Life’s activities are generally split into two categories: things you want to experience alone and things you want to experience with others. Waking yourself up from snoring, welling up at a First Dates montage, or cracking a tub of Karamel Sutra, generally fall into the solo category. Whereas getting married, having an argument, or playing Monopoly are, generally, things you want to do with at least one other person. This rule applies to restaurants as well, and in the case of okonomiyaki specialist Abeno, the more is definitely the merrier.
Given its proximity to Tottenham Court Road, there’s a high chance that you’ll arrive at Abeno feeling like you’ve just starred in a pedestrianised version of Mad Max. Only, it won’t stop here. From the moment you walk into the squeeze-past-you space, you (and whoever you’re with) will experience several things. Firstly, like happy tinnitus, you’ll become aware of the sound of sizzling. Secondly, the ‘something smells good’ aroma of garlic and oil will hit. Thirdly will be the sight of plump pancakes frying on each individual table’s hot plate. Needless to say, this restaurant is a far more welcome sensory overload than the rat race outside.
While sharing fun and delicious experiences is undeniably important, it’s Abeno’s menu that really stresses the need for numbers. The okonomiyakis come in two American-inspired sizes: deluxe or super deluxe. And seeing as you’ll want to be ordering one of these, as well as the excellent tempura, and probably some beef kara-age to get you going, you’ll definitely want another person with you. Four feels like the magic number. Mainly because every table here is built for four. Though you can fit six on one at a push.
Unlike other restaurants where the food is cooked in front of you, Abeno doesn’t feel the need to show off. It’s more normal than novelty. Nevertheless you’ll still be spellbound watching layers of a cottage pie pancake as it’s formed and fried in front of you - first batter, then the potatoes and peas, before a molten disc of bubbling cheese is placed on top. You’ll also be extremely satisfied to find it’s also very nice to eat. All of this is, in no small part, down to the work of the staff who are humble utensil technicians that are constantly forming, frying, and flipping. The spatulas are to them, what the spoon is to Uri Geller.
Truth be told, Abeno isn’t really a restaurant you pop in to, even though we have stopped by for a quick om-soba - an ingenious omelette-wrapped load of soba noodles covered in sauce - in the past. It’s likely to cost you around £25 a head, plus booking is essential as there are only around a dozen tables and constant demand to see the spatulas at work. So the next time you want a double date, or a long overdue catch-up, have Abeno in mind. This isn’t a restaurant to keep to yourself. Otherwise, you’ll end up missing out.
Tokyo Mix Okonomiyaki
All okonomiyakis are made from a batter mixed with sliced cabbage, onion, and ginger. From there it’s pretty much anything goes. This pork, squid, and prawn combo is okonomiyaki 101, so it’s an easy (and tasty) place to start. Plus, it's got dancing bonito flakes on top.
This is the greatest meeting of styles since Eminem and Dido. It’s a cottage pie pancake, with individual bits of potato, peas, and cheddar cheese. Watching this be made in front of you is a sight to behold. Oh, and it’s delicious too.
The om-soba is, perhaps even more so than the pie-yaki, one of the greatest collaborations of our era. Yes, even better than Aerosmith and Run DMC. It’s a pile of yaki-soba noodles wrapped around an omelette that’s been artfully decorated with kewpie mayonnaise, okonomiyaki sauce, and Heinz ketchup. It’s great.
Abeno refers to natto - fermented soy beans - as the Japanese Marmite. Everyone knows Marmite is love it or hate it, and this pancake is much the same. We loved this one with prawns and spring onion in it as well.
Pork, Squid, And Prawn Yaki-Soba
A tasty and satisfying pile of noodles for just over a tenner. We’d recommend one portion between two, because it’s the kind of thing that goes fast.
All the teppanyaki dishes are fried in front of you with a mixture of vegetables and sauces and seasonings on the side. These brick-like bits of tofu are decent if you need a break from meat or fish, though it’s not the best tofu we’ve ever had.
A spicy mixture of carrot and burdock, which sounds a little like a new Original Sources flavour, this is a nice bit of crunch to have on the side.
Crisp and light like a wine you know nothing about, this tempura is some of the best we’ve had. It’s a mixture of broccoli, carrots, onions, and scallops, and it’s very very good.
Karaage basically means deep fried, so these are little golden beef nuggets that have been marinated in soy, ginger, and garlic. If you haven’t had a beef nugget before, it’s time to start. A must order.
They’re stuffed with broccoli and prawn and then steamed and fried on your table’s hot plate. Perfectly nice.