Friendly Fish

Sushi-lovers rejoice in Benkei’s relaxed traditional atmosphere

Services | Philipp Conrad | March 2009

Benkei’s traditional Tatami room (Photo: Philipp Conrad)

Benkei Okasan has a proud smile on her face watching her kids run one of the city’s best sushi restaurants located in Vienna’s 3rd district.

"Good day. Nice to see you," she greets her guests as she takes off her shoes at the corner of your Tatami room to pour you a cup of green tea.

Overseeing the family restaurant with a kind but watchful eye, Benkei Okasan has helped her kids own and run the leading Sushi restaurant in Vienna for the past decade.

"This place belongs to my sister, Frau Cheffin," explains Benkei’s son, Junior, a bright and well-spoken young man.

"Sushi’s ready!" Frau Cheffin Chang Yu-Lin calls from her spacious sushi bar. At the corner-entrance of Benkei, there are two doors.  The left door leads to the dining area, which includes Tatami rooms as well as conventional seating.

The other entrance leads to a 15-seat sushi bar that is mostly buzzing around lunchtime.

As you enter, you immediately notice an unlit space behind the sushi bar, cluttered with old office equipment and a mess of papers.  Although it feels like you’re at a fancy restaurant, it’s clear that this is not typically formal Japanese.

Different from many sushi hang-outs, the seats at Benkei’s sushi bar are comfortably low and surprisingly well spaced apart.

Traditionally formal or not, the restaurant looks and feels like you are actually in Japan. The Tatami rooms feel old yet modern and authentic Japanese decorations already begin outside the front door.  Benkei is a cultural showcase where even the plates and special dried foods are all imported from Japan.

Before going into the sushi business, the Benkei family supplied restaurants, supermarkets, and big hotels in Vienna with foods.  The knowledge they gained from the food supply business is evident when tasting the freshness of the fish they have to offer.

The talkative brother, Junior, is always happy to announce which fish are being offered each day. He even admits, "Sometimes I’ll forget and waste too much time talking with customers."

If you are lucky, you might catch a batch of blue-fin tuna or choose from one of the excellent assortment of shellfish on hand. Benkei’s reputation amongst its peers is clear: the fish is, on average, the juiciest in town.

Chang Yu-Lin stands alone, like a titan, behind the sushi bar. In full concentration, she sorts and divides colorful slabs of the freshest fish Vienna has to offer.

When there’s a wait, the staff is kind enough to let you know and is happy to recommend some appetizers to help the wait seem short. The Miso Yaki is an exquisite halibut starter that should not be missed, and it goes great with a traditional Wakame (baby seaweed) salad.

The halibut’s tenderness and savory soy taste seems to last forever, making the Miso Yaki an instant hit.  The Wakame salad adds a great contrasting zing with a ginger-vinaigrette dressing.  Together, both dishes can easily elate a table of four waiting on Sushi.

"In Japan or Taiwan, a typical meal lasts roughly 40 minutes," Junior explains. "Here, we wanted to make the experience last longer, in a more typically relaxed European fashion."

Lunch sets range from €7 to €12 and comes with soup and salad, and the offerings range from simple sushi sets to the Chirashi assortment (a bowl with a fresh assortment of fish on top of rice).

When at Benkei, I have a hard time leaving without asking if Chang Yu-Lin has had a chance to prepare some of her homemade green-tea ice cream.  The blend of minty-bitter tea-flavor with the sweetness voluminous creamy taste has me asking for it every time.


Benkei Sushi

3., Ungargasse 6

(01) 718 18 88

Mon.-Fri. 12:00~15:00 & 18:00~23:30

Sat. and Holidays, 18:00~23:30

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    the vienna review March 2009