Everyone wanted this year’s Grand Final in Melbourne, at a packed MCG. And it sucks that it’s not happening. But one silver lining, as with last year, is all of the inventive takeaway packs that are available to ease the at-home Granny blues. West Melbourne beer hall and izakaya Benchwarmer has been doing excellent takeaway throughout this most recent lockdown, from recurring deals (like sando Sundays) to extravagant one-off feasts.
And this one, a Japanese fried chicken feast, is an absolute pearler. Each pack comes with a whole or half fried chicken (which vegans can swap out for tempura cauliflower), barbeque corn with sauces and sides, steamed edamame and an assortment of pickles, a Japanese potato salad, togarashi lotus root chips, four brioche buns for ad-hoc chicken burgers, and two tins of craft beer. For $90 ($60 if you’re doing a half chicken) it’s a total steal. We recommend pre-ordering now to avoid pre-kickoff heartbreak.
Benchwarmer is a laidback beer hall and takeaway bottle shop that combines an obscure beer selection (half local, half international brews) with an approachable food menu. When the sun’s beaming down Victoria Street, outside tables are in high demand. The fairy-lit, astroturfed beer garden out back is a solid back-up, though.
There are plenty of long tables and window seating in the main room. During the day the white walls and tall arches keep things light; at night, the room is bathed in warm red and purple glows. The next room over has a couple of date-night booths (colour: ’70s orange) that look into the kitchen, where chef “Kenny” Keng-Hao Chiu cooks a snacky, izakaya-influenced menu.
Kaarage chicken, edamame and tempura mushroom are all available, but it’s the extensive yakitori menu that really shines. Chiu spent time on the hibachi grill at the Wagyu-centric, Michelin-starred Taipei restaurant Yuu before moving to Melbourne to cook at Supernormal and the now-closed Nieuw Amsterdam. Play it safe with some Wagyu or chicken tenderloin skewers, then challenge yourself withsome chicken heart, gizzard or liver. It’s all good, and goes down well with beer.
Benchwarmer only stocks limited release beers – no core ranges. So even if you see a beer from a well-known brewery on the drinks list, you probably haven’t tried it. Locals such as The Mill, Hop Nation and Sydney’s One Drop are frequent guests on the nine taps. They’re joined by esteemed internationals such as Gweilo, Cervisiam, Mikkeler and Garage Beer (not to be confused with Garage Project, which also makes regular appearances).
Get your beers to take away from the fridges (they’re 10 per cent off if you do). Growlers and squealers – a hangover from Benchwarmer’s Covid-lockdown early days – are also available.
There are also plenty of wines to choose from, mostly from local players such as Jamsheed, plus a few hard seltzers and a tidy line-up of sake.