Benihana in India

Food connoisseur SOURISH BHATTACHARYYA is looking forward to exotic Japanese cuisine at the first Benihana opening in India

The Countdown has began for the country’s first Benihana to open its doors, a little less than 50 years after Olympic wrestler-turned-ice-cream-truck-driver Hiroaki ‘Rocky’ Aoki launched the first with $20,000 at West 56th Street in New York City. Benihana (Japanese for ‘red flower’) is an international chain of teppanyaki grill and sushi restaurants that are famous for their theatrical chefs, who juggle spatulas and eggs as they dish out their trademark preparations.

Having inspired copycats across the world, including TK’s at Hyatt Regency New Delhi, Benihana has grown into a 116-strong chain of company-owned and franchised restaurants in 17 countries. Its colourful thrice-married founder, who briefly also ran a pornographic magazine named Genesis, died in 2008, four years after his family sued him for diluting the Aoki share in the restaurant chain.

The restaurant chain was eventually bought by the private equity fund, Angelo Gordon & Company, for $249 million in 2012. The deal, explained Forbes.com, “will take the company private, dropping the curtain on a painfully public family drama that’s played out over the years”. Rocky’s son, electro-house deejay Steve Aoki, who is famous for showering cakes on his audiences, completed a successful concert tour of India last year.

India’s first Benihana will open at Epicuria, the new food hub at New Delhi’s busy business district, Nehru Place, owned by the brother of the talented fashion designer Varun Bahl. It has names like Chicago Pizza Kitchen, Fio and KFC vying for the attention of Metro commuters and office-goers, but Epicuria is making news because of ramp model Joey Matthew’s immensely successful Kerala Express restaurant. Benihana’s theatricality will be a bright new addition to this foodie destination.

What is Benihana all about? I’ll let its website (http://www.benihanaindia.com/experience.asp) do the talking on the ‘Benihana experience’.

“At the heart of the Benihana experience,” the website says, “is the teppanyaki table, around which guests gather and enjoy a meal expertly prepared and cooked to perfection on a steel grill, right before their eyes — by a chef who is as much entertainer as culinary master.

“The meal begins with a delicate Japanese onion soup, followed by a salad with ginger dressing. The chef will prepare your chicken, beef or seafood, along with vegetables, hibachi-style, on the sizzling grill surface. Be sure to enjoy the show, because Benihana chefs literally play with your food as they cook it.

“Your entrée will be served with homemade dipping sauces and steamed rice, or if you prefer, Benihana’s mouthwatering hibachi chicken rice. You may also order tempura, sushi and specialty rolls.” That’s a tempting spread. Must go and try it, and wash it down with sake served in Benihana’s signature tiki mugs, especially the one modelled after a hotei, a tubby Buddha-like figure with an expansive smile and hands raised in the air.

Sourish Bhattacharyya

Sourish Bhattacharyya

Sourish Bhattacharyya is a blogger (http://indianrestaurantspy.blogspot.in) and freelance writer for Mail Today and IT Travel Plus. He's also the founder-member of the Delhi Gourmet Club. He was formerly the executive editor of Mail Today and has worked with Mumbai Mirror, The Indian Express, India Today and The Telegraph.