“ 9 Parkway, Camden, London, NW1 7PG.Tel: 0871 0752816 „
If you had asked me a year ago if I liked Japanese food I would have said no. In fact, every time a colleague asked if I wanted to go to Bento Cafe for lunch my reply would be that I didn't like Japanese food. I had eaten in a few Japanese restaurants before and never enjoyed any of the meals. Clearly I was just eating in the wrong places because since trying the food in Bento Cafe at the beginning of this year I have discovered that I really do like Japanese food (or at least one particular Japanese dish).
Bento Cafe is a restaurant in Camden Town and not a cafe as the name would suggest. It's easy to get to from Camden Town tube station, just head down Parkway and you will find Bento Cafe a short walk down on the left.
Bento Cafe is not the most comfortable restaurant, the chairs are a little bit on the hard side but for a quick meal at lunch time that isn't too much of a problem. I would be quite reluctant to spend longer in there because it isn't very comfortable. The restaurant always seems to be clean to me and getting a table is usually not a problem, even during the lunch rush. It does get very busy in there and crowded but there are a lot of tables and they're not all on top of each other which is certainly a good thing.
The service in Bento Cafe is pretty appalling. There are always a lot of staff so there is never any trouble getting their attention when you need to and service is fast but it's also not at all friendly. Bento Cafe is by far the unfriendliest restaurant that I have eaten in in Camden. You're lucky if the same member of staff sees to you twice and even luckier if you get anything resembling a smile. I have gone through entire meals there without a single member of staff saying a word to me. I have been escorted to my table in silence, given my order without them saying a word and served my food again without them speaking to me. At first I found their rudeness very off putting but after a couple of visits you just get used to it. I guess when you're on your lunch break the important thing is that the service is fast and I have never had to wait very long for my meal or to place my order.
By this point I imagine you're wondering how it is that I'm giving this restaurant four stars. Well, the food is amazing. If I could have afforded it I would have eaten at Bento Cafe every lunch time when I was working in Camden. I only ever ate there during my lunch hour so I can't comment on the evening food but during the day it was excellent. There is a really wide choice of food, including several bento boxes that are excellent value. The usual menu seemed to be a bit on the expensive side for lunch but I could order a bento box and a drink and pay less than £10 and for what you get this is really good value.
I always ordered the salmon bento box. This would include salmon in some kind of sauce, vegetables in batter, vegetables, salad and rice. The salmon is lovely. It's always cooked perfectly and the sauce really compliments it. I also loved the vegetables that were served with it. The fried vegetables were always really tasty and big. I didn't know you could get mushrooms as big as the ones served here. The other vegetables are also very nice. I couldn't tell you what they are (although I wish that I had asked before I left Camden because I would love to buy some) but they had a very interesting texture and taste. I always though that the rice was a bit plain but you can put some salmon and sauce on it if you want to make it tastier. Although the salad was just normal salad it did have a very interesting dressing on it and I mean interesting in a good way!
I would always leave Bento Cafe feeling very satisfied with my meal but not overly full and I think that's perfect for lunch time. There's nothing worse than being too tired to do anything productive in the afternoon because you've had a heavy lunch. The bento box was light but filling enough so that you weren't left hungry, it was tasty and it was very reasonably priced.
Bento Cafe isn't particularly comfortable and the service is unfriendly but quick. However, the food is lovely and worth putting up with the rude staff and uncomfortable chairs for such a delicious meal. If the staff had got their act together and made more of an effort this would be a five star place.