Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
Oh, BENT-OH! This new Japanese eatery is the place for Japanese food and cultural delights. For commuters, it's right near the South Yarra Station, so you can grab a bite on your way home. Similar to the way in Japan you can get the ekiben (eki, meaning "station," and bento, the traditional Japanese lunch box) from train stations.
But here, you can also eat in. For people like me who drive and then pray for a parking spot, there was two-hour parking just outside, and even if I'd missed that one I noticed there was ample two-hour parking in the side streets.
At BENT-OH, you can eat in or are if you chained to your desk during your lunch hour, I noticed a motorcyclist rock up. You know the kind that doesn't have time to take off his helmet? He was on a mission to collect one of those tell-tale brown bags on behalf of someone with a yen for Japanese food, but not the ability to venture out and find it.
We had no such work restrictions so we ate in. BENT-OH is a pleasant place with polished wood surfaced tables, plenty of natural light and a view of the street life directly outside. The decorations are Japanese-like minimalist but beautiful and include select depictions of Manga characters, origami boxes, and paper cranes at the counter.
Our attendant brought us menus that included minimal words but photos of all the dishes. The great thing about visual menus is that they give you a clear idea of what your meal will look like when it arrives. The ratio of meat to vegetables, for example. And to order, you only have to point and not pronounce.
Table service was quick and efficient and during the short wait, we chatted over a flask of complimentary Japanese tea.
Looking around I saw quite a few Japanese people eating here which was a promising sign. The number of solo eaters confirmed that this is a relaxed informal place, although you can also bring someone and have a chat over a long lunch.
I also noted an extended family sharing their dishes. As BENT-OH prices are reasonable, so you can order up big and enjoy lots of variety.
My dining companion observed wisely: 'For just over the price of a couple of pieces of sushi, you can come here and get a whole sit-down meal.'
Being a mostly vegan but sometimes (pescatarian), she ordered a sushi sashimi bento, box ($14.50).
Being a paleotarian who dabbles in rice, I asked for the steak bento box ($18).
I also noted a few vegetarian options on the menu such as tofu and veggie curry don.
It's great the way Japanese food is adaptable to many of our challenging, modern-day, dietary requirements.
While waiting for our bento boxes we tucked into edamame beans (fresh soya beans cooked lightly in their pods $4.50) and a generous serve of tempura vegetables ($7.50) cooked quickly in a light batter so the vegetables retained their shape, flavour and crispness.
Surprisingly, our bento boxes looked even better on arrival than they had in the stunning photos; fully loaded and packed tightly as bento boxes should be.
The sashimi was fresh and sliced in an aesthetically pleasing way. It was obvious that the overall appeal had been carefully crafted to supply contrasts in the colours and textures. The cauliflower flowerettes, for example, were bright yellow and stood out against the bright green salad and purple items
Bento boxes are healthy meals as they are a balanced combination ratio that contains a serve of protein, one of carbs (usually rice) and 2-3 serves of vegetable.
There were a range of dons (Japanese "rice bowl dishes" consisting of fish, meat, vegetables or other ingredients simmered together and served over rice). Options included veggie curry, seafood, teriyaki beef, fried chicken, salmon, and spicy pork belly don. There was even a bowl of hamburger don. (Prices ranged from $11.50 to $18.50.)
I would have loved one of the ice-cream cups to finish up with ($9.50) as in the photo it looked well decorated with all kinds of fruit.
But they were out. Possibly this was to do with the fact that as a generous opening special they had been giving out free ice-cream to customers.
So we wandered a few doors down to Ned's Bake (134 Toorak Rd) for an excellent coffee in a European style setting.
There are no shortage of restaurants in this strip, so if you like the idea of a progressive meal, wander along and see what ethnicity of food presents itself during your wanderings.
But one thing I would strongly suggest is to call into BENT-OH and order one of their secret bento boxes.
You won't find it on the menu but ask as it certainly exists.
I've taken a photo of the outside of the mystery bento box below. The only reason I didn't order it myself is because the contents are such a highly kept secret.
The kind of secret as Maxwell Smart once said: "If I told you I would have to kill you.' So, I wouldn't have been able to include a photo in this story in any case.
I can tell you a little, however. When I interrogated the manager I did find out that the content of the mystery bento box changes daily, but always contain the very best and finest of what's seasonal.
I was told a few of the exceptional ingredients, which of course I can't pass on or it would spoil your surprise.
What I will say for lovers of Japanese cuisine, is that, you won't be disappointed.
The secret bento costs $22 and includes a special dessert. And if you have another lucky surprise, you may just get one of those two-hour free parking spots.