Summed up a in sentence: There’s more to Japanese food than just sushi, aight? Pass me that spatula.
A stone’s throw away from the British Museum and right down the road from Tottenham Court Road station, sits this tiny gem of a Japanese restaurant – Abeno. Abeno is no ordinary Japanese restaurant – unlike most, it specialises in making Okonomi-yaki – a form of cabbage-based pancake, complete with a range of scrumptious fillings ranging from the traditional seafood combinations (squid, prawns, salmon etc.), to the more popular Western ingredients (cheese, bacon, mushrooms, etc). All in all, it takes about 20 mins for the dish to cook (and much like traditional Japanese teppan-yaki, the pancakes are cooked right in front of you on the griddle in the middle of your table), but may take longer if the place is busy. This is a great place to go if you are up for trying something new/not starving enough to eat the waiter while he cooks the food/are sick of mentally preparing yourself for raw fish when someone mentions ‘Japanese cuisine’. As well as the face-sized (or maybe small melon-sized? I dunno, 20 cm in diameter) Okonomi-yaki, they also have a wide range of Soba (stir fried noodles or rice dishes), and om-soba (stir fried noodles in a giant omelette blanket, drizzled in a tangy signature sauce) and if your heart really does call out for it, yes they have a sushi menu as well. Lol jks, NO SUSHI HERE. They do Udon (thick, white noodles, served in a broth with stuff) and Teppan-Yaki though which is always fun, mainly because it’s cooked in front of you by a tiny Asian man ducking to avoid getting blinded by frying oil.
BUSY. We went for an early lunch at 12pm on a weekday, and it was already getting busy. If you’re planning on going for dinner, definitely make a reservation! By the time we’d ordered and had our beauties grilling on the griddle, the place was completely full with hungry pancake-eaters. Mind you, it’s about the size of a matchbox, so I’m not surprised the few tables they do have filled up quickly. It’s not so cramped that you’ll be staring into the gaping mouths of neighbouring diners, but you probably will be able to poke a few of them with an outstretched chopstick…cozy layout, is all.
MONEY. We ordered from the lunch menu, so everything was capped at around £12-13 and included a miso soup and the side dish of the day as part of the set. It was £13 for the okonomi-yaki — we ordered two different ones and shared them so that we could try both. If you don’t like sharing food, don’t go to an Asian restaurant because you’ll probably end up ordering octopus genitalia by accident and then will grumble through the meal as your friends munch on their (evidently much tastier) dishes. And you know, stop being greedy in general. The om-soba for instance is designed to be shared so don’t be surprised that it comes out costing around £20.
FUN. No, not the band – the experience. There’s just something about watching people cook your food for you; maybe it’s the fact that you’re not doing any work but are getting to eat it…? Another plus is the fact that you can keep the pancake on the griddle after it’s cooked so it stays warm while you wolf down your portion/continue to be merry/poke other diners with chopsticks.
LOCATION. Bright yellow on the outside, no. 46 Museum street. Closest tube is Tottenham Court Road, but I also know that buses 38 and 19 stop right outside it as well. Abeno also has a sister branch, Abeno Too, right next to Leicester Square tube station – 17-18 Great Newport Street.
WE ORDERED. One Tokyo okonami-yaki (fillings were squid, pork and prawn), one London okonami-yaki (salmon, bacon, cheese) and we also had the side dish and miso soup each as part of the lunch menu. Our side dish was a tiny portion of grilled runner beans, in what looked like teriyaki sauce/some sort of miso concoction. Either way – a nice way to start the meal, and very tasty. If you’ve never ever eaten Japanese food, miso soup is a clear soup with pieces of seaweed and tofu. We ordered Asahi beer (light beer, very refreshing given the heat coming off the griddle in front of you) and Calpico soda for drinks.
We actually preferred the Tokyo pancake because the cheese in the London pancake made it quite heavy, with a much denser texture. Our friends who joined us a bit later order chicken katsu and rice- the katsu was superb, but I didn’t see anyone making it so it was nowhere near as exciting.
SERVICE. As with most Asian restaurants: no fuss, and quite brisk if they need to be. The waiter was more than happy to recommend dishes to us, but it didn’t feel like he was lingering to become BFFs with us either, so don’t get all sniffly if he doesn’t ask you about how your day went. I think they must get a lot of picky tourists visiting, because he seemed pleasantly surprised that the white girl in the group (i.e. me) was adventurous enough to opt in to all the topics for the okonomi-yaki (traditionally they’re topped with Japanese mayo, okonomiyaki sauce and dry fish flakes – nicer than it sounds!).
Verdict: A definite must-visit, especially if you’re a fan of Asian food but want something different to the typical noodles/sushi experience. I’d like to go back and try the teppan-yaki for instance. Book before you go if you’re going for dinner though. It’s slightly pricier than your average Asian restaurant if you’re planning on having dinner (menus available here) but the quality of food and the experience itself are definitely worth it.