My name is Aleksandra Turner and I am writing to you regarding the article written by Toby Young in the 24th March 2005. issue of the ES Magazine about his experiences while dining at the Benihana Swiss Cottage restaurant. I wish to state that he needlessly insulted our staff and other customers in this article. Therefore, I wish to bring the following to your and Mr Youngs' attention:
Firstly, I want to point out that there is no minimum number of customers that have to be seated around the teppan table, we will and often do cook for only one customer.
Secondly, Mr Young failed to see what the whole point of Benihana eating experience is - communal tables - I will expand on this later, but I do agree that a fun, joking, juggling atmosphere is not an ideal dining space for a separatee pouring his broken heart out to a friend-cum-free-therapist.
Thirdly, there is sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, olive oil, etc. and I never heard cooking oil being called "viscous yellow liquid" - Mr Young realised, whilst dining here, that one can cook and eat at home rather than in Benihana - does that mean that he will say to his cooking partner: "Pass the viscous yellow liquid please darling" (or whatever terms of endearment the likes of Mr Young, the socially acceptable call each other).
Fourthly, I was amazed, bearing in mind that Mr Young was deep in conversation, at the number of things and happenings that he noticed and which subsequently became the material for his sarcastic comments and pretentious opinions.
Furthermore, we at Benihana do not study our guests before they are seated at the table, Mr Young's "clustered friends" and "waifs-and-strays table" speaks volumes about Mr Young's own discriminatory frame of mind than any practices at the restaurant - he simply assumes and projects his attitude onto ours.
Our chefs are trained to entertain the guests by cooking as well as joking and conversation - Mr Young missed the whole point of what people love about Benihana again - if he did not ignore the chef than the chef's attempts at a conversation would not seem like "unleashing the one-liners". Chef Mario was trying his best to entertain someone with a snobbish and cynical attitude who did not come to enjoy himself anyway but to spy. You see, Mario would not be considered as doing his job properly if he did not try to entertain Mr Young and was unaware that he was "unleashing" anything unpleasant.
During the opening times strong ventilation fans are turned on, sucking in the heat, steam and smoke of cooking - bearing in mind that Mr Young had already visualised all of our other customers in their underwear before he even sat at the table, I am in doubt whether he really felt so hot because of the heat emanating from the teppan table or "a parade of suntanned beauties flashing their cleavages", whom Mr Young had managed to notice (among so much else) despite being "deep in conversation with a friend who just separated from his wife".
Mr Young (but already bold) had found our prawns and lobster had no taste - in all my time at Benihana I never heard a statement like that from any guest. I love eating both and find them very tasty (unlike Mr Young's tasteless comments with which he insults all of us from the socially different planet that he came to visit and make a mockery of). I am an ES reader as I am sure many of our guests are and I would like to ask who is the audience Mr Young's show of words is supposed to target?
I would also like to know why did he visit us if he already knew "exactly who you'd expect to see in a Finchley Road restaurant on a Friday night", why did he put himself through this trip into the lands of social rejects circa 1984, why did he put himself in the situation where he had to "try to look discretely away" so as not to be too hurt by the sight of what he considers bad taste and/or socially unacceptable.
We live in the fascinating, multicultural society that envelopes and includes Mr Youngs of this world as well as "girls that look like rejects from Make Me a Supermodel", "gay couples" as well as "French couples", broken-hearted separatees (friends of restaurant spies) as well as "Algerian Muslims". It seems Mr Young's attitude is circa 1950's, he sees no beauty in this as he "had to sit there smiling inanely at each other until we felt able to resume our conversations without seeming rude". I argue that Benihana tables offer a perfect opportunity to, while laughing and enjoying oneself one can also learn - I personally learn so much through daily contacts with staff and guests. Mr Young says that "an Arab trying to pass as an Italian is a person you expect to be eating at Benihana, not cooking", but he never explains why should Arabs or Italians enjoy the Japanese cuisine more than Mr Youngs of this world?
Mr Young thought one of our waitresses to be a "hot dish" - Mr Young, please "look discretely away", the menu does not include the staff, only the food!
Finally, I would like to offer a word of re-assurance to Mr Young: Please do not fear of having to undergo your next exercise in social tourism by visiting Benihana in 2019 on your daughter's sixteenth birthday - I feel I can freely assume that your daughter will rather spend her birthday in the company of her friends (perhaps "clustered around a grill"!?) and will not be "dragging" her father anywhere. I have no idea what the equivalent of Johnny Depp will be in a year 2019, but I am sure she will prefer to be at a place the likes of him frequent rather than with a father who, already in 2005. felt that "we were 20 years older than them". By then you will feel 34 years too old and will probably move to an even more remote social planet than the one you currently inhabit.
You wrote correctly that Benihana was founded in 1964. The Benihana Experience has been enjoyed by people of all ages for decades and will, despite your mockery of it, in all probability still continue to do so in 2019.