For my belated-birthday and welcome-back-to-school informal celebration, a large group of us went out for dinner. Because it was in the middle of the week, and everyone had class the next day, we opted to look for a restaurant nearby our dorms. Balancing good food with affordable prices soon proved difficult, though, and for a while the only options popping up on Yelp were Italian restaurants. But after some further research, I came across Abeno. What caught my attention on its website was the word “okonomiyaki.”
Okonomiyaki is a type of savory Japanese pancake, and its base batter consists of flour, eggs, dashi (Japanese stock), and shredded cabbage. The term derives from the Japanese words okonomi, which means “what you like,” and yaki, which means to grill. Therefore, okonomiyaki means whatever you like grilled; in the Western world, many people like to call okonomiyaki Japanese pizza. With such versatility, I couldn’t wait to see how this dish was actually made.
Although there were many different types of enticing dishes at Abeno – including yakisoba and omsoba – we all decided that we couldn’t pass up what we saw online, the okonomiyaki. You can order two different sizes: deluxe or super deluxe. A deluxe size will feed one person while a super deluxe can feed two. The vegetarian of the group ordered a deluxe Tofu Mix (£11.50), which comes with tofu, organic sweet corn, and spring onions. I ordered a deluxe Inaka Mix (£12.50), which has pork, konnyaku, and corn. Konnyaku is a gelatin made from a certain type of potato; it’s quite firm and actually quite tasteless. It’s a favorite amongst dieters because it contains very few calories. The last two girls shared a super deluxe Tokyo Mix (£14.50) with pork, squid, and prawns.
It’s fun to watch how the okonomiyaki is made. The table has a grill on top, and one of the employees will come and mix all the ingredients in a bowl in front of you. If you have meat, then she’ll cook it on the grill first. Then, she will put the mixture on the grill and leave it to cook for a minute, adding the cooked meat on top.
Then, she came and put a cover on each okonomiyaki and let it cook for a few minutes longer.
Finally, she flipped the okonomiyaki over and let it cook on the other side for another couple of minutes. Watching her flip the okonomiyaki made me nervous. She had to use two spatulas on either side of the okonomiyaki and then quickly slip the whole thing over without breaking it. She even managed to flip the big super deluxe okonomiyaki without creating any cracks. When I asked our waitress how long she had been making okonomiyaki, she told me four weeks.
After the okonomiyaki are done, the griddle is turned off, and the condiments are added on. First, a swirl of Japanese mayonnaise – which is sweeter than American mayonnaise – is squirted on top. Then a swirl of brown okonomiyaki sauce is drawn alongside the mayonnaise swirl. Then, the waitress added a generous amount of aonori, toasted seaweed flakes, and katsuobushi, bonito flakes. After that, you use a mini metal spatula to cut pieces of the okonomiyaki for yourself. You can see them in the background in the pictures.
I loved the crisp outer coating of the okonomiyaki, and everybody was taking turns to get more of the mayonnaise and okonomiyaki sauce – you can’t just have one, both need to be mixed together. The tofu in the Tofu Mix okonomiyaki made that okonomiyaki fall apart once cut into, but the others all stayed nicely intact. Each combination was well-received; I especially liked the konnyaku inside mine because it had an interesting texture. I also was surprised how full we were. On the grill, the okonomiyaki do not look that big, but once you start eating you get full pretty quick.
Abeno had quick, friendly service and a fun atmosphere. The price for an okonomiyaki is a little high, but it was a great cultural experience to see how one is made, and we all also had a lot of fun eating the okonomiyaki. Abeno is conveniently located near the British Museum, but the restaurant isn’t that big. If you have a large group, be prepared to wait a bit for a seat. It’s worth the wait, though.
47 Museum Street
London WC1A 1LY