T2 does Teppanyaki at Shogun Restaurant

19 Nov

* This post was by T2, a co-author of In The Taratory from 2011-2013. *

I am a massive fan of Japanese food. Sushi, sashimi, okonomiyaki, miso soup, tempura vegetables, Edamame beans… my mouth is watering, just thinking about it all. Japanese cuisine is fresh, filling, healthy (well, most of the time, that is!) – and, for me, it conjures great memories of my past travels to the Land of the Rising Sun. I’ve yet to find a Japanese restaurant in Canberra that I really love, but I do quite enjoy Iori in the city. Sizzle Bento (a sushi chain store that can be found in Westfield Belconnen or Garema Place) is okay too – but nothing quite beats the authentic stuff!

Anyway, I digress. This isn’t a post about where to find yummy Japanese food in Canberra (be sure to let me know if you have any suggestions, though!) – it’s more about my recent teppanyaki experience at Shogun, in Civic’s Garema Centre. I had my lovely friend, S, visiting for the weekend from Darwin and was hoping to take her somewhere quite different to the usual restaurants up north. I knew that she was also a big Japanese fan, so decided that it would be fun to go to a teppanyaki restaurant. S was really excited about the prospect of trying something new, and I was looking forward to showing her a unique dining experience.

For those who have been to a teppanyaki restaurant before, you’ll know that ‘teppanyaki’ refers to the style of cooking whereby an iron griddle is used to prepare the food. Wasabi in Dickson is a fabulous teppanyaki restaurant, and a favourite of many Canberrans (they also have a sister location in Manuka, of equally high quality). I’ve taken quite a few out-of-towners to Wasabi – despite their protests of ‘I don’t like Japanese food!’. Why would I do that, you ask? Well, the food on a teppanyaki set menu usually has more of a western influence than traditional Japanese, so it appeals to most. Think seared king prawns, teriyaki chicken, fried rice, and tender steak, as opposed to raw delicacies and wasabi!

Diners who elect for the teppanyaki experience (instead of the a la carte option) are seated in a rectangular configuration around the large hot plate. A chef then appears and begins cooking the food in a spectacular fashion. The appeal of teppanyaki lies in the fact that diners are centimeters away from all the action; watching as flames dance around the hot plate and the chef expertly slices and dices the food before their eyes. On a regular night, diners will be asked to catch raw eggs in their bowls for use in the fried rice, and then open their mouths to catch the egg once it has been fried. It’s quite a hoot – especially when all eyes are trained on you to see whether you’ll catch it (or cop an eye-full, in my case!). After a delicious entrée, a selection of chicken, seafood and steak sizzles in front of you on the hot plate, seasoned by the chef to perfection. I just love the entertainment of it all. The chef often doesn’t speak a whole lot, but engages the audience so much so that they are left awe-struck by the end of the evening.

And so I had pretty high expectations for Shogun’s teppanyaki. I hadn’t been there before, but was attracted by a discount coupon in my Canberra Entertainment Book. In hindsight, I probably should have stuck with Wasabi, but figured that teppanyaki would probably be a pretty similar experience, whichever restaurant we chose. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

We arrived for the 8pm slot (teppanyaki is like a performance, so diners must arrive at hourly intervals), and were promptly seated at one end of rectangle. There was one other group of girls at our end, and the other end was filled with teenagers who seemed to be there for a birthday celebration. The waitresses were very welcoming and polite, which gave us a good first impression – but things quickly went downhill.

The first thing that irked me somewhat was, while perusing the menu, I realised that the prices I’d seen on Shogun’s internet menu from OutinCanberra were not the same as the ones in the actual menu. Why? Because the restaurant had decided to introduce a Christmas menu. The food was exactly the same as the usual teppanyaki menu, except for a fruitcake dessert. It wasn’t even bloody halfway through November, and yet they’d hiked the prices already – for a menu that wasn’t particularly Christmas-y at all. Not a huge deal, I know, but our $35 meal was now going to cost over $40. It just seemed like a blatant attempt to maximise profits, and was an unwelcome surprise. The group of girls next to us seemed to agree, and asked the waitress if they could go for the a la carte option instead (which definitely would have been cheaper). So they departed, and we were suddenly left sitting alone around the second hot plate.

