25 Jan 2020
16th December 2019
Abeno, Bloomsbury: restaurant review
(Note: picture is the Kiso Mix of seasonal mushrooms, lotus root and cheese)
The pitch: Europe’s 'original' specialist okonomiyaki restaurant
Review: While 'Japanese pizza' may be a misnomer it captures something about the nature of okonomiyaki's appeal. Outwardly it's relatively unsophisticated comfort food, but something about the nature of good okonomiyaki can make seeking it almost a fixation. You can picture it eventually enjoying a similar boom in popularity to ramen - as Japanese food that's delicious, unfussy and doesn't break the bank. But while for the time being it's lamentably rare, Abeno in London's Bloomsbury has been carrying the torch since 1993.
In a fairly smart space, that feels a cut above an izakaya, minutes from the the British Museum, Abeno serves authentic Kansai-style okonomiyaki - not layered, and usually without noodles, in contrast to Hiroshima-style. Prices start from £10.50 for the 'Deluxe' pork option. My dining companion and I opted for the larger 'Deluxe Super' Osaka Mix - Pork, Kimchi & Prawn - and Tokyo Mix - Pork, Squid & Prawn. The okonomiyaki is cooked by a waiter on a hotplate in front of you. This is certainly part of the fun and theatre, no more so than when (as I'm sure all JETs will have experienced) after the finished pancake has been swathed in okonomiyaki (BBC-esque) sauce, mayonnaise and green aonori seaweed powder, a final flourish of katsuobushi dried fish flakes is set dancing by the residual heat. While both certainly hit the spot taste-wise I did feel they were a little small for the price point, and consequently would be pretty circumspect about the Deluxe size - especially given okonomiyaki is the kind of food you definitely want to leave feeling full up! Ordering as part of a set menu may represent best value for money.
As well as typical variations, such as with cheese or noodles, Abeno distinguishes itself with the likes of Cottage Pie-yaki - minced beef, potatoes, peas with a grilled cheddar topping! 'Om-soba' (like omurice with soba) and teppan-yaki options like fillet steak and salmon are also on offer, as well as many typical side dishes. The drinks menu has a range of Japanese beers as well as specials like the Winter Toddy, a mulled blend of Yuzu-shu and fresh Ginger. The final touch confirming Abeno's authenticity is its clientele of mostly Japanese expats.
Point of note: Beyond Cottage Pie-yaki, there is even a Kansai Special where you'd expect wagyu accounts for the bulk of the whopping £55 price tag!
Cost: About £25/person for one of the larger okonomiyaki and a couple of drinks
Location: 47 Museum St, London WC1A 1LY
Website: abeno.co.uk (booking advised!)