Benihana has a new lunch set menu with Wagyu and Lobster on it, I went along to see what it's all about.
Following a kind invitation to review their new lunch menu, my wife and I arrived at the Piccadilly Benihana with eager bellies and very much in need of a beer. Thankfully, no sooner than we'd sat down our thirst was quenched and our appetites were well on their way to being truly satisfied. Take a look below!
The first Benihana restaurant was opened by Rocky “Hiroaki” Aoki in 1964 across the pond in New York City. He was an early pioneer of “Teppan-yaki” dining, where chefs excite audiences with cooking fresh ingredients in front of diners. Looking round the restaurant, this history is important to Benihana's vision and mood for their customers. Whilst the lunch menu doesn't include items cooked this way, other diners choices may well mean you'll get a show anyway!
The lunch menu is a festival of all kinds of Japanese food, and after being greeted warmly by the staff and offered cocktails and a beer (perfect on a hot day), miso soup came first, fragrantly reminiscent of everything we'd hoped for. Miso soup is a simple thing, and here it was bang on. Not bang on however was the restaurant's music - running straight from odd elevator music to everything non-appropriate for a Japanese restaurant. If they want us to feel the authenticity, they really should extend this to appropriate music too.
The starters then arrived, these are plain potato croquettes, super crisp with panko breadcrumbs.
Also, a ceviche of trout and salmon, sadly lacking in flavour, too cold from the fridge and an opportunity missed. English garden cress continued to confuse - perhaps this is a Japanese/English fusion dish?
Tempura is something very close to my heart. From supermarket fakes to entire restaurants dedicated to the finest tempura in Japan, I've eaten the lot - and Benihana does pretty well - the prawns were fabulous, huge, juicy and I could have eaten a bucket full, great to see veg tempura too. The accompanying salad with freshly grated ginger dressing, very refreshing!
Next up, the sushi. Arriving in super fast time, even before we'd finished the tempura, the salmon nigiri had good rice, something I hold as very important and the salmon was well flavoured. The best piece though was the mushroom sushi roll, bite-sized and packed full of flavour.
The main event approached, with wide eyes we saw a half lobster arrive with a silky katsu sauce, veg and more of their tasty rice. Lobster for lunch is an extravagance for sure, but then why the hell not! The others at our large shared table were there for exciting birthday celebrations, and at £17.95 for lunch I think it's a bargain!
The other main course is a Wagyu dish with Benihana's famous rice, onions and spring onions. The Wagyu is A4 Grade from Rib-Eye cut from provenances such as Miyazaki and Tajima.
This is a brand of Wagyu raised in and around Matsusaka City in Mie Prefecture, and only cows that haven't given birth can be Matsusaka Wagyu. Because the marbling starts melting immediately even at around human body temperature, a mellow flavour is set alive with the start of every bite. The cows are fed beer to increase their appetites and raised with intense care, sometimes even receiving individual massages.
Tajima-gyu" cows originally came from Tajima, a mountainous region in the north of Hyogo Prefecture which is bordered by the sea. Tajima cows have such a long history that there are descriptions in a historical book written in the Heian period(794 to 1185 AD) about their figure, qualities and characteristics as domestic cattle for working on farms, carrying goods, and eating.
Black sesame ice cream rounded off a great meal and is now in my top favourite flavours almost beating pistachio! We were both totally stuffed full and happy to relax, the dishes had arrived with enthusiastic gut busting speed!
So in conclusion about the Benihana lunch menu, it's not fine dining but it's not meant to be: it's happy and packed full of interest. I do however wish they'd invested in fewer side dishes and added further complexity to the main dishes. That said, for the price you cannot get a better selection of interesting food, and to have it right near the centre of tourist town Benihana's Piccadilly site is bound to get people returning not just for the food, but the enthusiastic, polite, and friendly staff who raise the whole happy experience to one I'd recommend.
Last bit of advice goes to their wall design - please don't put forlorn looking faces on the wall - your staff are full of smiles - put their expressions on the wall instead!
Catch the lunch menu at
Chelsea: 77 King's Rd, London SW3 4NX
020 7376 7799
12pm-3pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm (10pm on Sundays)
Picadilly: 37 Sackville St, London W1S 3EH
020 7494 2525
12pm-3pm, 5.30pm-10.30pm (10pm on Sundays)