Sunday, February 17, 2013

Abeno, Valentine's Day

I'm a big fan of okonomiyaki, which is sort of like a savory pancake made of cabbage, batter, and various sundries like cheese, kimchi, meat, and other stuff. I've been to both Abeno locations in London, and they are two of the very few places to get okonomiyaki in London. My preference is the original Abeno on Museum Street, just because you're able to get a table there even if you're a party of two, whereas at Abeno Too you'll be seated at the counter if you're less than three people. I can understand that, of course, but I just prefer a table.

Anyway, Abeno is easily one of me and my husband's favorite restaurants, so we made reservations to go there on Valentine's Day, hoping there might be a special menu--and there was! For £70 all together we had two cocktails, a big plate of starter-type bits, a double-layered heart-shaped okonomiyaki with beef, chicken, asparagus, corn, and mochi topped with crispy noodles, and a plate of little desserts to share, as well!

The cocktails were amazing, I'm not much of a drinker but I do like a cocktail that's been so sweetened and juiced up that it just tastes like soda--and these fit that bill. I can't quite remember what was in my drink, but I know it included plum wine 'squash' and Calpico as the primary ingredients. My husband had a lime juice something-or-other (probably sake-based), with a jelly bauble and sugar rim. It was also really nice, but quite a bit more potent than my girlish blend of soda and sweet wine squash, haha. I would've happily drank either, though!

After these cocktails we also decided to share a bottle of yuzu-infused sake, an excellent pick if you like citrus juice and don't like the burn of vodka or whiskey. Hm, maybe I am actually kind of a drinker these days!

So, we got this sharing plate very soon after placing our order:
Apologies for the picture, I'm never anyone's idea of a great photographer, but I'm particularly crap in a dimly-lit restaurant serving strangely colored foods, using the flash on my phone. Cards are stacked against me, I tells ya!

Starting from the far left, we've got palm-size prawn sushi, some kind of fried roll-up, sashimi, marinated squid, seared beef roll-ups, and chili edamame in the center. The prawns were so delicious, and I'm not crazy for seafood, but these were buttery and soft and pleasantly fishy instead of stink-fishy. The fried roll-ups were amazing, kind of reminded me of crab rangoons except spicy, and obviously not some bastardized American-Chinese junk food made of cream cheese. They did taste kind of cream cheesey though, not going to lie! The sashimi was high quality, but not much more to say than it was tasty and slippery, and the marinated squid was delicious--but again, basically tasty and slippery. The beef roll-ups were amazing, high-quality melty beef just barely cooked with onion and pickled carrots. Chili edamame was of course delicious, all the fun of edamame but with the added flavor blast of chili. Great start to the meal, just enough to tide two people over until the main course.
The picture doesn't do this justice, it was an adorable big heart with a little heart on top, all made of okonomiyaki, filled with beautifully cooked steak, chicken, asparagus, mochi, and corn...all cut into perfectly bite-sized pieces and marinated with various tangy and savory sauces. On top we've got the classics, Japanese mayo, tangy okonomiyaki sauce, seaweed flecks, and my favorite, bonito flakes. Bonito is dried fish that tastes like pickled meat...kind of. Not too strong though, and it is awesome to see it move around on a hot dish. On top of all that, there is a heart-shaped fried egg, and on top of that, there is a handful of crispy noodles. If you like savory pancakes, omelettes, or basically any other thing made from batter, you'll like an okonomiyaki. There are lots of fillings at Abeno, including chicken, steak, and cheese and bacon, so even people who prefer more domestic flavor combinations could happily chow down.

We were crazy full by this point, but there was a dessert plate to come:
And oh, what a plate it was! On the top we've got fried, chewy doughnuts (maybe some kind of mochi?) with a thick, sweetened chestnut sauce for pouring on 'em, and later spooning out greedily. Next to that is a couple cute heart jellies with berries suspended inside, then a green tea tart with glutinous rice puffs and a sesame crisp, and then a freshly cooked American style pancake with marzipan and apricot, served with green tea ice cream. Shoo! What a spread. All these desserts are the sort of tastes that are a bit hard to come by in the UK. Sure, green tea is getting more popular, but chestnut has yet to have it's day in the sweet sun, and jellies and mochi aren't the most conventional textures, either.

The chestnut puree/sauce/ganache was so nice, so delicately nutty and almost white chocolatey, it went really well with the fried chewy doughnuts. The jelly was so gentle, and the berries looked perfect and tasted fine. I think of these clear jellies as being more for show than taste, but it wasn't unpleasant in the slightest. The tart was very generous for a sharing dessert, and had the texture of a custard or American style pudding, and the taste of matcha latte. The white orbs on top were chewy, and probably some form of glutinous rice, and while basically tasteless to my Mountain Dew burnt-out palette, added an appreciable chew. The pancake had a lovely marzipan taste throughout, even though only three little chunks were used they were spaced so perfectly that every bite was imbued with sweet almond flavor, and the apricot in the center was gorgeously soft, and made honey sweet by the grill. The green tea ice cream was nice, but like every other green tea ice cream I've tried--if you like green tea, you'll like it just fine, but I've yet to meet the one that has me shouting from the roof tops.

The service at Abeno has been great every time we've gone, same goes for Abeno Too. Always friendly, and dab handed with the hot plate. If you're the sort of person who doesn't like to have waiters or waitresses hovering around while you're eating, you might be worried that it is awkward having someone cook right at your table--there is no need to worry, the servers are all business at the grill unless you want to have a conversation. They'll explain the toppings to you, and I heard different servers explaining the cooking method to people who asked, but if you're happy to keep chatting to your dining companions while they cook, they're happy to do it without interruption. Which is good for me, because growing up in America can make you a bit nervous about waiter-chat, lots of guys taking a knee and explaining steak sandwiches to you and then hitting on your mom...wears you out, makes you feel uncomfortable for everyone involved.

In the end, we were so happy to spend Valentine's Day there...and at £35 each for a cocktail, starters, okonomiyaki, and a dessert plate, not a bad deal! We left feeling fattened up and sassy, what more can you ask for on Valentine's Day?

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