The Teppanyaki grill is a concept that’s become popular in London, as we try and replicate the excitement of foreign dining experiences, but no one does this quite so well as Benihana. The quality of the food and the theatre of the dining experience here, is unrivaled. This string of international restaurants has a touching backstory too: the Benihana restaurants were set up by Rocky Aoki taking inspiration from his father, who after the second world war opened a coffee shop called Benihana, named after the red safflower that grew in the ruins, still now an integral part of the brand’s logo. Rocky worked hard to save and eventually the first Benihana restaurant opened in 1964 in New York City with just four tables.
Now there are 122 Benihana restaurants around the globe and the name is synonymous with Japanese culture and cuisine, providing authentic experiences in countless international locations. Rocky embraced the idea of showmanship and dining as theatre, which are still integral themes to the collection of restaurants.
Benihana has just launched a wagyu menu, proving that wagyu doesn’t have to break the bank. It’s a perfect opportunity to visit the restaurant if you haven’t yet, or a great excuse to return if you’ve already sampled their incredible food.
There is a lunch menu, a set dinner menu and a range of side dishes, each embracing this beautiful meat. Having been to Japan, I can spot an authentic experience pretty quickly and Benihana is exactly that. With shared seating set around a chef’s station and an open grill, you can watch your food get prepared and cooked in front of you. The chefs are playful, comedic and highly skilled in more than just cooking. They toss around knives like the most skilled circus performers and their witty banter keeps guests laughing throughout the meal. It really is a memorable experience, which would be perfect for a special occasion meal or just getting together with friends. It’s also popular with families as the children are so enthralled by the performance of the chefs, that the adults can get on with enjoying their evening.
Benihana also never compromises on quality. Their wagyu is authentically Japanese; supplied by Tajimaya, it is Kobe beef, which has to match a range of strict criteria to be classified as so, including containing a high fat marbling ratio, which is what gives it that melt in your mouth quality. The cows get regularly massaged by their owners, they eat a rich, healthy diet and live in a happy, stress-free environment, which sounds like a winning formula. Lots of cuts are classed as wagyu, using technicalities to name it as such but really the top notch stuff comes from our friends in Japan which Benihana have taken the time to source carefully. This is evident in their menu and dishes.
They have successfully found new and inventive ways to serve this meat too; their wagyu sushi is a wonder, with a slice of tender wagyu served on a block of rice. They also serve wagyu croquettes, wagyu tempura and wagyu asparagus rolls. We were lucky enough to sample their wagyu garlic rice with wagyu steak, which was absolutely delicious. The meat was everything you’d expect from a top wagyu cut, it was deliciously tender, with a beautiful meaty flavour. The chefs did a fantastic job of preparing it in front of us, showing us the cut it came from and explaining the process along the way, not without the theatrics of open flames and knife throwing.
All this was paired with a delicious range of sakes by Shirakabegura, including my new favourite drink, the MIO sparkling sake which tasted like a naturally sweeter, fruity version of champagne.
Benihana provides the kind of evening out which feels like a special occasion every time; it would make a perfect date night, a birthday celebration or a meal out with the family. A night inside their lively, buzzing restaurant is a thrilling experience and you are guaranteed to come out well-fed and with a smile on your face.
The Wagyu lunch menu is £17.90 and the Wagyu Steak set menu is £67.