I was super excited about the night ahead – a massive 8-course Japanese banquet at Bentoya, followed by Steel Panther at the Palace Theatre. Timing had to be impeccable as the saucy glam rock band was going to be on stage at 8pm, and our booking at Bentoya was at 6pm.
omg… the suspense…
I arrive at Bentoya at 6:05pm after depositing the car at the nearest car park establishment around the corner. I had to wait until 6pm before taking the car in, otherwise I’d have to pay ridiculously expensive day rates instead of the $5 flat night rate.
After advising the waiter that half of our party (Cin and Matt) was going to be a tad late, I sat down to take a breath and wait for Dave to arrive. In the meantime, I soaked up the sights and sounds of my surroundings.
Plain wooden tables with black wicker chairs in a clean and spacious room with plain white walls and huge light fixtures that filled the room with a distilled glow (unfortunately not glowing enough for my camera to take decent photos – apologies!). The music was cool and jazzy with the occasional big band fanfare. I felt good in this place.
Because of the cuisine, I knew I was going to fall in love with the crockery, especially the cute little serving plate and sauce dishlette. CUTE!
When everyone had arrived, we ordered drinks. Dave and I got warm sake while Cin and Matt drank Kirin.
Sake is a typical Japanese drink with the alcohol content sitting at around 15%, and is occasionally called rice wine. However, unlike wine, which is made by fermentation, sake is produced from a special brewing process more comparable to beer.
This sake was delicious. It had a very smooth entry without too much acidic pinch, and the overall taste was slightly sweet, almost fruity or floral. It was very nice. Dave and I got a teeny bottle each.
For starters, we received a bowl of boiled edamame beans. They were warm and well seasoned, and an absolute delight to eat. They reminded me of the lupini we had at Supermaxi, except with more salt and softer beans. Very yummy.
The next course was gyoza – Japanese dumplings filled with mince meat that are first fried before water is added to the pan to soften and moisturise the skin with a steam-like effect.
Apart from being a little overdone with the frying, they were delicious with that excellent garlic and ginger flavour. I love gyoza, so sharing four dumplings between two people was a massive tease.
Next up was a plate of sashimi with tuna, white fish and salmon next to some wasabi and shredded daikon.
My first morsel was the tuna. It was super tender and delicious at first, but then I got a fishy aftertaste which I wasn’t happy about at all. The rest of the fish pieces were just as tender, but fresher and without the fishy icky. My last piece had lots of wasabi on it and it made me think about this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DJ8B1ek_L0
Miso soup was next, and I’ve found that it can be quite a hit-and-miss affair. Lucky for us, this batch was good – not too seaweedy or fishy. This could have been because of it’s Westernisation…
Miso soup is usually made with fish stock, whereas these might have been made with either a vegetable or chicken stock. There were also a few leaves of seaweed and spring onion floating about above a mountain of small tofu squares hidden in the cloud of miso paste.
Next up was soft shell crab. The story behind these fried suckers is, their exoskeleton has been shed or removed to reveal a new, softer exoskeleton that is easier to eat. They’re then dipped in batter and fried, before being seasoned with lemon juice and salt for our pleasure. And oh my what a pleasure! The crab meat inside the body was succulent and juicy while the legs had an excellent crispy crunch.
Fortunately for me, Cin didn’t have the guts to eat her portion of this delicious dish so I got to have an extra piece. The legs freaked her out, but seriously, how different are the legs going to taste from the rest of the crab? They’d be even more delicious because of their crispy, salty goodness – like pretzels or onion rings. Just fkn eat it!
Next up was Chicken Ribs Karaage, chicken pieces marinated in soy, ginger and garlic before being covered in wheat flour or potato starch and deep fried. These were absolutely delicious and juicy, but seemed to be missing a bit of bang. Lucky for me, there was a pot of shichimi togarashi on the table.
Shichimi togarashi is a Japanese spice mixture with 7 ingredients – red chilli powder, sichuan pepper, roasted orange peel, black sesame seeds, white sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ground ginger and nori seaweed. I don’t think I could have asked for a better bang for my bite.
I used the mayonnaise as an adhesive to get the shichimi to stick to the chicken and it was heaven. The moist chicken flesh exploded with flavour in my mouth.
We were starting to get full, and it was about 7:10pm with three more courses to go. We were starting to get a little anxious and the lovely staff could see it so they pushed the food out faster.
The next course was grilled wafu beef – not to be confused with wagyu. Wafu means ‘Japanese style’, and it was basically a thin peice of beef that was seared to a very medium rare state, on a puddle of delicious goma dressing with a side salad that included seaweed salad.
The flavour of the beef contained the remnants of the grill, but the main event was the goma sauce. It’s available at most asian groceries with a heavy price tag, but it does wonders to any salad or chicken dish. The roasted sesame seeds are ground and combined with soy sauce, rice vinegar and mayonnaise, as well as other spices to make a creamy and savoury dressing that isn’t too zingy. Just lovely.
The seaweed salad was also delicious and fresh.
I could have said that I could not have eaten another bite at that point but I’d be lying, and the Japanese mochi were next. I do love a good mochi, and had my first taste a few months ago.
These bundles of powdered joy are made from glutinous rice that has been ground down into a paste, then stuffed with green or red bean paste before being fashioned into a ball or disc.
The green mochi were filled with green bean paste that has a gentle apricot or peach flavour which was just gorgeous. The white mochi had the typical red bean paste, which sometimes reminds me of Nutella because of it’s rich consistency and sweet nutty flavour.
The mochi was served with genmaicha, which is green tea infused with roasted brown rice. The flavour was very familiar, almost like the corn tea that you can get at Korean restaurants… and then it hit me! I had sampled some Gen Mai Cha Sencha from T2! It’s a comforting tea that’s kinda tastes like popcorn.
I really enjoyed my meal at Bentoya. The staff were so accommodating but never intrusive. They understood that we had a time restraint and catered to it! The food was delicious and presented beautifully (which didn’t come across in my terribly lit photos), and the venue was clean and fresh without being sterile.
We ended up leaving the restaurant at about 7:50pm, with only 10 minutes to get to the Palace before Steel Panther’s scheduled start, but Dave and I still needed to get back to the car to dump our bags before the show!
Cin made the executive decision that we were going to catch a cab because she desperately wanted to be there to catch their opening song, but just before we arrived at the drop off point, I realised that I had left the tickets in the car.
“Do you want us to come back with you?!” Cin yelped anxiously.
“No! Go! Save yourselves!” I screamed… (dramatisation)
Cin and Matt went inside to establish a place in the queue to get in while Dave and I turned the cab around to go back to the carpark and collect the tickets. The taxi driver was a maniac, but we loved every minute of the ludicrous speeds, screeching breaks and honking horns. He stopped out the front of the car park and I piss-bolted to the car, got the tickets and was back next to Dave’s side within 30 seconds, huffing and puffing…
“TO THE PALACE!”
After another 5 minutes of speeding, screeching and honking, we met up with Cin and Matt in the queue, which had wrapped itself around the corner into the alleyway. It was well past 8:15pm… had we missed it?
No! We had enough time to grab a beer from the bar and find an excellent viewpoint on the third level. Not long after, the lights dimmed and the show began…