved the red capsicum on rice ($6) and the gunkan ($6), an oval sushi roll piled here with native beach banana. The regular sushi platter ($78) is truly lovely, reminding the diner that even though raw fish is ubiquitous these days, there’s a huge gap between food-court fodder stuffed in plastic clamshells and the skilful rendering of premium seafood.

Bansho’s sushi platter is truly lovely.
Bansho’s sushi platter is truly lovely.
Bonnie Savage

I didn’t have huge expectations of Bansho: the one report I’d had from a diner was that it was “a bit weird”. I have to disagree: I was transported as soon as I walked in, then carried along by the experience. Whether you call it fusion, melding or mash-up, the closest I got to a squirrel was seeing a possum scarper up a tree on my way home.

The low-down

Vibe: A stylish amalgam of two of the world’s most poised cuisines

Go-to dish: Sushi platter, $78

Drinks: There’s a good range of wines from France plus local French varietals. The nascent sake offering needs developing

Cost: About $200 for two, plus drinks

This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine

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