Before conveyor sushi or exported izakaya, even preceding Toyota and Honda, the first Japanese brand-name to conquer American consumers was Benihana. Back in the early 1960’s, migrant Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki opened a four-table establishment in New York drawing on the American love for grilled meat, along with the showmanship and knife-play inherent in tableside teppanyaki cooking, launching a world-wide chain that pioneered the bridging of East and West and changed tastes forever. It’s hard to believe, but perfectly true, that Benihana was largely responsible for the first widespread acceptance in American cupboards of that “exotic” staple, soy sauce.
Half a century later, Benihana is alive and well in Bangkok—and given the Thai fondness for group experiences, food sharing, and luxury ingredients, it seems a perfect addition to the capital’s increasingly varied dining scene. Just opened on the mezzanine of Petchaburi Road’s rebranded and refurbished Avani Atrium, this is the third outlet in Bangkok, but the one most easily accessible for after-work or weekend outings downtown.
At the centre of every table, and the Benihana experience, is a hot grill, where a chef cooks for you, stimulating appetites with a deft and close-range slicing of onions, zucchini, shrimp, pork, steak—even the restaurant’s signature fried rice. (All items can be chosen a la carte and range from B500 to over B2000.) Carefully trained by Japanese masters, the Thai staff seem up to the samurai challenge, though they may need to work on the rhythmic tapping of pepper shakers punctuated by grunts of aggression. After all these years, the showmanship still delivers a thrill for one simple reason: the food remains immensely satisfying.
Benihana’s menu is hardly old hat. Keeping up with the times, the restaurant now features an outstanding Wagyu burger (B750). For those who prefer to steer clear of cattle, there’s a tuna steak burger, plus a surprisingly large and cleverly packaged selection of fish. The Alaskan king crab salad is a meal in itself, and management has clearly taken note of the popularity of raw fish. High-quality sashimi comes in wooden boats, the one presentation here that’s traditional—though there’s a Westernized all-you-can-eat element to the Benihana Boat, with 24 kinds of fish for B2220. Rolls come with fanciful names like “The White House,” “Hamachi Beach,” “Fast & Furious,” and “Rocky’s Mountain Sandwich.” Not to be outdone by recent health trends, Benihana now features outstanding mocktails, too—and, if anyone has room, there’s a mousse of white chocolate and green tea for dessert.
Benihana: may it rule another 50 years.
Avani Atrium Bangkok, 1880 Petchaburi Rd | 0 2718 2023 | avanihotels.com | Daily lunch 11.30am-2.30pm, dinner 6-10.30pm