As a photographer working for the Food and Drink and The Caterer magazines I visit a LOT of restaurants (over 250 since April 2013!). However, when I was booked in to visit Benihana I got very excited. I've loved the Hibachi and Teppenyaki style of Japanese cuisine for years, actually visiting a branch for my 14th birthday. What differentiates Benihana from other Japanese restaurants is the entertainment factor that comes along with Teppenyaki cooking, with each table having their own highly trained chef who performs tricks whilst cooking. Tricks include flipping prawn tails into the hat (with the less experienced chefs turning it into a game of how many can they miss), writing love letters with rice and Sesame seeds and, the piece de resistance of each of the chefs, turning simple rings of onion into a genuine firebreathing Volcano. As a child seeing a vegetable emit flames just inches from your face is an extraordinary pleasure, but as an adult it turns into an experience of wonderment and fear. As a photographer, I was in my element. I saw the exact shot I wanted and whilst it took a few burns of the volcano (and much time spent waiting around tables of families who weren't quite sure why I was there!) I managed to capture it perfectly. A private dining experience awaited me at both venues, much to my pleasure and surprise. First I was presented with an introduction to my chef and to the concept of Hibachi and Teppenyaki, followed by the aforementioned onion Volcano and the cooking of the appetiser complete with salt-shaker tricks, prawntail flipping and using the rice to write 'I <3 U' which I thought was adorable and hilarious! Following this I was presented with a wonderful Wagyu beef steak (a real honour as it is widely regarded as the best beef in the world) a rare treat of freshly steamed Lobster tail, and Black Miso Cod; a legendary Benihana speciality. These were both served with a traditional beansprout salad and Benihana's Mustard and Ginger relishes. I was also presented with a selection of Wagyu themed side dishes including Wagyu wrapped asparagus, Wagyu Nigiri, Wagyu dumplings, Wagyu Teriyaki as well as standard side dishes such as Tempura and Miso soup. Whilst both Piccadilly and Chelsea venues offer the same experience, they offer it in a different, but equally excellent, way. Piccadilly offers a family friendly, high energy encounter with lots of laughter and jokes being made by the chefs with the sole intention of entertaining customers and making them leave with a smile on their face and food in their belly. Chelsea showcases more of a stylish meal with high end food cooked in a slick and polished fashion, leaving customers talking and impressed by the skill of the chef. The decor of both venues reflect this also: Piccadilly being slightly more light and airy with a traditional edge, due to the large windows and curved wooden wall of statues and Chelsea being darker with more polished surfaces and uplighting picking out details in the walls and lampshades. Another thing that sets Benihana aside from other restaurants is its highly trained, very friendly and entirely mad team of chefs. I had been asked to take a few photos of them and it was near on impossible to get them to stay still or serious enough to get a photo! I got a few shots I was really happy with and we all had a lot of fun, but without head chef Suzuki leading the charge in getting the photos taken we might have been there all day! Sometimes my job takes me to interesting places, often it leads me to facinating experiences and on occasion it introduces me to wonderful people. On these two occasions, all three of these attributes were true. Both Mamoru and Li were very gracious hosts, as was head chef Suzuki and all the other chefs and staff I worked with. Thank you to everyone at Benihana for having me (and for feeding me so well!) and I look forward to returning soon!
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