When out on the town with friends and you aren’t quite sure of what to have on the menu, there’s nothing quite like a bit of drama and audience participation. so, Pulling up at the teppanyaki table is always going to be fun.
Text by Thomas Jones
On a recent trip to Jakarta we dined at the wonderfully rustic Sumire at the Grand Hyatt and, probably because they have such a big menu with everything on offer from all corners of Japan, after being seated we couldn’t make up our minds what we wanted to eat. When a roar of excitement came from the back part of the restaurant, we knew we wanted to have a part of that on our plates, so we simply upped and moved on over for some teppanyaki.
For the uninitiated, teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine that uses a large iron hot plate to cook on. Guests sit around a central kitchen space with the chef in front cooking to order and, depending on the personality and gregariousness of the chef, performing feats of culinary gymnastics as he does. These guys are not averse to setting the place on fire with the help of alcoholic spirits poured directly onto the grill. These theatrics have become the trademark of the teppanyaki table, with a skilled chef getting more ‘oohs and ahhs’ out of the enraptured crowd than the food itself.
We pulled up a couple of chairs alongside a lively crowd of revellers, and felt like we had just arrived at a Vegas blackjack table where everyone was winning. We were quickly drawn into their world and we knew we were in for a treat, especially after the waiter brought our bottle of sake and started pouring.
The chef greeted us with a loud irashaimase, and was quickly getting down to business serving and entertaining. He was full of energy, working the tools of his trade with expert élan, spinning his salt and pepper shakers, chopping and dicing at the speed of light, frying our lobster and steak to perfection, and all the while yelling epithets in Japanese to the delight of the crowd.
There were multiple plates served over the course of the meal and the first out was a bowl of chawanmushi, a savoury custard, followed by sashimi and miso, before the grilled foods started arriving hot off the hot plate. Steak, lobster tail, okonomiyaki and many other kinds of fish, all expertly cooked and seasoned and seemingly neverending. We took our time, alternately eating one course and then slowing to drink beer and chat. Chef must have had a sixth sense as to how we were pacing ourselves and nothing was offered until we were ready to eat so we didn’t start to feel full until the very end.
Funnily enough, Teppanyaki’s claim to being authentically Japanese is tentative at best. It was originally introduced in Japan after WWII but proved more popular with tourists than locals, and in 1964, when American restaurant Benihana brought it to New York it has since been a staple of international Japanese restaurants ever since.
Whatever its history, however, teppanyaki is now firmly entrenched in the world’s mind, and while it’s not inexpensive, it is a whole lot of fun, so break out once in a while and let the chef entertain you up close and personal. You’ll love it!
Grand Hyatt Jakarta
Jalan M. H. Thamrin