If you search for an authentic Japanese Okonomiyaki restaurant in London, Abeno often takes the top spot. It is the world’s first Michelin-listed Okonomiyaki establishment and has been running since 1993. Incidentally the restaurant names comes from Abeno-Ku (ward) in Osaka, where one of the owners hails from. If you are not familiar with this Japanese savoury pancake, please read an explanation of Okonomiyaki along with our recipe.
Although the original restaurant was in North London, you can now find Abeno only four minutes walk away from the British Museum. The nearest tube station would be Holborn but Tottenham Court Road is not far away. When you get to the restaurant, you can easily spot it with its blue awning outside. Abeno also have a unique signboard with a crossword on it where you can quickly test your Japan knowledge!
This Okonomiyaki restaurant is cosy with four main tables across from the kitchen and one or two further away, but the seating is comfortable for each table. The walls are light pastel blue and decorated with Japanese paintings and Japanese calligraphy on a kakemono (hanging scroll). You could call it minimalistic but I found it just right, with the whole restaurant vibe reminding me of family run restaurants in Japan. Possibly the only thing missing was a sliding front door with a bell that chimed every time new customers came in. On the night we went, the customers in question were myself and a close foodie friend who used to live in Japan.
True Okonomiyaki Restaurant Style
The Teppan hot plates centered in the middle of each table catches your eye as soon as you walk in. This is where you can see your meal come to life in front of you. Unlike the theatrics you get at Teppan-yaki restaurants, at Abeno things are less about the performance and more about communication. A member of staff will show you the ingredients for each dish and explain what they are before cooking up the masterpieces in front of you. There is a lot of shaping with the spatulas, some covering with metal domes, and eventually flipping of your Okonomiyaki. Finally you can opt-in or out of the dancing bonito flakes and tiny aonori (dried seaweed) flakes.
While all this sizzling and grilling is taking place on the Teppan, there is time to chat to your personal chef if you so wish! We found out that most of the staff are Japanese, Japanese second-generation or had lived in Japan. Our chef told us about the times he had visited Japan in previous summers and we could talk about some Japanese experiences we had in common.
What starters did we order?
Before getting started with the main course, we got a side dish of Chicken Kara-age. Abeno have a policy of sourcing organic meat and this can be easily seen with their Kara-age. The chicken pieces are smaller than the regular size ones you might get at an Izakaya or Japanese restaurant but this didn’t bother us. We felt these organic chicken Kara-age were just as juicy as the non-organic ones but had more flavour packed in.
We ate the yaki gyoza (fried dumplings) next, which was cooked on the Teppan plate in front of us. Abeno do their gyoza the right way – no deep frying or hard thick skins – here they are fried on the plate and then covered to steam. This means that we get a properly crispy outside and juicy inside. The gyoza filling however was interesting – prawn and broccoli. It’s definitely a more healthy option but possibly we preferred the good old minced pork, cabbage and chives.
For the Okonomiyaki, we ordered the “Tokyo” (made with pork, squid, and prawns), and the “London” which includes pork, bacon, cheese, & salmon. You can see two sizes available on the menu – Deluxe and Super Deluxe. I’d recommend getting Deluxe if you are having starters and dessert, but you might need Super Deluxe if you are only planning on the Okonomiyaki. When it came to toppings, we had both bonito flakes and aonori, along with that very tasty sauce and mayonnaise. One thing that caught our eye was the way that Abeno adds their sauce and mayo. It’s not a hatched, criss-cross method, but a swirl from the centre to the outside – possibly to a nod to Michelin star restaurant Mizuno?
So how did they taste? We really enjoyed both of them, and it was exciting to try a new kind of Okonomiyaki filling. This would be the London of course. The cheese and salmon pair well together and the cheese adds a new creamy dimension to the dish. The Tokyo meanwhile was a traditional style Okonomiyaki with a hearty batter and generous amounts of pork and prawns. The swirling Okonomiyaki and mayonnaise sauce on top added that fantastic richness which will leave you craving for more.
Dessert – Biriken Sundae
There are many options for the dessert. The Japanese “hot cakes” are popular and prepared in front of you, and there are classic desserts like Mitsumame (a Japanese fruit salad with Shiratama mochi). What really stood out to us though was the Biriken Sundae. We will explain the dessert name quickly. Biriken is a gold deity housed in a famous tower in Osaka that brings good luck to those who touch its feet. This sundae simply aims to bring the good luck however and no Biriken feet are in sight.
Abeno make this dessert with a scoop of glorious Matcha ice-cream placed on a “Hot-cake” soaked in a 30 year-old Sake. This gives you a wonderful combination of sweet and spicy. Then you have some fantastic berries, whipped cream and mixed chocolate pieces to garnish the Sundae. It was a real treat and very much worth getting. Also yes the sake really is 30 years old – you can check the bottle if you don’t believe us!
Abeno Okonomiyaki Restaurant Rating
You can easily see why Abeno is so popular with its clientele who keep returning time and again. It’s a combination of the organically sourced food, traditional cooking techniques, and friendly but excellent service. I would say that not only should it be considered as the top Okonomiyaki restaurant in London but also one of the best Japanese restaurants too. The menu really is extensive and includes starters like Tonpei-yaki and main dishes like Yaki-soba and Om-soba.
I would rate it as 5 stars out of 5, and I wish I could add another star on top. It is truly an establishment that showcases the best of Japanese food and culture. You can see the Omotenashi service, and it’s great to see the staff are like one large extended family. I can guess for the second generation staff it allows them to understand more about their heritage too.
One thing to point out is that you will need to make reservations in advance, and make a pre-payment of ten pounds on the site when booking. This is then deducted from your bill. Just in case you were wondering, this all went smoothly for us.
If you have been to Abeno, it would be great to hear how it was for you. Please feel free to leave a comment below.