Benihana, London – Restaurant Review
I was first recommended Benihana’s whilst visiting Las Vegas; however with there being so much variety and choice, we never managed to get around to trying it. Therefore it has been two years in the making, but we have finally gotten around to sampling the cuisine of the world-famous teppanyaki and hibachi grill restaurant last night in London. And boy what a waste of two years that has been.
Being vegetarian for over thirteen years has meant that my step back into the world of meat is one which I initially took slowly. One year in and I am pretty much as carnivorous as they come, however seafood and fish is not something I have adjusted to as one of my ‘favourite eats’ as yet. Don’t get me wrong, I love a cod with batter and a bit of vinegar but things in shells and with legs… I haven’t as yet been able to stomach it. Therefore it was with a little bit of apprehensiveness I approached the Benhiana menu. It’s true, there is a lot of seafood and sushi, however there is a wide-variety of other offerings making it suitable for seafood avoiders, red-meat dodgers and even most vegetarians will find something to suit!
The Benhiana experience is fun for all the family. First you select your option(s) from the menu and then have the delight of a skilled chef preparing the food in front of your very own eyes. This includes juggling of cleavers and knives, skillful and quick preparation of the food and just all-round good-natured laughs from the cheery chefs as they attempt to throw pots of butter into their hats, but usually miss on the first few attempts. It really was hilarious and great entertainment.
The dinner menu comprises of a number of choices. For mains you can chose from just one meat or fish option, known as the ‘Benhiana traditional Dinners’, or a meat and meat/fish combo option also referred to as ‘Specialities Dinners’ – a wide selection of meat and fish options such as lobster, Hibachi steak and chicken. And the great part is you don’t have to decide between the Black Cod or the Fillet Mignon, you can have both!
There was a number of us dining, so it was a nice opportunity to see many of the dishes and sample a little of each. I opted for just the one meat option and chose the chicken teriyaki. This comes with a host of other sides and starters: Japanese Onion Soup, Hibachi Vegetables, Benihana, Salad, Steamed Rice, Prawn Appetizer and Japanese Tea (upon request). You can also substitute the rice for egg fried rice (for an extra fee) which I chose to do.
If you think about it, the food on offer is very simple; rice and chicken cooked on a hot grill with vegetables. But the taste of the fresh ingredients combined and cooked in this way, really does give it a taste that can’t be replicated elsewhere. My teriyaki chicken was perfectly cooked, nice and golden brown on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside. The sauce was light and not too sticky and the generous helping of rice combined to make this a perfect meal.
I even ate the prawns (my first time) which were delicious when dipped into what I can only describe as a ginger and soy sauce which we were provided with. That sauce was actually one of my favourite parts of the meal, and I am probably going to insult them greatly, but I even chose to add some to the chicken teriyaki and rice for a nice extra kick too.
One major draw that I cannot fail to comment on was that I didn’t feel my food was laden with oil, which is so typical in many other Asian establishments. It had just the right amount to make you feel as though you were still having a fresh and relatively healthy (ok, healthyish) meal.
All of this said, this would not be a true review if I did not put the here the few minor drawbacks I did find with the food/restaurant and although I really did enjoy the whole package there are a few things which I felt would have made for an even better experience.
The first is that the price of the menu is considerably high. In all fairness, my meal wasn’t all that pricey as I only had one meat option and didn’t have a pudding or alcohol (I’ve had a heavy food week!), but should you chose to opt for a combo meal, be prepared to pay between £35-£68 for just the main. I suppose that’s the price you pay for fresh seafood with entertainment, but add into that a couple of drinks and a pudding and you could be looking at an average of about £80 a head… even up to £100 a head if you chose the more fishier courses. The food is good quality and nice, however for that price I have had gourmet experiences elsewhere that I have to admit were far superior to Benihana.
My next piece of feedback, which may not be a draw back to everyone as each person has a different palate, was that there was no spice or chili in the food. Nothing seemed spicy enough for me. I understand not everyone likes ‘heat’ in their food, but I think the option to add chili to the prawns or rice should be an option. They did offer a mustard dipping sauce, but this wasn’t to my taste. I just wanted that tingle on my tongue, and it the food I had lacked the required heat to do so.
The only other fault I can find with Benihana (which is really a tiny one) would be the smell! I would highly recommend you don’t visit here before an evening out; when you leave it is inevitable you will smell like a chip fat-fryer. This cannot be helped with the whole concept behind the restaurant and the very nature of it; however I would only visit here for a stand-alone meal. The whole way on the tube home I could smell fried shrimp… the clothes went straight into the washer when I returned home.
So, would I recommend? Benihana is a great dining experience if you aren’t looking for somewhere quiet and intimate (it’s very loud), should you have the funds for a fun, tasty and unique eating experience, and if you are looking for light-hearted laughs. I would recommend Benihana’s to anyone looking to experience Japanese in a whole new light – a great introduction for picky children – or for anyone looking for something a bit different then just your standard restaurant.
My overall score for Benihana’s, taking into account all aspects of the experience, is 8/10.
37 Sackville Street
London W1S 3EH
To view menu, please click here
Call 020 7494 2525 for reservations