Saturday, 16 January 2010

Abeno Too (Boo Hoo Hoo)

I need to get this out of the way and it’s hardly a momentous one to start my first post of 2010. This review has been pickling for the past two weeks and the wretched experience only encouraged me to sit on my arse and do sod all but stare at other food blogs and make comments of a mildly vitriolic nature. But I do have a backlog of yet-to-be indited reviews of places I’ve been to during the past few months; fortunately the majority of them managed to be rather good and positive but alas, not so Abeno Too.

New Year’s Eve

My dinner of steamed Brussels and cuttlefish balls covered with aligue (crab fat). The latter isn’t too good for anyone- triple bypass comes to mind.

New Year’s Day

And yet again no rest for the infernally wicked. Work and that was at 9AM! You see that silver cable coiled on top of my tool case; that is an ultra posh (actually in the hi-fi industry we call it state of the art) mains cable retailing at 11K GBP for a 2m run. You could actually plug that cable into your kettle, the boiled water might end up tasting like an elixir.

If I’m boring you then I might as well revel in it. The same cable draped over the speakers. Again in Hi-Fi terms you should spend at least 10% of the total cost of your system on ancillary cables (100 quid on a stereo that costs a grand). The system I was attending to that morning will set you back well over a 150K; and that’s only two channel (stereo- we’re purists and we don’t do home cinemas!). No, I don’t sell this kind of stuff every week and if did I would’ve employed a ghost-writer to maintain this blog.

New Year's Day Parade

After four hours of ensuring that the customer was well satisfied (he played Springsteen endlessly, an auspicious kickoff to 2010 and ewgh!) I ventured off to Piccadilly to catch a glimpse of the above. Personally I don’t think Londoners actually turn up at events like this; it’s instead one of those things that only the tourists would take the trouble and do so without the usual accompaniment of a hangover brewing from the night before.

Why did I bother turning up at this event. Well simple, the majority of the young kids have travelled afar from across the pond and away from their families just to enlighten us once a year with their talents. I thus felt inclined to be there (actually I’ve been part of the crowd for the past ten years and likewise the Notting Hill Carnival).

Lunch beckoned and the tummy rumbled in the midst of drums, brass and screaming cheerleaders. With Chinatown only a five minutes away, the thought of Dim Sum started to arouse my appetite. Now I would like to think of myself as a Mother Theresa figure of solo dining; I’ve been doing it for so long now and I relish the pleasure (oh reading material is essential otherwise one will be mistaken by the waiting staff and other diners as being a sad but solitary lemon). Like a barbecue, one simply can’t do Dim Sum alone; they’re both a social event and to do so alone would only confirm a thick-skinned character of anti-social leanings. So I called Marms with little or no notice, she obliged despite hosting her own evening the night before. Now as we all know MsM is a vegetarian (or possibly a reluctant fishyterian), I started to have doubts about Dim Sum in Gerrard Street- thoughts of vegetarian dumplings becoming contaminated by lard or meat stock ruled out the whole idea to smithereens. All dumpling emotions were banished and I decided upon some kind of Nippon tuck instead.

There were two choices- Tokyo Diner (365 days a year, no service charge, aged, indifferent feedbacks, blah, blah…) and Abeno Too. The latter was the first I showed MsM; it was busy, modern and projected a kind of magnetism of ‘be there or be square’ about it. And since it was also highly recommended by a fellow food blogger to MsM, we succumbed and entered.

The place looked like some kind of teppanyaki joint New Labour would be proud off; not too showy but entailing a hidden agenda or two. It’s also Benihana without the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon antics. In addition to the main communal dining area where diners congregate around a bar-like plan there were four separate tables for those who eschew elbow to elbow dining. The bench/seats double up as storage compartments for your cloaks or in my case a week’s supply of fishballs from nearby See Woo supermarket. Like in most Japanese eateries these seats are sadistically hard and promote discomfort (an ode to the misery of Ms Emma Royd is beyond validated). Each table is fitted with a teppan or iron griddle. I’m surprised that in this day and age no ‘Beware, Burns Likely’ disclaimers are presented to the diners at Abeno Too. Mark my word this place is a dream for injury lawyers to swoop on some ignorant buffoon who decided to sizzle his upper limbs; however unknowingly and gulp, knowingly.

We were famished by now, so the need for both food and some hair of the dog was absolute. As for the latter, whenever it was uttered by MsM to a member of the waiting staff whose command of English had been gathered from watching endless episodes of Mr Bean or plain half-hearted pidgin like mine; often provokes a clueless reaction of wtf?

Kimpira Gobou-

A spicy burdock and carrot dish. I know that the comparison is poor but I’d rather have kimchi any day. I was confused as to why it was described as spicy; my mate Tapan from Calcutta would’ve cackled himself to death if he tasted it. The minuscule portion was priced at £2.80. I’ve been had.

