50 years of Benihana
Back in the early 1980s I was in New York touring with a band. We were taken out to eat by our record company to what was the most exciting restaurant any of us had ever been to. Chefs at Teppan grills juggled with knives; steak, prawns and fish were chopped, flipped, flamed to within an inch of their lives and then served with exotic sounding sauces to excited customers who were enjoying the show as much as the food.
Fast forward more than three decades and I’m a guest at the 50 years of Benihana celebration at their Chelsea operation in the King’s Rd. Who would have imagined the intervening years would see the establishment of 140 Benihana restaurants globally including three in London?
Benihana was the first restaurant to bring the ‘Teppan’ grill system to the west. The group was founded by a young entrepreneur called Rocky Aoki who named Benihana after a red safflower his father had seen in the rubble after the US bombing near the end of the Second World War. Rocky went to college in the US paying for his studies by working in an ice-cream van at night. In 1964 he opened a four-table restaurant in Manhattan and so the Benihana story began. The atmosphere of the place was all about entertainment and Rocky soon became a celebrity in his own right, becoming the first person to fly a balloon over the Pacific Ocean.
We were greeted with a delicious Plum wine cocktail and a plethora of canapés including eel and salmon sushi, edamame beans. teriyaki beef and chicken crepes. Then came an amusingly silly food fashion show and the traditional celebration ceremony of smashing the 18 litre Sake barrel (available in a Benihana near you!).
For the grand finale we all crowded around the Teppan grills to watch the chefs do their stuff much as they had done in New York all those years ago.
To celebrate their 50 year anniversary Benihana are offering a £5 Beni-Platter Lunch and a £50 8-Course Meal for 2 (diners who order these dishes are entered into a prize draw to win 5 x £100 vouchers each month)
They are also running their Keiko Menu in honour of Rocky’s wife and CEO Keiko Ono Aoki- a Ladies-only 9-course menu for £30 per person including a cocktail and wine.
Benihana is great fun and perfect for an office or kids party or a reasonably priced night out on the town.