Bentoya is quietly located in the recesses of Hardware St and claims Hardware Societe and Joost as its A-list neighbours. I was very surprised to learn that it had been residing there for the past decade, which suggests a new advertising campaign might be in order as I have wandered past numerous times without so much as a tilt to my head. I think because of its almost office-like frontage, more than just a street board might be necessary to drum up attention of passers-by. Certainly, it is in a prime spot to capture many an office lunchtime crowd. And if the portion-size holds true, then it offers very good value for your dollar.
The layout of the restaurant is simplistic without overcrowding, but the standard furnishings are perhaps the first let down to its atmosphere. Even the addition of simple Japanese-accented cushions would liven up the place. Also, the assumed provision of some tea might be ideal and consistent with the customer’s intention to have Japanese food. The service is friendly, and the menu was well-explained when enquired about. Available during lunch service are four lunch banquets starting at $35, which should comfortably accommodate most diners. The bento boxes are well varied, with tempura (seafood or vegetarian), Sukiyaki beef, tonkatsu and the signature Wafu steak. Prices start at a low $13 up to $20ish, which is incredible value considering the surprising generosity that is presented to you. I really liked the preparation of the Wafu, still tender and red in the middle. The tempura coating is sufficiently prepared, not excessively oily and provides a good crunch, albeit a touch soft on the finish which suggests a need to rein in the liquidity of the batter. All bentos are provided with a choice of steamed rice or cold soba noodles, and again, you get plenty of these to fill up on. The two fried mini-gyoza sitting on the salad leafs are an unfortunate distraction from the overall appearance of the meal, as they are unnecessary I feel, and cheapens the look of the bento.
If you are really looking to feed, then entrees are certainly on the menu and average about $10 each. The Karaage (fried chicken ribs) is nice, the meat still retaining its juiciness but was fried a smitten too long, judging by the colour which was leaning towards the darker side of brown. The Takoyaki was nicely prepared and went down very easily with its creamy filling. The traditional gyoza was a complete let-down as the pan-fried sides were charred to the point of bitterness; no surprising the only unfinished dish on the table. The agedashi tofu was a good attempt for $9, and again very generous portions of tofu to go twice around a 4-person table.
On this occasion, I was fortunate to be provided an ideal vantage into the kitchen, which seems to be worked by 3-4 people. That is a concern, as my table’s bento boxes were served with substantial time gaps between them. For a restaurant/cafe this size, I wonder whether that number of staff would be effective on a busy service. Mind you, it was only slightly more than half full while I was there, and these time gaps were already apparent. Perhaps one solution would be to make slight modifications to the menu and dishes. I think in a lunchtime place like this, a smaller menu would be beneficial and advantageous. 6 entrees and 4 bento choices, with perhaps a special of the day. The tempura bentos could have been adjusted down by 25%. Offer a drinks option with the bento boxes, because not everyone will have the luxury of an extended lunch banquet, and it saves service time asking what drinks customers want.
Overall, Bentoya is in a convenient CBD spot and is a good option for lunch. Its prices are very reasonable with generous portions. I would recommend Bentoya solely on value-for-money. However, it does suffer from a lack of atmosphere, and doesn’t have a key drawcard which would entice customers to return regularly.