Mackerel Saba-

A special dish of the day or possibly the last of the noughties. This is supposedly Cornish mack that’s been simmered/braised/boiled in a 'special’ (arghhhhhhhhhhh…hate that word!) marinade/sauce; that to my buds obviously pointed to a simple combo of miso paste and soy sauce. Good fish ended up in undignified circumstances; is what I thought of it. This was also one of those clever creations whereby the fish was cooked to mimic meat and a miserable attempt it was too. At £5.50, it was amateurish and diabolical value. I’ve been doubly had.

MsM’s Ume Croshi

Veggie udon soup. It took her only a few minutes to finish it. It must have been ok or perhaps even great for her, I didn’t bother tasting as my mind was rattling. From a perceived value point of view, it was poor; a packet of instant ramen at 55p to which I can add an egg, choy sum, shrimps, pieces of leftover roasts, auricularia auricula-judae, sea urchin, fake foie gras is more rewarding and it’ll still come to less than the £8.95 the above was charged. Waffle on I shall, in fact a bowl of wonton noodles (7-8 dumplings, take heed my dears) at Wonkys will only set you back £3.80 (oh free tea included and no service charge!). Help me if you can, for I’m well lost and in need of some reeducation on eating budget Japanese!


Abeno Too is part of a growing chain that thrives its reputation on the above. This is their description-

‘'Okonomi-yakis' are variations on a theme, the theme being a base of cabbage, egg and dough with spring onions, ginger and morsels of 'tempura' batter, the variations being any of the following in Deluxe or Super Deluxe size’

Hell, as far as I could observe it was simply a fried glutinous rice* dough cake bound by an egg or two and various ingredients thrown in at will. Much like a Korean barbecue, this place is all about theatre (and how bloody convenient it was to be near Covent Garden); an act that’s also akin to Crêpe Suzettes being cooked or Steak tartare prepped or Sunday Rib Roast carved at the table…just to forcibly (or falsely) whet your appetite even more. The chap (nice but suspicious of our cameras) attending to us resembled some kind of a Shaolin monk; he displayed his kung-fu skills by cooking these ‘bubble and squeaks’ (as suggested by MsM). Oh I have endured what no one on earth has endured before; for I’ve eaten the blandest thing since a sea cucumber. Economy-yucky at a premium is how I describe this dish! MsM concurred. She has been had and I’ve been triply had.

MsM’s Tofu Deluxe

An immense amount of squirts of yummy Japanese mayonnaise was observed duly to make it more palatable (did you know that Jap mayo contains MSG, well I certainly didn’t tell her. We all love a umami kick without the need to know where it came from). She didn’t finish it and to make matters worse it was 9 quid eighty.

My Oshogatsu Super Deluxe

Super meant half a bowl more rice* dough and bit more beaten egg mixture. Oh it also included a choice of bacon or organic pork (not both mind you) and cheese (!). I went for slices of the happy piggy…it looked more like bacon if anything. My Okonomi-yaki was bigger and possibly twice as bland as the tofu deluxe. How pointless is this bloody thing, £15.50 is torturous! I must point out that in addition to the Class A addictive properties of the mayo utilised, the option of having your pancakes sprinkled with some bonito flakes is essential- demand all the umami you can get for this street food dish. On the subject of theatre, those bonito flakes fluttered like butterflies when vaguely stroked by the heat from the griddle… David Attenborough would’ve been awing.

The bill came to 70 quid to include a fair numerable amount of tips (this place doesn’t charge for service). A third of the total balance was for two flasks of house sake (280ml and £11 each). Why do Japanese restos insist on charging a premium for sakes? The stuff we had was hardly esoteric and I daresay the rice grains were hardly polished enough to justify their worth. A 500ml pot of superior Rhône at Terroirs would only set you back £11.50 and that spells common sense. I’ve been quadruply had. Stick to green tea methinks.

I suppose if one’s not fussy about tastes or harbour a grudge against MSG laced food in Chinatown, then come here; it’s all yours for the taking, I’m not going back (oh there are a few cash point machines in the vicinity should you overspend here).

You can read about MsM’s account here. Thankfully we ended up at the excellent Bou Tea.

*fumbled big time please see meemalee's comment. I'm well humbled.

17-18 Great Newport Street


tehbus said...

Abeno was one of the first place I wrote up and I nearly gave up there and then. After so much hype, I couldn't have been more unhappy with the end product. A sloppy, underdone brown mess with no real discernible flavour other than "that" mayonnaise. I am still to be convinced that it is more than just a vehicle for fish flakes and umami-naise.

bellaphon said...

Hi Tehbus- Indeed I did read your review and I should've taken it as a precursor to why bother going to any of the Abenos in the first place! Erm, two Chinamen writing unfavourably about the place...conspiracy theories gently erupt. Thanks for stopping by anyhow.

Unknown said...

I've also been underwhelmed by Abeno. For a much more authentic, yummy, and authentically cheap experience, I now satisfy my okonomiaki cravings at Brick Lane Market.
It can be a joyous comfort food, if done properly!

thora said...

