I'd been to Bentoya before, but only for the Bento boxes. But with the Groupon Gang needing a sixth for their visit it was a chance to indulge in an Izakaya style banquet.
Izakaya food is upmarket bar food, food to eat while chucking back on beer or sake. There are quite a few that have appeared recently around town, producing food that’s often fried, sometimes a bit salty but generally tasty. Bentoya's offering was for eight courses with a glass of wine or sake for $59 for two people, down from the usual $140.
First course, a generous bowl of Edamame, salted soya beans. They strike me as a slightly healthier version of the complementary peanuts sometimes provided at bars, food that makes its way from bowl to mouth without much thought, and salty enough to inspire the purchase of a few more drinks. While surprisingly only one of the ladies who groupon had tried these before, they were a definite success, tender and flavoursome.
Second course was a plate of fresh sashimi. A mixture of salmon, tuna and white fish, for some reason this didn't quite hit the mark with me. I think it was because it was served slightly more chilled than I would have liked so that the full flavours of the fish didn't come through.
On the other hand I did love the gyoza. Great flavour and excellent texture, pan fried with a nice crispy shell on one side, tender on the other.
Next up was the soft shell crab. This looked slightly weird when it hit the table, like some giant mutant spider. It was nicely crisp and not overly battered, the crab of a decent size and the meatiest soft shell crab I have ever had. If I had to pick on something it was slightly oily, but then soft shell crab typically is.
My favourite dish though was the Karaage Chicken. A lightly seasoned batter, perfectly fried on the outside and juicy on the inside, just so much better than the typical takeaway shop or KFC. However, if deep fried chicken isn't unhealthy enough on its own, being dipped in the accompanied mayonnaise made it taste even better!
Least successful of the mains was the wafu beef. This was made using char grilled porterhouse steak - not my favourite cut - and served nicely pink in the middle. I found the meat a bit more chewy than I'd expected, but the main issue was that the others preferred their meat medium or well done. The accompanying sauce was good though and the seaweed on the side disappeared rapidly (more for the texture than the taste).
To finish it off mochi dessert and green tea. Mochi are a slightly chewy dessert and these were green tea and red bean flavoured, making in interesting contrast to the more typical western style desserts. They also matched well with the green tea with toasted rice.
A nice meal, very friendly and quite efficient staff in a nice surrounding, at $30 per person a good group luncheon option but I would expect a little more for $70 each. From previous visits the bento boxes are/were probably the best near Melbourne Central but are priced accordingly. Actually I thought the best thing about this restaurant was the staff, cute and funny enough to make you smile no matter how bad a day you might be having.
Food - 7.5
Ambience - 7.5
Service - 8
Price - 7.5 (5 at full price).
115 Hardware Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel : (03) 9642 1136