Tel: +44 (0)20 7405 3211
Address: 47 Museum Street, London WC1A 1LY
Cuisine Type: Japanese
nearest tube station Tottenham Court Road (NORTHERN, CENTRAL), Holborn (CENTRAL, PICCADILLY)

Japanese food used to be exotic and novel. Now it is almost passé – reduced to boxes of sushi and microwave bentos in the chiller cabinet of supermarkets and sandwich shops. Not that we don’t enjoy eating the food any more – the increasing number of Japanese restaurants bears testimony to its popularity – it’s just that we’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt from Wagamama.

So I was excited to discover Abeno, nestled in the shadows of the British Museum, as it claims to be the only okonomi-yaki restaurant in London. Okonomi-yaki, a speciality of the Osaka region, is a flour and egg-based “pancake” with a variety of added ingredients cooked on a hot plate at your table. We ordered the “Sapporo Mix” with salmon, squid and prawns (£8.80), but you can have combinations as seemingly unsuited as spinach and cheese. The waitress beats the doughy mixture at your table, folds in the chosen added ingredients, and pours the mixture onto the heated hot plate built into the table. When cooked, the end product is sprinkled with bonito (dried fish) flakes, shards of dried seaweed and bright red shreds of pickled ginger, then decorated with spirals of mayonnaise, a fruity brown sauce and if desired, chilli sauce – so that it resembles an iced birthday cake. It’s as simple as that, but disappointing in the sense that it is effectively no more than an indulgent omelette.

Also, when the restaurant is full, the waiting staff can be over-stretched, since they do a lot of this time-consuming cooking, as the lady at the neighbouring table found. She complained, threatened to cancel her order and gave the manager an earful about the service. Maybe we were lucky – we ate before a large group arrived, and found the waitresses courteous and unobtrusive.

From the other choices on the lengthy menu we tried the Omsoba (£8.75), which again sounded more intriguing than what boiled down to a mound of soba noodles wrapped in a thin omelette, topped with the ubiquitous mayonnaise / brown sauce / chilli sauce condiments. Kamo teriyaki (£4.80) from the specials menu, although pleasant, was essentially slices of duck breast in a teriyaki sauce.

Desserts too over-promise and, in my opinion, under-deliver. Rokumeikan crepe (£4.80) was a pancake with a red bean filling, served with a blob of whipped cream and green tea ice cream. A tiny portion, which was almost certainly bought-in and expensive for what it was. To drink, green tea at 60p a cupful (and a diminutive Japanese-size cupful at that) can gradually rack up, so you might as well order a soft drink instead.

All that said, this area is hardly a Mecca for foodies, and you could do worse than come here before, after or in between visits to the exhibits at the museum that were probably your reason for being in the vicinity in the first place.

– Tracy Yam, 6/2003