S and I ordered drinks while we waited (quite a while) for the chef to begin the show. I was told that they didn’t offer sparkling wine by the glass (*sad face*), so opted for a soda, lime and bitters instead. It was delivered quickly, but the soda was completely flat and tasted terrible. I brought this to the attention of the waitress, who took it away without a word. Eventually, a replacement was given – but the delivery was definitely not so quick this time around. After having commented on the Christmas menu (I genuinely had wondered whether it was a mistake and we’d been given the wrong menu – not so) and asking for a replacement drink, I was starting to feel like one of those annoying whingy customers. So I vowed to be quiet for the rest of the meal!

After around half an hour of not quite knowing what was going on, our entrees were brought out. We had some pleasant miso soup and spring rolls (though, I wasn’t quite sure what was actually in the spring rolls – some kind of minced seafood, was my guess). It was 8.35pm by this time, so we devoured them. Then, the teppanyaki cooking finally got started. Unfortunately, I very quickly realised that S and I were completely removed from all the action. The restaurant had evidently decided not to heat up the second hot plate down our end since there were a few empty seats, so the chef spent pretty much the whole evening with his back to us. We craned our necks, trying to catch a glimpse of how he was preparing the meats and rice, but didn’t have much luck. The only time we actually felt like we were part of the experience was when he turned around briefly to throw the egg in our mouths, or walked over to deliver a few morsels of meat. There was no opportunity to catch eggs with our bowls, no up-and-close flame action, no engagement whatsoever. The focus was completely on the birthday girl’s party for the duration of the night.

What about the food, you ask? Well, sure, the meat was well cooked (not that we saw how it had been cooked): the teriyaki chicken was flavoursome, and the beef was really tender and juicy. It turned out that our $40 banquet didn’t include any seafood, though – a bit of a disappointment, since other teppanyaki restaurants usually include at least a prawn or two in the basic set menu. The fried rice wasn’t too bad, but wasn’t as fun to eat since we hadn’t really been involved in the cooking process.

I also must note that, if I’d had a guy with me, I don’t think he would have been satisfied by the amount of food on offer. I was fine with a few bites of chicken, steak and rice, but a growing boy would not have been! I saw quite a few guys from the birthday group asking the chef whether he could cook some more meat – they were clearly still very hungry. S and I agreed that the meal certainly wasn’t worth the $40. Usually, I am more than happy to pay this much, because I know that the overall experience is well worth it. On this occasion, I reckon we would have had a more enjoyable experience if we’d opted for a la carte. We watched as other groups of diners, who were seated on cushions in the adjourning room, were delivered steaming-hot plates of food and given the full attention of the waitresses. Yep, I’ll admit it – we were feeling a bit neglected, and were jealous!

Dessert was very basic: no-frills icecream, a squirt of fake cream, and a little slice of Woolies fruitcake (okay, I don’t actually know whether it was from Woolies – but it certainly tasted like it!). S and I had to be careful not to drool as the birthday girl’s parents brought out a delicious-looking Michele’s chocolate ganache cake. Three-quarters of the cake was left over at the end of the night, and we were verrrrry tempted to ask for some after our ordinary Shogun dessert!

And so concluded our night at Shogun. I apologised profusely to S for the experience, repeating that it ‘usually is much better than this!!’. Sure, we got a bit of a discount, but I would definitely have paid full price if it meant getting the complete teppanyaki experience.

Shogun, my advice is this: even if you have a big group to look after, don’t forget the smaller groups. We’re just as important! (…and even if we’re not, it’s your job to make us feel like we are!)

Wasabi, I’ll be back. Shogun – maybe not…

Attendees: T2 + friend
Cost: about $70 for two people, including one drink each 
(with discount)
Worthwhile factor: Not worthwhile
Want more? http://www.outincanberra.com.au/shogun

One Response to “T2 does Teppanyaki at Shogun Restaurant”

  1. Captain Sweatpants December 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    You’ve just been Leibstered! (as in I nominated you for the Leibster Award!)


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