Guest post by Natalie York
Whilst Wagyu Beef has been available for a while now from American and European producers (there’s even a herd in Scotland) this elite Japanese Beef has not actually been exported from Japan itself for 13 years. I was aware earlier this year of the lifting of the ban but at around £10 a bite I didn’t think I would actually have a chance to try it so when I heard Benihana was offering a 4 course 50th anniversary menu for £50 that included Wagyu Beef I was pretty excited. I’ve never been to Benihana’s before, I had a vague image in my head of chefs cooking at your table but I had no idea just how much of a show they put on!
Arriving we were treated to some cocktails as we settled down to watch a short video about Wagyu production. Apparently only 4000 head of cattle are certified Wagyu each year in Japan and the animals are massaged (to help circulation apparently) and fed sake. Watching the video of an auction house where young calves are sold to the highest bidder at astronomical prices you could be forgiven for thinking that these immaculately suited businessmen were bidding for antiques or artwork, until you notice that the floor is covered in straw!
After this came the entertainment, we broke open a barrel of sake with a hammer, a traditional ritual to celebrate the end of the Japanese harvest, and watched a performance by The Beni Girls, a New York Hip Hop dance group who are travelling around the Benihanas of the world for their 50th anniversary with a routine inspired by the restaurant’s flamboyant chefs. The dance was great fun with just the right amount of humour and some scarily fast moves!
After this we moved into the dining room for the main event and were introduced to the Wagyu Beef, a huge slab of stunningly marbled meat unlike any beef I had ever seen before. The chef carefully sliced us each a several thin pieces which he fried briefly in its own fat and served with a simple garlic sauce, plain rice and a small sprinkle of watercress. The Wagyu itself really needed no further accompaniment or fuss, the beef was entirely unlike any other meat I have tasted, incredibly soft to the point where it melts in your mouth and with a sweet, rich flavour that continues for ages.The usual price of this beef seems, and probably is, absurd but if I was going to pay £125 per kilo for anything it just might be for this!
Afterwards we settled down to enjoy the rest of the meal with our private chef (which all felt very fancy) whizzing through a series of simple, tasty dishes prepared as pure theatre. The onions for our starter of griddled prawns, onions and courgettes were turned into a pyrotechnic pyramid with flames shooting several feet into the air and the speedy yet graceful chopping technique used throughout seemed sometimes more like dancing than cooking! A real highlight for me was the lobster tail, roughly chopped then steamed under a pile of lobster shells until beautifully juicy and succulent, the black cod too was deliciously soft and tender.
Overall I can highly recommend the 50th anniversary Wagyu menu at Benihana. Whilst you only get a 90g portion of Wagyu frankly that is more than enough and it is well, well worth it and with a rich and tasty series of dishes following it up you certainly won’t be going home hungry!
Benihana has two London outlets
77 Kings Road,
37 Sackville Street,
London W1S 3EH
The 50th anniversary menu includes three courses at £50 per head