Theatrical knife-wielding chefs, delicious freshly cooked dishes, upbeat music and an extensive cocktail list combine to make for a distinctive and memorable dining experience at Benihana.
The Japanese Steakhouse, which pioneers group teppan dining – where your dinner is cooked right in front of you on a hot plate by a flamboyant chef who performs all kinds of dizzying tricks – is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a special 9-course ladies-only menu.
The Keiko Menu has been designed in honour of Benihana’s female CEO Keiko Ono Aoki, who took over the Benihana empire in 2008 after her husband and founder Hiroaki ‘Rocky’ Aoki passed away. The chain has grown from just one restaurant in 1964 to 120 global locations today.
I was lucky enough to have a taste of the limited-edition menu (available till late August) this week, and as the courses progressed, the food only got better – I’ll give a course-by-course breakdown in a sec.
I was bursting out of my jeans by the end of the 9 courses thanks to generous, filling portions, which make the menu great value for money (£30 per person, including a plum wine cocktail and a glass of wine). It also presents the perfect excuse to get together with the girls – especially if you’re not into all this World Cup malarkey!
A birthday meal is also extra special at Benihana. The chefs make it into a massive deal: they surround your table and serenade you with a Japanese version of the happy birthday song, and often you and your group get a free dessert – so perhaps consider making it your birthday destination and make sure the restaurant knows it!
Here’s what you get in the Keiko menu:
- Onion soup
Tastes way better than it sounds – just the right side of punchy.
- Benihana salad with homemade ginger dressing
Lots of lettuce leaves smothered in a sauce, basically. Crisp and tasty.
- Healthy starter plate (rock n roll sushi, tofu with ikura, edamame and avocado)
So pretty! Didn’t know which to go for first; opted for the spoon of tofu. Tofu has a very soggy and wet texture as you’d expect, but combined with the sauce, and when you sip it all down together (don’t try and bite it into two as I did), it tastes best. Sushi was delicious, but it was a massive mouthful. If you manage to eat that in one go, and look elegant at the same time, I’ll pay you £50 – I looked like I’d just put a baby elephant in my mouth. The little red caviar balls on the sushi add an interesting touch too.
- Vegetable tempura
Can’t comment – for some reason these didn’t appear on my table, not that I needed any more food!
- Prawn and vegetable appetisers
The prawns actually ROCKED MY WORLD; they were fresh, succulent, bouncy, and perfectly cooked. Plus, the chef cut up the prawns with impressive dexterity and speed before cooking them and flinging them through the air straight onto my plate. Cool.
- Hibachi salmon
This was served with vegetables and it was soft and light. When we explained to the chef that my dining companion didn’t eat steak (included in course 8), he was very accommodating and substituted her hibachi salmon for the steak, and instead made her hibachi black cod for this meal. All I can say is WOW. Just wow. If you go to Benihana and don’t try the black cod, man, you’re missing out. I think I could eat about 10 plates of that. Irresistibly good.
- Chicken crêpe with hoi sin sauce
Reminded me of the Chinese duck wrap, but this was made with chicken and a thicker, sweeter pancake. The vegetables in the pancake gave it crunch and the hoi sin sauce was moreish. Great with the Benihana signature ginger sauce.
- Hibachi steak with mushroom served with hibachi rice
A Benihana classic: this was a mammoth piece of steak, and the chef cooked it exactly how I liked. It was tender, juicy and plump. The fried rice was really good too – and again, the chef performed a dazzling trick where he flipped the bowl of rice through the air to land on my table, and not a grain fell out!
- Cheesecake dumpling
They saved the best till last. This unique dessert merges so many textures: the crispiness of the dumplings, the creaminess of the cheese inside and the cold, sweet ice cream with the squidgy strawberries. Divine.
It was a fun night out, complete with flying prawns and knives – and the Keiko menu is satisfying; not only for the food, but also because it celebrates womankind. Power to us!
Thanks to our skilled chef Richie for keeping a firm hold on those knives, and to Oscar from Benihana Piccadilly for looking after us and making our evening so impressive.