This post made me smile a lot, despite the awful food experience. Now I know what we've been missing during your (too long) absence. Good news btw: my friend Jo-Rabbit is moving to Wales in a couple of months which will give me many opportunities to stop over in London in the future.

Ben said...

Christ that looks awful. That place was recommended to me by a friend on the way to a Malaysian place in Chinatown, that was surprisingly good. This on the other hand does not.

I went to Bonda cafe after work having enjoyed my Chinatown rendang. Terrible. I suspect one needs to go there when the food comes out at lunch, unless you want to be offered a tepid scoop of oil and dry rice. I can't actually believe they were going to try serving me what was left. I instead had a mediocre rendang. My Malaysian co-diner enjoyed his rice though..

Hollow Legs said...

This has been on my list for a while, but I am now crossing it right off.

meemalee said...

Okonomiyaki done properly is nice. Abeno doesn't do it properly and yes it's extemely overpriced for waht is basically a cabbage pancake (cf Korea's pajeon). Still, it's quite fun to watch - more fun to DIY.

By the way, that's not rice in the okonomiyaki, it's tenkasu ie tempura crumbs.

ps cable nerd.

bellaphon said...

Dan- You're right street food often taste better when bought and eaten off the street. Thanks for your tips, I'll give the Brick Lane effort a go.

Thora- Thanks. Jo-Rabbit better appreciate laverbread, I certainly didn't!

Ben- Malaysian restaurants in London exemplify inconsistency; I haven't been to one since I got back from KL in October. :(

Lizzie- Oh hello...

meemalee- I hereby stand corrected and I deserve all the lashings for this miscarriage of justice on this 'pancake', whip me senseless for I've sinned. Thank goodness for food ambassadors like yourself to step in when needed.

Cable nerd- nah, cable tosser actually!

theundergroundrestaurant said...

Jeez Les this review is quite bitchy for you! You are normally so polite and I'm the bitchy one.
You have reason though, it wasn't tasty and it wasn't good value for money.
Loved the tour of Chinatown you gave me are so knowledgeable and interesting

meemalee said...

Cheeky Les - I was only pointing out that it wasn't rice.

Otherwise I agree with you wholeheartedly re Abeno's offerings - so ner :)

bellaphon said...

MsM- I might have a prodigious amount of knowledge but that doesn't mean I have an understanding of any of it. Take crop circles, how and why, but I do know aliens need a bit of wheat as well. I wanna go to Tamarind, u free?

Meemalee- Point as much as you like, you meant well though. Loved the suckling pig pics at StJ!

The Shed said...

Oh noes! Sad that your return meal was so underwhelming, but glad that you're back. I went to Abeno Too when I first moved to London and it was okay, but haven't been back since which must say something....looking forward to reading about some more positive fooding forthwith!

bellaphon said...

Nicola- Great to hear from you and thank you. I'm popping by soon :P

Monkey Gland said...

Hello. Looks like we had a similar sized blogo-pause. Good to see you back.

bellaphon said...

Monkey Gland- Well hello back and 'bout time, what with you and the crutches, and me with the half snout. I'm going to be all effusive and burbly, your blog is the best written ever and all the bloggers should learn a thing or two from it (except myself of course, coz people who are in their forties can't learn no more as they've trenched themselves deep in the abysmal plain). Thanks anyway and long may Jamfaced reign!

Monkey Gland said...

Thanks so very much, Mr Bellaphon, I'm stunned to get such high praise from a respected fellow blogger. MG

bellaphon said...

MG- Don’t mention it. ‘Respected’, no; forthright but goading, most deffo. Unless I have an inferiority complex (which I can assure I’m entirely incapable of) a recent post on Twitter with the following “ I am all for not suffering fools and attacking the fuckwits :-)…’’ was allegedly directed at me. Oh how I love being contentious!

Ben said...

Hi there, I'm looking for a coffee shop where I can go and work today, one that's got enough space for me to spread out a bit and not feel rushed. Any suggestions? Sadly Nero and the like are better for this in my experience, but I'd rather have a proper cup. Cheers!

Ben said...


bellaphon said...

Ben- Yo there! You can't beat the London Review Cake Shop! Best turn up after 2.30pm and not that I want to nag but try not to spend less than a cuppa if you intend to hang around for a couple of hours. And you never know you may well be accosted by a good looking intellectual or vice versa sitting next to you!

Ben said...

Ta, I walk past the BM most days so can't believe I've missed that one. If I'm staying at a place for a while I make sure I get some food, which isn't too much of a chore is it...

I went to the Nordic bakery, which isn't bad and their cake, albeit dry, can't be beaten at £1.50 a slice. Their open sandwiches though...bit of a rip off. Heard the girl today ask one puzzled customer if they wanted the lid on it :)

Anonymous said...

Overpriced, hyped, stodge. The okonomoyaki gimmick is one I won't be repeating. The slatherings of sauce did it in for me. Is this real food? It'd be OK if it was £5 a plate at the end of a drunken night, but come on.