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benihana, piccadilly

The onion ring 'volcano'

Every 4-5 months, I meet up somewhere for dinner with 4 of my ex-colleagues from the job I left 3 years ago.  we make sure that we go somewhere different each time we meet, and for some reason, it tends to be me who chooses and books where we’re going.

We met on Wednesday and I had booked us in at Benihana in Sackville Street, just off of Piccadilly.  A friend took me and another mutual friend to Benihana for a joint birthday lunch about 4 years ago…and I remembered loving it, so thought it might be something a bit different.

Benihana is all about the theatre – it is a real ‘dining experience’.  It’s not just about the food, it’s about the entertainment.

They do a promotional £22 ‘8 course menu’ which is what I would advise getting as it is really good value for money, and also ensures you get the full Benihana experience.  8 courses is pushing it a bit as a description, as most of them are more ‘elements of a dish’ than a course.

It says October special - but I'm sure we had the same menu when I went before!

The restaurant isn’t laid out with tables in a conventional sense.  There are a number of

large hotplates, with 8 seats placed around three sides.  A waitress will take your order (if you’re having the promo menu, you get the choice of two main proteins from steak, seabass, black cod, chicken, prawns or salmon).  you will be brought your 1st course of

a clear onion broth which is surprisingly fresh and flavourful, and then each set of 8 then has their own Benihana chef who will come along with a cart of ingredients.

We were lucky that we had quite a theatrical chef who was very talkative (I spotted a couple who were less engaging).  You’re brought a fresh but uninspriring iceberg lettuce based salad with a tasty dressing and a couple of different dipping sauces ready for the food from the hotplate.

the chef will start with veg – onions, mushrooms and courgettes in our case.  There’s no marinades or flavourings added – everything is very simple – but you have the dipping sauces.  The first bit of theatre comes when the chefs make a ‘volcano’ from the onion rings – meticulously building them up in descending size order, and then back out in ascending, pouring brandy in and lighting it – always to surprised but delighted applause!

the waitress brings everyone three yummy little california rolls and then there are various tricks from the chefs with eggs – juggling them on their spatulas, landing them in their hats etc and then cooked within egg and veg fried rice.

The meat & fish are all of good quality – and however you ask for your steak, that is exactly how you get it.  The steak was actually of a decent size, and we had orders of rare, medium rare and medium and they were all perfect, and steaky and tender!  Make sure someone on your table asks for prawns as they knife skills displayed are fantastic – slicing tails and butterflying in seconds and giving everyone a chance to try to toss the tail-ends into the ‘scrapings hole’ as the chef demonstrates perfectly again and again!

Unfortunately all the showy stuff is over then, and you are left with a small but quite rich perfect ending of a chocolate mousse/cake dessert.

Nothing too heavy, but filling without making you feel stuffed.  Everyone loved it.  It really is an experience that I think people in London should try at least once!  It’s not a restaurant I would go back to again and again as I think the rest of the menu is slightly overpriced, and personally, I think it’s the theatre that makes it!

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  1. October 30, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I had my first experience in 1996 when I was temporarily ensconced in Australia. I loved it and was quite excited to find Benihana in London. I’ve only been to the one on Kings Road, not as entertaining as the Aussies but still fun.

    Did your chef get you to balance your dish on your head and then he tossed and egg into it? They didn’t do it at Kings Road but they do in Sydney :p

    • October 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

      No – he didn’t do that, but he did somersault my bowl of rice to me, which made me emit a very girlie high-pitched shriek of concern LOL

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