An interactive dining experience, Abeno Too cashes in on the current Teppanyaki popularity and adds Okonomiyaki into the mix for an exciting twist on the Japanese trend.
The sister venue of the larger Abeno on Museum Street, Abeno Too is located a stone’s throw from Leicester Square. However, its tucked neatly out of the way on Great Newport Street so come the weekend it misses out on the drunken people traffic that so poisons this area. Not much to look at from the outside, the clever use of large windows along the road instantly draws the eye to the large Teppanyaki grills, which does the job of bringing in diners. You can’t help but be intrigued by the smiling faces watching their food being crafted in front of their very eyes – and good looking food it is, too. At weekends, the long queues out the door attest to its popularity as people wait patiently for their turn.
Inside, you’ll be struck by the heat, which is where the many fans dotted around the room come into play, helping to bring the humid air down to a comfortable level. The set up of seating is as simple as the plain decor – a large central table with a walkway for staff down the middle is encircled by large boxed benches, creating a communal seating arrangement. The main focal point is, as it should be, wholly devoted to the grill that runs the whole length of the large central area, so everyone has easy access to their own section. However, if you’re in a group then there are three separate tables for four by the window, each with their own central grill – just be warned, you can’t book here so you pretty much have to accept what you can get as it’s consistently busy, even during the week. A nice touch is the nature of the benches – seating two, they open up to reveal a hollow middle where you can store your belongings, eliminating the worry of having anything go missing.
The atmosphere is undoubtedly a huge draw of Abeno Too. The communal seating area allows for a feeling of togetherness and angry Londoner attitudes are left at the door. People gaze at the variety of food being cooked up and engage in banter. The staff are skilled, the majority of them are Japanese and they are friendly. The best thing about the restaurant is it works on almost any level; dates impress each other with the interesting dining experience, friends gossip over shared food and families get stuck into the fun. Few places in London can claim such an eclectic and indeed electric atmosphere. That said, a little more showboating could be offered when cooking the food, which is sometimes a little functional.
Whatever you order, the food at Abeno Too is undoubtedly delicious and, best of all, you can see that it’s well cooked. Although the experience is integral to what’s on offer, the food is good enough to stand alone as a reason to come here. The Abeno chain specialises in a specific type of this cuisine called Okonomiyaki – similar to an omelette, it’s cooked in front of you on the grill and consists of a base of cabbage, egg and dough with spring onions, ginger and tempura with a choice of flavours. You can choose any combination of flavours from chicken, asparagus and cheese to fillet steak or even squid; there’s also a good range of vegetarian options. Highly recommended, however, is the London Mix (£12.00) consisting of pork, bacon, cheese and salmon. Thick and full of flavour it may not look like much but its filling enough to tide over even the hungriest of bellies. The texture is very similar to a thick omelette and the delicate salty flavours of the salmon, bacon and pork is counterbalanced by the creamy cheese and pancake base. If you so wish (as is suggested) you can also have brown sauce, tomato ketchup (both Japanese style) and tuna flakes sprinkled on top. Sound weird? Maybe, but open your mind it really does work.
If you prefer to go with what you’re more accustomed to then the better known Teppanyaki is equally intriguing. Also cooked on the grill in front of you, the simple mix of the base of your choice (choose between steak, chicken, salmon, tofu or vegetables) with vegetables is light and delicious. Be sure to try the salmon (£14.80) – a whole, fresh fillet with roasted garlic mixes well with the crunchy, lightly fried vegetables. If you’re not bothered about seeing your food cooked then there are also traditional noodle and rice dishes to choose from – the pork, squid and prawn yaki soba (£9.75) is one to try, with big thick noodles, lots of tender pieces of seafood and a delicate sprinkling of pork.
You could quite easily just have a main and leave pleasantly full; however, there are a large range of side dishes (which arrive at random times) and desserts to choose from. Choose your sides wisely as some are also cooked on the grill and some arrive already made – the gyoza dumplings are fried in front of you and are light little puffs stuffed full with avocado and tofu. For dessert a large range of traditional Japanese offerings are there to tempt you – the green tea ice cream is the surefire winner.
The drink menu at Abeno Too sticks with the theme with Japanese bottled beer like Asahi, Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo (all £3.50) on offer. If you don’t fancy a beer then there are a handful of glasses of wine to choose from, but why not try the Saki instead, or one of the Shochu (a traditional Japanese spirit) cocktails? Just be warned, the Saki is served in a traditional box – almost like a trough. The staff will inform you that the filled to the brim box is to be drunk out of without lifting, that is to say you bend down and sip from the table – and yes, you will slurp and people will chuckle at you (this is communal dining after all). However, it’s all good natured and certainly adds another dimension to the experience! If you want a soft drink then highly recommended is the Calpico – a sweet cultivated milk drink that’s mixed in a big machine by the central table. Basically a sweet, creamy slush puppy they are highly addictive and soothingly cold in the heat of the restaurant.
The Last Word
Abeno Too must be experienced at least once. Just be warned, it’s addictive!