We’re having one of those D & M (deep and meaningful) discussions about why people keep coming back to their favourite restaurant –a favourite dish, great service, comfort, price and proximity…
“It’s not just about the food, of course, it’s about the show,” the Main Squeeze puts in his two cents worth. He means the ‘people’ aspect of the dining experience, the meet and greet, feeling special because the staff know your name, even preferential treatment; in short, the ‘theatre’ of food!
And there’s no greater food ‘show’ in town than Benihana. Dining at any one of the Marriott’s restaurants embodies the experience of elegance and peace; the aura of calm contentment and (let’s face it) luxury.
Benihana is, of course, a member of the worldwide chain of restaurants founded by boxer-come-restaurateur Rocky (Hiroaki) Aoki, allegedly named after a single red flower which Rocky’s father sighted in rubble-strewn Tokyo during World War II. At this Benihana, red peace cranes and spring blossom buds in delicate glass domes line the restaurant’s corridor, a reminder of the fragility of hope and regeneration.
We’re dining in a family group of five, so the delay in reaching our table is easily soaked up in a little lubricated conversation, relaxing in the leather-couched sake bar. The dining areas or Benihana are made up of back to back open U-shaped teppans, each one seating eight diners with ease, far more intimate than the larger grills at some other teppanyaki joints. But they are close together and Benihana’s practice seems to be that facing teppans work alternatively. We watch and wait as a nearby 3-generation family celebrates a birthday, nearby tables joining in the fun. We’re amply entertained; drinks, salad and complimentary sushi arrive to stave off the hunger, and then it’s our turn. You can order sushi or sashimi from the kitchen but, let’s face it, the real action is watching the teppan chef prepare your food.
This is participatory dining. The ‘elegance and peace’ of the journey to the teppan is soon forgotten as our chef introduces himself and immediately begins work. He’s an enthusiastic entertainer, taught his skills in true ‘Benihana style’ by his father, Head Chef Henry Bongay. It’s a nightly routine: making flaming volcanoes out of onion rings, juggling kitchen implements, shooting bits of prawn or egg into willing mouths or even down the nearest cleavage, the frivolity accompanied by a constant babble of quick-witted remarks and jokes.
At $40 (vego) to $79 for the lot per person for the Teppanyaki Banquets, the price tag may seem too steep for some, but it must be remembered that this is a generous meal in the luxurious setting of one of the Gold Coast’s best hotels, serving top quality meat and seafood. For those interested, there are ways to minimise dining costs.
We’ve taken advantage of the ‘Early bird Offer’ (5.30 or 6pm sitting for $32 per person) which entitles us to the Hibachi steak or chicken banquet: a bowl of fairly bland onion soup, a fresh but innocuous salad, hibachi zucchini and onion, steak/chicken and hibachi fried rice. A dollop of garlic butter here, a spray of sauce there, loads of entertainment in between, and our meal is served; fun food, not sophisticated or even terribly memorable, but ultra fresh, very tasty and more than enough to satisfy our appetites. There’s also a ‘Why Cook Wednesday’ deal which offers the choice of two banquets including steak, chicken and seafood, as well as a glass of wine/beer/sake for $39. (Be sure to check on the availability of these seasonal deals when you book.)
To judge Benihana on the food alone would be unjust. It’s a fabulous show; a whole night’s entertainment which our first time teppanyaki diner thought was remarkable. It’s also a high quality, accessible meal which can be enjoyed by an extended family with varying dietary needs. Maybe it’s not your ideal quiet date night, but let your inner child loose, and you’ll have a great time.
“Thanks, mate!” our chef writes on the grill at the conclusion of our meal.
No! Thank you! We’ll certainly return to share the experience with friends.
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