158 Ferny Ave
Surfers Paradise QLD 4217
+61 7 5592 9770
Marty’s been on my back to try Benihana, a popular teppanyaki restaurant in Surfers Paradise, for quite some time. When asked whether this place serves the best teppanyaki on the ‘Coast, he replied that while the food isn’t the best, it’s still pretty good. Diners, however, come here not just for the food but because dining at Benihana is akin to going to a theatre followed by a fireworks display in the city afterwards – yes, it’s THAT entertaining. And just for a bit of trivia, the Surfers Paradise restaurant is only one of 116 Benihana’s restaurants owned by wrestler-turned-restaurateur Rocky Aoki, father of Devon and Steve Aoki. While I don’t really rate Devon myself, I am partial to bopping to Steve’s “I’m In the House” whenever it plays at whatever club I happen to be in. That, my friends, was what made me go, “Okay, take me!” Oh, and the mere fact that Marty and I had been together for eight months and he wanted to take me to a nice restaurant. Okay, so it wasn’t like we were celebrating our one, two, three year or more anniversary or anything but hey, any excuse to eat at a nice place is as good as any. Plus, I think ANY girl who has been with this idiot for eight months deserves a standing ovation, in my opinion. Hee-hee!
Our reservation was for 8pm on Saturday evening but because the traffic was unusually light that evening, we arrived half an hour early. Thus, we decided to sit at the restaurant’s sake bar and order some drinks to kill time. I’m not normally a cocktail drinker these days – I love my wines – but the cocktail menu, with all cocktails being $17, looked awfully good. I ended up ordering a lychee saketini while Marty had the samurai kiss. My saketini, a combination of sake, lychee liqueur with pineapple and cranberry juice, and lychee puree was as smooth and as sweet as Ayumi Hamasaki’s voice when on autotune – probably a bit high on the saccharine side but hey, I’m on holidays so who cares. Meanwhile, Marty’s samurai kiss may not have been as deadly as Tom Cruise’s character in The Last Samurai but the delicious combination of sake, strawberry liqueur, Malibu, passionfruit pump, strawberries and apple proved to be the perfect summer cocktail.
It was just after 8pm but still, our table was not ready. And so we ordered another cocktail each. I had a Geisha on the beach, a refreshingly fruity mixture of sake, peach schnapps, pineapple, cranberry and orange juice. It was fun, and lighter on the palette than my first cocktail – the perfect precursor to our meal.
Marty, on the other hand, decided to skip the fruity cocktails and have a rich, sweet one. The bartender recommended the peanut butter Toblerone, a rich blend of Frangelico, Kahlua, Bailey’s, honey, cream, chocolate syrup and peanut butter. It was a bit too rich for me, especially before dinner, but according to oh-so-har-har-funny Marty, the cocktail, treble clef and all, ‘hit all the right notes.’
Finally, at 8:15pm, our hostess told us that our table was ready. We walked down the hallway, and past several rooms that were already filled with happy diners. Here, in these intimate rooms, head chef Henry Bongay and his team enthusiastically cook your meals with jaw-breaking skills and pizzazz on a nightly basis. We were led to an empty communal table in the very last room, where a teppanyaki grill lay ready to be used.
Oh, is that Mickey Mouse or deadmau5?
The rest of our table, a middle-aged couple and their daughter who was celebrating her birthday and younger noveau riche couple, their 4-year old son and their mate, soon arrived, ready to be entertained. More drinks were ordered (a beer for Marty and a wine for myself) as we picked and chose our way through the extensive menu. We decided that it was too much of a task to select dishes from the a la carte menu, so we decided to order the wildflower banquet, designed to feed two people ($164). The banquet contained, amongst other things, steamed rice but for an extra $7.50 each, we went with the waitress’ recommendation of upgrading to the Hibachi fried rice because the making of the fried rice was a spectacle in itself. Our hands rubbing with glee, we eagerly waited for the show to begin… and waited… and waited.
Our teppanyaki grill actually remained vacant until 8:45pm, which annoyed me slightly. Why agree to take us in at 8pm when Marty made the phone reservation? And why tell us that our table would be ready at 8:15pm when it wasn’t? Now, I don’t mind waiting but am I the only person who thinks that an 8:45pm start is verging on more-than-just-a-mere-annoyance? As I was thinking that, our teppanyaki chef who went by the name of Bryan, arrived at our table and profusely apologised for being terribly late. He had a warm smile and a humble but cheeky demeanour that it was hard to stay annoyed. Once he had put on his apron and smeared oil all over the grill, he immediately got down to business.
While he was warming up, our waitress arrived with a bowl of miso soup for us. It was standard stuff, nothing to frown or grin over though prop for putting tofu cubes in the soup.
