The Covid-19 pandemic was the catalyst for many entrepreneurs to start F&B businesses that capitalised on gaps in the market. This is exactly what Tee Ching Kian and his like-minded partners did when they collaborated together to launch Hinode Bento, a business designed around beautiful Japanese artisanal bento boxes.
“We started this brand during the movement control order. Previously the partners had restaurants as well, but during the MCO, the feedback from customers was that whatever food we used to serve for dine-in was not as good as expected once we packed it and sent it out.
“So that’s how we got the idea of starting a business inspired by Japanese bento boxes. The whole principle behind it is that even though it is packed and sent out, it should still be delicious and fresh when it arrives at its destination,” explains Tee.
While the brand at first catered to the flurry of online orders that were prevalent during the pandemic, they have since jumped onboard the dine-in bandwagon and their fledgling outlet in Bukit Jalil in Kuala Lumpur has opened its doors to physical customers.
Tee says the emphasis at Hinode Bento continues to remain the same, as he and his team are dedicated to selling quality artisanal bento sets. This is especially important to the founders as Tee says they have noticed that there are not many competitors in the market, which is why they have the opportunity to set their standards sky-high.
“One of our selling points is how we decorate the bento, so it doesn’t just taste good, it looks good too. In that sense, I don’t think there are a lot of competitors doing what we are doing because our food is made to order – it doesn’t sit out on the counter for hours like so many other bento meals you see in the market.
“Our bento boxes are always freshly made and even our packaging is custom-made, so we pack the meals in imported cute wooden boxes to create authentic Japanese meals,” explains Tee.
To test out the brand’s bento mettle, start with the Shanshoku Unagi Bento (RM36.90). The meal is inspired by the Japanese artisan spirit and concept of shibui, which values simplicity and minimalism. Shanshoku itself means “three colours” in Japanese, which is why you will be instantly greeted by the visual splendour of deep brown caramelised unagi (eel), vivid green horenso gomae (Japanese sesame spinach salad) and sunny yellow kinshi tamago (Japanese shredded egg crepe).
“One of the highlights of any unagi dish is the sauce. Ours is slow-cooked from chicken bones, vegetables and seven types of spices. The premium imported unagi is then grilled for a light crispy surface before the sauce is applied and it is grilled again,” explains Tee.
This is a meal that delights from the very first moment you unveil the beautiful box that it comes in. The aesthetic appeal of the dish is omnipresent and this segues into the flavour aspect which delivers on every count.
The unagi for example has been grilled to perfection and is exquisite – tender with a firm bite and couched in a sauce that is addictively good. The egg and spinach add textural contrast as well as simpler flavour elements that complement the eel perfectly.
Up next, try the Sakura Chirashi Bento (RM33.90). This is a stunning head-turner with the sort of physical attribute that will brighten up your day. Chirashi actually means scattered, so most chirashi sets offer a smorgasbord of ingredients heaped atop a bed of sushi rice.
In this iteration, you will discover cured mackerel, salmon, prawns, pickled vegetables and egg crepes, topped with sakura powder. This is a meal that trawls through the richness of the aquatic world and delivers a treasure trove of maritime flavours.
This is countenanced by the acerbic qualities of the pickled vegetables and the floral nuances of the sakura powder. Overall, this is certainly a meal that tastes as good as it looks.
For a hint of fire, try the Spicy Karaage Onigiri Bento with Korokke (RM24.90). Here, crispy, crackly spicy fried chicken is the hot centrepiece of this meal. The chicken is addictively good with succulent, juicy meat. The korokke is a fried ball that features chicken and pumpkin and is a nice counterpoint to the meal, albeit less memorable than the chicken. Overall, this is a smile-inducing meal from start to finish.
The brand also has a variety of sides to complement the main meals and of these, you could opt to try the Mentai Tamagoyaki (RM6.90). Basically it is a Japanese omelette topped with mentai mayo sauce and then blow-torched. This is an eggs-cellent treat for those with a penchant for fluffy, tender-as-silk omelettes.
The eatery also has in-house crafted drinks on the menu, like the Peach Rose Yogurt Burst Soda (RM12.90) which features boba couched in light yoghurt-fruity-floral flavours that will instantly awaken the senses.
Moving forward, Tee says the partners will open a second Hinode Bento outlet next month in central KL. After that, they are looking at opening a series of delivery kiosks, scattered around the Klang Valley.
“We are still new, so we are very focused on developing an interesting and creative menu as well as delivering on the consumer and delivery experience.
“But one of our plans is to open smaller kiosks ideally in PJ and KL for delivery and takeaway, so that we will be accessible to more people. Delivery fees are a pain for customers so that’s why we want to focus on opening more grab-and-go and delivery outlets in different areas,” says Tee.
Order from Hinode Bento via order.hinodebento.com