Monday, 1 December 2008

Abeno Too, Covent Garden

Abeno Too is an 'Okonomi-yaki' restaurant. I have no idea of the literal translation of this phrase, but as far as I can make out from my lunch there on Saturday afternoon, it's probably something like "egg and rice patties, cooked on a hot plate in front of you". Which isn't quite as catchy as 'Okonomi-yaki', so I can see why they've gone with the Japanese.

Apparently these kind of gaffs are all the rage over in Japan, and it certainly felt very authentic with the all-Japanese waiting staff and wooden bench seating. As for the food itself, well, maybe I'm missing something. I got the impression it was a twisted Japanese take on American food, in much the same way we consider Chicken Tikka Masala to be Indian. I ordered a Pork (actually bacon) Deluxe and a vegetable noodle omelette thingy, the omelette thingy arriving first and rather disappointingly already cooked from an extra hidden kitchen out the back somewhere. It was dressed with what was billed as "Japanese brown sauce and Japanese mayonnaise", but which tasted for all the world like Heinz and Helman's. It tasted pretty much like you'd expect - noodles and vegetables, wrapped in egg.

The Okonomi-yaki patty itself was, thankfully, cooked with a bit more theatre. The ingredients arrived raw in a metal bowl, with a whole egg yolk perched proudly on top. Our waiter then unceremoniously mashed up everything together vigorously and poured the mixture onto the hot plate. Once ready, we split up the patty with our little paint scraper tools into bitesize portions and wolfed it down. It tasted, again, rather like you'd expect fried egg and rice with bacon to taste - "familiar" I think is the word. In fact, it's probably true to say that were it not for the extra excitement of seeing your food prepared in front of you, the cuisine at Abeno would be considered too dull to be worthy of a prime location in the centre of our nations capital. I can perhaps see how this kind of thing would work in Japan, where the fusion of European and Japanese ingredients may seem exotic and different, but when I saw the contents of the metal bowl being mashed up and dropped onto the heat all I could think was "I could have done this myself, at home, and it would have cost about 50p".

But then again, maybe I'm missing something.


Abeno Too on Urbanspoon


Hollow Legs said...

I've been wanting to go to this place for ages, but your review has taken the wind out of my sails a bit...!

Unknown said...

Hi Chris

Great review. I had this in Japan a few years ago and it is a traditional Japanese dish, but I agree that it doesn't really taste or look like you expect Japanese food to be.

Frequent Traveler said...

I don't think you are missing anything. Thank you for the truth :)

fatima k said...

The best okonomiyaki, which I loved with a passion, was in Melbourne. I was so excited when I found out that Abeno had it, but it wasn't as good :( So I think it's not the okonomiyaki itself, but perhaps Abeno's just isn't that great? It's also quite expensive!

Anonymous said...

to each his own, but i absolutely love okonomiyaki and am surprised that before posting you didn't do at least a quick google search to find that this is an authentic dish specific to a certain area of japan, and not some Japanese take on American or European food.

I moved out of london recently and miss abeno dearly (there's also a location by the british museum - both are good). The okonomiyaki are always great and i prefer the ones with pork and kimchi. I've taken visitors there always to rave reviews.

Unlike yourself, i am not sure i could manage this at home. Believe me, if I thought I could I'd be makeing some tonight!

I'm sorry, but i do think you are missing something!

Chris Pople said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the feedback, always appreciated. I'm sure I didn't mean to denigrate the entire style of cooking, but I was just left rather underwhelmed by Abeno Too and I couldn't for the life of me how anywhere could make anything that exciting out of eggs, rice and bacon. I'd love to be proved wrong of course.

There's a trend in London (and anywhere with foodies) of Emperor's New Clothes when it comes to brand new styles of cooking. The food cooked at Abeno Too, once the novetly of having it cooked in front of you has worn off, is decidedly average. And added to that of course, is the fact that these hardly premium ingredients cost £10 a dish. At least sushi is expensive for a reason.

Anonymous said...

Eggs, rice and bacon = Fried rice. Mmmmmmmm...

Jason Oliver said...

Okonomiyaki means 'as you like it' and it is dish that traditionally comes from the Kansai area. It is very 'rustic' as opposed to sushi, sashimi and so on which is a different style of Japanese cuisine altogether. It isn't a 'new type of food', it is a very old type of food which in Japan is traditionally cooked in front of you using the ingredients you have selected from the menu.

If people do like it, it is incredibly easy to cook at home, using okonomiyaki flour [bought from Rice and Wine on Brewer Street, or in the Japan centre], hokusai [Chinese Cabbage], eggs and whatever else you want to put in it. A sprinkling of ao-nori and bonito and it is as good as any restaurant in the Kansai area.

As far as the restaurant goes, surely it is better to eat Japanese style and order lots of little dishes as well as the okonomiyaki. The whole point of Japanese food is that there you have lots of smaller dishes which complement each other, rather than Western style, which is one big heap of the same thing..:D I think that as with most Japanese food, it has a very subtle taste, which to Western tastebuds can seem bland. After living in Japan for a while and then coming back to the UK, I found the food I used to enjoy really quite strong and intense. It took me a while to re-acclimatise my tastebuds.

Anonymous said...

It does look wonderful for kids of all ages. Thanks for sharing with egg and rice patties. I know my grandson will love eating long as he can use his fingers.

Anonymous said...

There is no rice in okonomiyaki.
They are made from cabbage, dough and eggs.