Thursday, 5 March 2009

abeno too

last night o and i were roaming covent garden with a friend who was visiting from pakistan trying to find a place to eat. after walking through the myriad chains that have come to populate this tourist hub we settled on abeno too. abeno too specializes in a particular style of japanese cooking, okonomi-yaki – this is essentially a marriage of two words where okonomi means ‘whatever you like’ and yaki means ‘grilled,cooked or fried’. abeno’s claim to cuisine fame is that it is the only restaurant that offers okonomi-yaki, a native of osaka and often described as a japanese pancake.  

we were seated at a table with nifty benches that opened up to provide storage units for all the layers of clothing that london cold requires, including protection of personal belongings from pickpockets. the eating space is dominated by the teppan (hot plate) which is used for cooking. this is perhaps the best part of an abeno too experience – watching the food being cooked.

o and i had the plum wine on the rocks – a sweet and refreshing wine. to start with we had a firm block of tofu dressed with soy, spring onions and a generous top of bonito fish flakes. there was also a seaweed salad and cucumber salad dressed in rice vinegar with a sweet edge. we followed this with a tofu, corn and spring onion okonomi-yaki. the server brought along a steel bowl, tipping it towards us she showed us the layers of cabbage, egg and dough with ginger and spring onions. she then whisked this with a quick flourish whilst attending to the teppan, smearing it with a slight bit of oil. once smoking hot she put down the batter and pressed it flat to form a thick pancake. a block of tofu was cut into long strips and placed onto the batter along with corn and then covered with another layer of batter to make a thick stuffed pancake. she then covered it with a silver lid. we continued to work our way through the starters. the server returned to check on our food and once cooked presented us with added options: soy sauce, bonito flakes and dried seaweed to sprinkle on top. we opted for all three and then helped ourselves. the tofu had melted with the heat and tasted delicious with the combination of flavours. we had rice on the side presented rolled with a centre of plum and sprinkled on top with dried plum that lent it a sweet-sour taste. after the okonomi-yaki came the teppan-yaki of chicken. it was a pleasure to watch – a breast of chicken laid flat on a combination of butter and oil on the teppan the heat changing the colour of the flesh. the server deftly turned it over to cook both sides and then cut it into bite sized pieces. after he had cooked the chicken he added more butter and oil and put down a mixture of vegetables. while these were cooking he disappeared and brought along a split dish one half of which was soy sauce and the other a peanut based sauce. the teppanyaki was to dipped into this and eaten. the sauces added dimension to the chicken and vegetables and quickly disappeared between the three of us.

despite being full i decided that o and s had to try the green tea ice-cream as abeno renders a really good one. we settled on a kyoto sundae which brought together green tea and vanilla ice cream with traditional sweet rice dumplings and on a base of mashed sweetened azuki beans. we could have done without the band of cream that lined the dessert but the flavours were too perfect for us to be disrupted by it and as with the other food we polished dessert off rather quickly.