Okonomiyaki’s are fantastic! For those who haven’t heard of this amazing dish, think of it like a Japanese pizza type pancake with a cabbage, egg, spring onion, ginger and tempura batter dough base plus toppings of your choice. Now, at first, this might not sound particularly appetising, but you really have to try it yourself to appreciate the intense flavours and textures that explode in your mouth when you take a bite!
The problem is, outside of Japan, Okonomiyaki’s haven’t gone as mainstream as other Japanese cuisines such as sushi or ramen and that is a shame as there are so many other amazing Japanese cuisines that could potentially rock the West. Enter Abeno! Over the years in London, Abeno has developed a bit of a reputation and has become synonymous with Okonomiyaki. So if you ask a Londoner where to go for good okonomiyaki, they’ll probably either say ‘okoni-wut?’ or they’ll recommend Abeno. Abeno has been around in various forms since 1993, yet today, their 2 branches still remain one of London’s best kept secrets, so of course, we had to try it out.
Our visit was to the flagship store located on an unassuming side street opposite the British Museum. It was a relatively quiet evening but it was upon walking into the restaurant that we realised all the hustle and bustle was inside! It was busy yet felt warm and cosy with a good vibe in the air. Some waitresses were darting around carrying orders whilst others were causing massive smoke bombs in the air as they were grilling the gorgeous looking food. And the tables were packed full of people, largely Japanese, with several more waiting in queue to get in… that’s always a good sign! First impressions were good.
How about the food?
Well, the menu was vast and catered well for both meaties and vegetarians alike but it was the Okonomiyaki that was the main attraction, so between 4, we ordered a deluxe ‘Tokyo mix’, a deluxe ‘London mix’ and since we visited during the London Olympics, there was an Olympics themed ‘Olympic-yaki’ special, so of course we had to try that too! To start, we ordered the black tiger prawn tempura, beef kara-age and an assortment of onigiri rice balls. The tempura was very good but the beef kara-age was absolutely delicious and worthy of its own mention. Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and perfectly seasoned with garlic, ginger and soy. Each bite was like a taste of heaven, divine!
Assorted onigiri rice balls – (miso, seaweed, yakari) and with salmon
Tempura Kakiage – Black tiger prawns layered with mixed vegetable strips
Organic Beef kara-age seasoned with garlic, ginger and soy.
Okonomiyakis were next.
The great thing about Abeno, in a similar fashion to Benihana or Korean BBQ restaurants, is that they prepare and cook your food in front of you on your table’s built-in grill. We watched gleefully as our chef scooped the dough base mixes onto the grill, cut up the bacon, salmon, beef fillets and other meats and cooked them by the side. The cuts of meat were then carefully placed over the crisping dough base, along with the veg, and then finished off with swirls of Japanese mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce and hot sauce which all added to the explosive flavour.
It was something new and something different; an immersive experience where there was something incredibly satisfying about watching our bowl of raw ingredients sizzle, smoke and transform into our meal. The sheer breadth and variation of ingredients provided a feast for our palettes and each bite introduced a different taste, with each taste telling our bodies to taste some more! It truly was delicious.
Phase 1 of okonomiyaki cooking: mix the raw ingredients and throw onto the grill
The special edition ‘Olympic-yaki’ okonomiyaki made up of asparagus, cheese, konnyaku, sweet corn, salmon, organic pork, chicken and beef fillet, onion, tomato, takuan olympic rings finished off with an amazing ‘olympic torch’! Check out the video below and watch it sparkle up in all its glory!
Chicken om-soba – fried noodles with chicken wrapped in an omelette decorated with Japanese style mayonnaise, okonimiyaki sauce and ketchup.
Hot and cold
The combination of sitting right by the grill, bad ventilation and eating loads of piping hot food with extra chilli sauce made it feel like a sauna, but it was ok, dessert would cool us down! We tried the Kyoto sundae which was a tower of green tea ice cream, cream and adzuki beans. It was pretty special and cooled us right down, however, the daddy of desserts was the Arashiyama-An. This dessert mimicked a landscaped Japanese garden and consisted of green tea ice cream and a selection of well placed fruits, adzuki beans, sweet rice dumplings and cream. This was a brilliantly presented and put together piece where all the elements complemented one another. A perfect way to finish off the experience.
Kyoto sundae – Green tea Ice-Cream and Adzuki Beans with cream
The food here was delicious and the okonomiyaki’s were full of flavour, but as a stand out dish, the beef karaage stole the show! Amazing, simply out of this world!
Expect to Pay
£30-£40 per person