In the town of Harare , Zimbabwe there existed a little restaurant called The Manchurian. I’m uncertain of what has become of this restaurant of late but I can tell you that when I was younger ( a lot younger ) , this little restaurant served some of the best food I have ever eaten. All diners could pick their raw ingredients which were then fried on a hot plate by the chef and ladled onto your plate within a matter of seconds. It was glorious.
You can imagine then that when I was told about a similar style of restaurant here in London more than 10 years later, I ran to it . Literally . Because I missed the bus.
Benihana in Piccadilly Circus was a rather anti-climatic event for us. It is a ‘hibachi-style’ restaurant ( hibachi being another word for that grill you’re seeing up there ) and the concept of the restaurant was for all meals to be theatrically prepared by a joke-cracking chef with fancy knife tricks.
It works like this:
– you are placed at a communal table and automatically feel like you have to speak to the stranger next to you .
– you choose your main course , be it fish , meat or vegetarian, and each main course comes with a set serving of rice, soup, vegetables and salad.
– your chef then asks you (in front of all of those people) how you like your meat cooked (well done, medium rare, etc). When you’re sitting with people you know, this question is perfectly normal. But when you are surrounded by people you have never met , all of a sudden the question becomes very invasive ( why should I tell you how I like my steak? what business is it of yours? ) .
– when all the meals have been chosen and you have been judged by fellow diners for your choice , the theatrics commence.
Charlie (our chef) did an unnecessary amount of knife-wielding in my opinion, but then there are only so many ways you can be theatrical about peeling a prawn.
One very impressive trick was done by layering some onion rings , forming a volcano shape, and setting fire to them. It was one of those ‘You had to be there’ moments.
As for ‘joke cracking chef’ … not so much. Not a joke was cracked that night.
Their drinks are deceptively strong and after two Mojito’s I felt like Charlie might actually kill me with those knives. It was time to go home.
The Manchurian this is not , but if you’re looking for an unusual experience I would definitely recommend Benihana. The food itself is very good quality which is expected for the price they charge and it is in the centre of a buzzing Piccadilly Circus.
Have you had any unusual dining experiences in London? Love to hear from you!