BENIHANA @ AVANI ATRIUM

BENIHANA @ AVANI ATRIUM

By : KEN BARRETT

31 January 2019

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summary : Japanese steakhouse famed for its juggling chefs and teppanyaki cuisine, now with its second Bangkok branch at the Avani Atrium.

About: Benihana has operated across the river at what is now the Anantara Riverside since 1992, but other than an outlet in Pattaya there has until recently been no Benihana in a more easily accessible central Bangkok location. This changed when the Amari Atrium was rebranded as an Avani hotel in recent years. Avani is the same management corporation as Anantara, and so Benihana was duly installed. The restaurant is a franchise founded in the early 1960s by a Japanese-born American wrestler and restaurateur named Rocky Aoki. His first restaurant was located near Broadway, in New York, and he adopted a showmanship style of teppanyaki cooking to draw in the punters.

Decor: This Benihana is smaller than its sibling across the river, which admittedly is a huge place, but the intimacy of scale adds to the theatrical effect. Located on the first floor, with a view out into the atrium, the restaurant is all moody blacks and splashes of vermillion, including the chef uniforms, which are black with red toques and aprons (the name comes from the red benihana, or safflower). Horseshoe-shaped teppanyaki tables are placed around the room, and others are available in screened-off semi-private rooms.

Menu: The main menu is teppanyaki, but there is a separate menu for sushi and sashimi. From the word go, the American influence is apparent. We had a serving of Rocky’s Mountain Sandwich, a sushi role cut into triangles and stuffed with salmon, tobiko, Japanese onion and mayonnaise (400 baht for eight pieces). Hamachi Beach (440 baht for six pieces) was another form of sushi role, also of substantial size, packed with tempura prawns and teriyaki sauce, and topped with golden ikura. The teppanyaki listing is large and diverse, with an onion soup, salad, hibachi vegetables and a prawn appetiser always included. Here we were introduced to Chef Somchai, our chef for the evening. No matter how many times we visit Benihana, we are astonished by the juggling skills of the chefs, and Somchai sent spatulas, knives, containers and eggs spinning into the air, catching the salt container in the top of his toque, and igniting great whooshes of flame on the steel teppan table. We had a Seafood Diablo (1,800 baht), cubes of salmon and tuna with shrimp; a teppanyaki lobster (2,300 baht); and one of the premium dishes, a Japanese Hakata Wagyu rib eye (3,600 baht), a satisfyingly large 250g cut of A4 grade beef, diced into cubes. At the end, Somchai laid aside his spatulas. “I’ll show you some tricks,” he said, and, ever the showman, entertained us with a series of conjuring tricks. He was a brilliant host.

Evaluation: The food is high quality. The prices are high, but the dishes are meant for sharing, which of course changes the cost equation. Essentially, though, Benihana is all about the juggling, joking chefs. This is a great place for a party, and we heard at least two birthday parties going on during this evening.