There’s a pile of post inside the door at Bentoya on Edinburgh’s Bread Street, it’s gloomy, and nobody seems to be home.
“We are closed at moment to do some renovations,” says the website of this Japanese restaurant.
We’ve pined for it over the last couple of months. It’s not necessarily the best sushi restaurant in Edinburgh (that’d be Kanpai). However, it’s so geographically handy, and their bento boxes are perfectly pitched when it comes to a little bit of everything that you fancy and what one can afford.
Hooray, then, when we discovered that our favourite weeknight pre-cinema haunt had opened a sister eatery, which has sprung up in the pitch of what was a short-lived Thai place on the boutiquey St Stephen Street. They’ve fixed up the previously nondescript interior with Hokusai wave prints and woven seats, for a slightly classier and cooler look than low key Bentoya. As it’s Stockbridge, the menu is a quid or two pricier to match.
We chose a small selection of obvious classics to start, like the set of five chicken and vegetable gyoza (£3.90), each of which was a pale and steamy half moon with a toasted undercarriage and a rough, satisfyingly savoury and well seasoned centre of chicken and leek. Great.
The spicy squid (£4.50) option consisted of crumbed soft hoops that were sparkling with a salty and szechuan peppery surface. Dangerously snacky and, like everything else here, beautifully presented, with the seafood bolstered up by clouds of lettuce and scattered with a sort of Japanese take on salsa, in beautiful grey stoneware bowls.
We also loved the aubergine goma (£4.50), which was a roasting hot and sweatily juicy half section of this fruit, embalmed with sweet miso across its singed cross hatch of char lines.
Our wasabi prawn (£5.50) dish featured six butterflied and firm bits of seafood, each of which was glazed with a pastel green, creamy and mild horseradishy sauce, with a scattering of sesame seeds and a generous dollop of frothy looking tobiko roe on top, plus a charred lime wedge on the side.
Next up was the sashimi (£8.90) – a parsley-strewn still life on a bowlful of finely crushed ice, with a backdrop of a scallop shell and a sort of mini tatami mat of twigs. The raw stuff consisted of four fat tongue sized pieces of fat-striped salmon, three mauve slices of tuna, and the same number of the thorn shaped surf clams.
All beautiful and salty sea fresh.
We liked the dramatic presentation of the set of eight volcano rolls (£10.90), which were covered in tobiko and bright red wisps and coils of dried chilli. I’m not sure how I feel about a dairy based sauce on top of my sushi, but this gently spicy version was rather enjoyable, especially contrasted against the crunch of the prawn tempura and spring onion filling.
For those after a more comfort foody dish, the roast duck rice (£7.50) was as wholesome as it gets, with a huge pile of feathery starchy rice, a soft duck breast plastered in a sweet miso sauce, steamed broccoli and a pile of pearlescent bean sprouts.
We felt like we’d eaten lots, but there was so much more we wanted to try – the nigiri, gunkan, temaki, the tempura. If only a review consisted of more than one visit.
Puddings are not quite as outstanding as than the other stuff, but acceptable. I went for the halved pieces of vanilla ice-cream filled mochi (£3.50), which was tooth and brain botheringly straight out the freezer. While, our quartet of fish-finger sized banana katsu (£4.30) was an interesting take on the nana fritter, with a less fatty coating of breadcrumbs. This option came with a large blob of decent black sesame ice-cream too.
After that lunch, I hope it’s not too fickle to say that I don’t miss Bentoya as much as I did.
“When will it be re-opening?” I ask the lovely waiter at Kenji.
“In about a month,” was the reply, though, to be honest, I think I already prefer their more sophisticated sister.
Lunch for three, excluding drinks, £53.50