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REVIEW: Benihana, Chelsea

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WHAT?  Excellent food presented as performance, that’s fun for foodies of any age.

It’s hard to grasp now, but when the first Benihana opened in America in 1964, Japanese cuisine was basically unknown in the Western world. The idea of having a chef prepare a meal at your table was totally new, and Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki was determined to pioneer the dining style. Decades later, the restaurant’s staff bend over backwards to keep customers entertained with dazzling showmanship. Kitchen utensils (and ingredients!) fly through the air as chefs twirl, chop and catch with total flair.

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Aoki named his restaurant after a coffee shop in Tokyo that his parents, Yunosuke and Katsu, owned. After the Bombing of Tokyo during World War II, Yunosuke saw one red flower growing in the rubble, leading to the shop’s name ‘Benihana’ – the Japanese word for a red safflower. You can spot these flowers all around the restaurant, from the plates to the light fixtures – and it’s a fond reminder that this brand may now be big, but it comes from humble beginnings.

WHY GO? The staff couldn’t be more accommodating, from the manager to the waiters – synonymous with birthdays, the team go over and above to make guests feel special.  Names flash up on the big screen as parties enter the bar, but that’s not only place special messages have been known to show up…

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After a delicious starter plate of fried scallops, followed by Hibachi chicken and juicy prawns, we think our chef liked us as much as we liked him. The sheer spectacle of the chefs hard at work is a huge draw in itself, expertly chopping your dishes of choice and cooking them to perfection, before sliding them onto your plate. You share the table with strangers (also perfect for a larger group), so there’s much camaraderie among new friends as cocktails flow (there’s a huge selection) and raw eggs fly across the room (landing with total precision, inside the chefs hat).

HOW MUCH? Like most theatre tickets in London, a seat at this thrilling show doesn’t come cheap – but if you’re visiting on a budget, there are several options that aren’t too tough on the wallet. Opt for the Hibachi salmon (£29.50) or Vegetable Delight (£26.50) if you’re trying to cut back (all Hibachi meals come with Benihana Onion Soup, Salad with Ginger Dressing, Hibachi Vegetables, Prawn Appetiser & Steamed Rice) or drop by at lunchtime for lighter Bento boxes (Chicken Teriyaki and Hibachi Salmon are only £12.25) and Hibachi lunch deals (starting at £16, with Benihana Salad, Hibachi Vegetables, Prawn appetiser & Hibachi Rice).

If you’re here to show off (most people are – this is THE place for entertaining) order the delicious Land & Sea Hibachi dinner – a sumptuous mix of  Filet Mignon & Miso Black Cod cooked in front of your eyes for £48. Don’t forget to round things off with a Matcha ice cream, too…

WHERE? We visited the Chelsea branch (77 King’s Rd, London SW3 4NX) but there’s a branch in Piccadilly, too. 

WEBSITE: Benihana.co.ukSign-Up To FashionBite’s Weekly News

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