As we were sipping our soups, Bryan was putting chopped zucchini and sliced onions on the grill. While this was going on, our waitress gave us two bowls of dipping sauce: a light mustard sauce, which proved to be great for dipping our beef and chicken in, and a soy ginger sauce, which went well with seafood.
Our attention was then diverted to the Benihana salad, a simple mix of fresh greens, shredded carrots and tomatoes all held together by a tangy mirin dressing. Not the best of salads, though. I saved it for later so I could have something colourful with my meat.
Meanwhile, Bryan was going a tad crazy with the onions. He neatly arranged the slices into a volcano, poured some oil in the ‘hole.’
… and set the whole thing on fire!
‘Do it again! Do it again!’ cried the 4-year old boy sitting on our table; his name was Jackson (or Jaxon).
And so Bryan did it again.
Putting the onions aside, Bryan then started cooking up some zucchinis, some prawns and some chicken.
The prawn pieces didn’t take too long to cook and once they were done, Bryan chopped the prawns up and asked if anyone was game enough to catch a prawn piece in their mouth. As Bryan expertly chucked a prawn piece to each diner, most failed to catch it – most of the pieces either landed on the floor or on the diner’s lap. Only Marty and another guy managed to catch it neatly in their mouths. As for me? I was too much of a chicken to attempt it in case the prawn landed in my hair or something or I politely declined. Hell, even this kid had more game than I did…
Once the onions were cooked, ¾ of them were served along with the zucchinis and prawns on a plate. I’m not a fan of zucchini but I ate them regardless. The prawns, on the other hand, were delicious. Little boy Jackson-or-Jaxon thought so too, and said that he wished he had more prawns. Bryan, being the good sport that he was, decided to cook up a few extra prawns at no charge to appease the happy little soul which I thought was pretty cool.
Bryan then turned his attention to the Hibachi fried rice. That’s Bryan preparing the egg – he joined several eggs to create one long carpet of fried egg, before chopping the big egg into little ribbons. He then mixed the chopped egg with the rest of the onions, the chicken thighs along with some cooked white rice and lots and lots of garlic butter. Ooh yeah.
Quick hands or crappy camera work? Or both? Heh.
To be honest, though, the fried rice wasn’t that good. While I was bursting with excitement when I saw the amount of garlic butter that went in, the result translated to a bowl of rice that was just overly salty. I could be wrong but I don’t think they roasted the garlic because I could barely taste that lovely garlic-y flavour that comes with eating anything with garlic butter. Oh well. In the mean time, Bryan started cooking the rest of our meals. Most of the people on our communal table ordered some sort of banquet so we all ended up eating the same thing, which worked well in Bryan’s favour. Those who ordered a la carte, such as the lady sitting next to me who had a salmon steak, would have been entertained by the show so far but missed out on eating the fruits of Bryan’s labour.
Marty and I had sweet, juicy scallops, covered in garlic butter.
And lobster tails, doused in garlic butter.
Oh look, MORE prawns! (yes, with garlic butter)
At this stage, I was insanely FULL despite it looking like I had not eaten much.
But wait, they still needed to give us our fillet-steak, which was chopped into bite-sized pieces. Yep, with lots and lots of garlic butter. We requested our steaks cooked med-rare but I think the beef spent a little more time on the grill than was necessary. We could still see pink in the middle though, so it wasn’t all bad. The meat (and all the seafood we had beforehand) tasted nice with the garlic butter so it really was a shame that the rice wasn’t as yummy. We tried to eat as much as we could but unfortunately, our stomachs couldn’t handle it and pretty soon, we had no choice but to surrender. ‘Would you like dessert?’ asked the friendly Malaysian waitress who had been serving us all night, to which both Marty and I replied, “HELL NO!” to.
To say ‘thank you’ to the diners on his table, Bryan wrote exactly that with salt all over the now-clean teppanyaki grill. We all thought that was sweet but when Bryan cleared the salt away with a paper towel and then wrote “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY” on the grill, I was delightfully stunned while Marty was grinning from ear to ear. Aw, shucks.
What a way to finish dinner…
It’s been a while since I’ve had such fun at a meal. Maybe it’s the relaxed and warm Gold Coast atmosphere that manifests itself everywhere, including fine dining restaurants. I mean, Melbourne’s fine dining scene is also pretty down-to-earth but more often than not, there is still this subtle aura of Melbourne snottiness. Here? It’s all fun, fun, fun and who the eff cares if you rock up in thongs and pick your nose on the table? Okay, maybe it’s not THAT casual. In any case, I loved my dinner. Okay, so maybe the food isn’t exactly on par with Steve’s musical ability but it’s certainly better than Devon’s acting career. And probably most things found in Surfers Paradise.