My first time to Benihana and I didn’t actually know of it until recently. There are three branches, one in King’s Road, one by St Paul’s and one just off Piccadilly where I went. It is in fact, the first place I have been to in my life where you are sat around a teppan and where the chef will clang his knives and finely dice and chop all the ingredients in front of you and I have actually always wanted to do this having seen on numerous films but never seen in the flesh.
My immediate impression was how well this formula worked with the families and children present and would suit teenage celebrations like a glove. Although the food in the main, in my view, cannot be classed as fine dining (and indeed I doubt this is the aspiration of the restaurant), the real forte is the sense of fun of being entertained by your chef whilst sat around your teppan – I actually do not know or any other establishments in London that have this.
What mainly interested me however, was Benihana’s lunchtime set menu of wagyu beef or lobster to accompany 6 other parts to the meal for £17.90. Readers of my site will have picked up the gem of gaining decent products for reasonable prices at lunch and there were definitely some things to be enjoyed on this set menu. You can choose either the lobster or wagyu as your main, but just as I did with Burger and Lobster, I on the other hand, am a glutton and needed to try both in the name of exposing and reviewing as much as I can.
The result was some very clean onion soup to begin, plain salad with home made ginger dressing and some separate salmon and mushroom sushi (a mixture of mushroom and chopped & seasoned Wagyu beef ends). The battered white had Japanese tartare sauce that was much runnier and creamier than traditional mayonnaise based tartare sauces and was a lovely change from the norm. The potato croquette filled with minced wagyu gristle was actually perfectly agreeable – sounds strange to be incorporating gristle but when it is from wagyu, it is simply that rich in fat content that it is quite doable in this form and gave an earthiness to the croquettes almost as truffle would.
The main events however, were the lobster and the wagyu mains – the lobster was placed in front of us in natural colour, revealed minutes later utterly pink and ready to be cooked and then placed back in the shell, served with ginger sauce made from 8-hour prepared stock. The sauce was fine, not too hot but mildly curried and always a pleasure to have lobster. However, I thought the star of the show was the wagyu main, not just because of its luxurious fat content but the accompanying ginger and mustard sauces that were available (unnecessary, but then again I am a sauce freak) were gorgeous and a lovely replacement to my normal love of béarnaise.
The wagyu itself, imported from Japan comes from tajimi cows (raised in Hyogo Prefecture) which, although not wagyu themselves, are Japanese black cows bred with 100% genuine Wagyu input from the bull, therefore making it able to priced as reasonably as it is (this wagyu beef is the same bloodline as kobe beef, the highest form, but with a beef marbelling standard of 3-5 as opposed to 6 onwards where it becomes kobe). Even though it fell just shy of kobe beef, it was genuinely pleasant and was also nice to see a bit more on my plate than I received at Sosharu. The dessert of green tea ice cream is an acquired taste in being sour so this was not my favourite, but that is my palate and it was extremely creamy as a bonus (if this wasn’t your thing either I would be very surprised if the restaruant did not change to another flavour of ice cream that they had on request).
Overall this was a pleasing menu with an equally pleasing price tag for what you are getting on this set menu, which certainly qualifies as a good value package. Although the appearance of the restaurant may not sit in the image of fine dining, the package I had was worthy of note and there is a very good formula here – teppan cooking and entertainment for the kids and a hit of bespoke wagyu for the grown ups and at a price that minimises the ‘ouch’ factor.