Overall a fab experience; fun and fresh with beautifully cooked food, included entertainment and a varied menu. Worth splashing the cash and a great location for a special occasion. Keep the mojitos flowing, the volcanoes flaming and the steak sizzling and I will be back as soon as I can think up another worthy occasion. The third Thursday of the month should do nicely….
I first went to Benihana for my work Christmas Party at their newest branch in St Pauls, last December 2010. As soon as I put my knife and fork down my mind raced to think of another occasion to come back for round two of this incredible dining experience.
For those of you who are not familiar with Benihana, it’s an ever growing empire of fabulous restaurants offering a ‘totally new concept in luxury dining’<!–[if !supportFootnotes]–><!–[endif]–> whereby you sit around a hibachi grill (effectively a large hot plate) and are served by your own personal chef, who knows a thing about entertainment, as well as grilling to perfection! Originally opening in New York, it now has branches across the US, in Bucharest, Moscow and three in London: Chelsea, Piccadilly and lastly St Paul’s.
I love going out for dinner but being a poor Pickle with city rent to pay, I rarely get to experience a dinner that is not supplemented by a voucher / tasteLondon card or Parent Pickle’s wallet, but Benihana is well worth saving up and digging deep into those pockets!
I soon decided the next occasion which warrants (and justifies) spending at least £30 on a main course would be my 25th birthday, which coincidentally coincides with Valentine’s Day. Now this unholy alliance of “special” days often invokes reactions of “ooh how lovely” etc etc, whilst in fact I groan every year as not only do I have to share my birthday with an overhyped, rather pointless “Hallmark Holiday” but it also means whatever I plan to do is thwarted by cupids and lovehearts! Whilst growing up I spent endless family dinners out with waitresses winking at my mum and I smiling “double date eh?!” as we sat next to my dad and brother respectively (suggestions of incest will instantly zap your birthday bounce trust me). Then, as you get older, your girlfriends would rather spend your birthday with their boyfriends (even worse if you are the only single one at the time!). And even now as part of a blissfully coupled up couple, it is still ever so tedious to be surrounded by try-hard and unconvincing daters with over-priced and under-heated generic menus at every turn. Even the airiest of establishments turn in to overstuffed dining halls with tables pushed so close together you feel like you’re at a swingers party rather than an intimate meal for two.
My birthday fell on a Monday this year and wanting to avoid going out on Actual Valentine’s Day, Mr Pickle and I chose to go out for a birthday / valentine’s dinner on the Saturday 12th. We arrived at the Piccadilly branch and were greeted eagerly and shown to our table-come-teppan which already had six diners eagerly scouring menus and devouring drinks. A big fan of having personal space when dining (my main reason for hating eating out on Valentine’s Day) I suddenly got worried this would be an awkward evening spent sharing a table with three other couples having a to whisper cumbersomely for fear of being overheard (or being distracted by their gossip!) / disturbing others. However once we sat down I realised this was not a problem. Although sat around a U-Shaped table, two at each end, four in the middle, the raised benches are surprisingly roomie, and there is plenty of room to spread out and the restaurant had such a wonderful buzz we could be as loud as we wanted without disturbing others!
Our waitress swiftly bought us menus, including a special Valentine’s Day (swiftly discarded by us two cynics!) and we salivated our way through it, each option sounding even more tantalising than the last. Although on first glance, between £21 – £36 may sound pricey for an entrée, bear in mind this includes either Onion soup a la Japanese or Miso soup (either / or, depending on whether you order a meat or seafood dish), Hibachi prawn and Benihana salad with ginger dressing appetiser and an accompaniment of hibachi vegetables (onion, courgette and mushrooms), steamed rice and Japanese tea. Also available are several side orders (including hibachi vegetables and fish), sushi and tempura. You can also upgrade from standard boiled rice to freshly prepared egg fried rice, which we did (and is to date, one of my best decisions of 2011!)
After much drooling and deliberation we ordered Teriyaki Steak (sirloin cooked with teriyaki sauce and mushrooms, £28) and Chateaubriand (finest entre cut fillet of tenderloin cooked with mushrooms, £35) and two mojitos. The waitress took the order for the whole table at the same time and shortly after our personal chef made his way over to prepare and cook our meals, which is when the fun really began!
Not only do you get sublime fresh food cooked to order right in front of you, but your chef also provides you with quality, good humoured entertainment, tossing balls of rice into each guest’s mouth (I missed spectacularly!), juggling with the meat cleavers and creating fire volcanoes with stacked onion rings. There was singing, chanting and and jokes galore, meaning the meal creation process was just as mesmerising as the wonderful tastes themselves.
The steak was cooked according to taste and was done so perfectly, the hibachi prawns were seasoned expertly complementing the unfaltingly fresh tasting fish with hints of lemon and paprika and there is something undeniably magical about egg fried rice that does not taste as if it is last night’s left overs, first time round!
The atmosphere was buzzing (despite the rather sober tone at our table, with one guest ordering teriyaki salmon only to declare “I only like smoked salmon”) but her bad menu choice (and loud moaning) did nothing to dampen our spirits. A great place for couples, Benihana’s is also a great place for social dining, with large groups competing against other tables for who can sing the loudest, who can consecutively catch the most prawns in their chef’s hat and who’s onion volcano can flame the highest!
Overall: 5/5 theatrical dining at its best with an enchanting mix of fabulous food, exhilarating entertainment and amazing atmosphere.