Sunday, 16 September 2007
If I had to be stranded on a desert island with an endless supply of just one cuisine, it would have to be Japanese. And if I could have one restaurant on speed dial from my island, it would have to be Japonica in New York. With its innate neatness and almost mathematical precision, sashimi, and sushi, usually inspire restraint. It's all carefully meted out and presented so I always feel compelled to consume with equal care. Not at Japonica. Restraint and moderation went right out the window. The quality and sheer quantity of food was such that we couldn't finish the sashimi selection we'd ordered. For $40 we were treated to the freshest, most beautifully arranged fish we had ever eaten. Sitting at the bar, we scoffed and watched the sushi chefs turn out visually exciting plates (or more accurately, boards) of food without any of the theatricality and attitude often associated with high-end cooking. Although I couldn't dip the end product in soy sauce or wasabi (damn that lactose) or even sip the miso soup, Japonica's food still outstripped any other sushi or sashimi I've ever eaten.
I wish I could say the same for Benihana in London's Swiss Cottage. There was plenty of theatricality - the chefs working at each individual grill brought more than a touch of Cocktail to their cooking, flipping bowls of rice and salt shakers like Tom Cruise in whites - but no excellence. After choosing sea bass and prawns from the seven course menu, our chef promptly cooked them in front of us at our table. Mine were cooked without butter or soy on request and didn't come off the worse for it. Neither did the asparagus and onions. I wish I could say the same about the rice. It was precooked in butter and left me with a serious case of the lactose bloat.
The best you can say about Benihana is that it's a performance. You get averagely cooked food with dramatics, and unfortunately lactose, thrown in. For the all round package though, it has to be Japonica every time.
Japonica, 100 University Pl, New York, NY 10003, USA Tel: +1 212-243-7752