This won't be news for everyone, but it's been a pleasing revelation for me.
Tradition dictates that an evening involving one or two (or maybe three or four) beers is rounded off with a few solids to soak up some of the damage. Obvious candidates are a chinese, a curry, a kebab or (my favourite) a burger. Inevitably these choices offer up a range of quality, although equally inevitably a soft option is usually selected and something functional but slightly rubbish is consumed as a result. Last night, though, I sampled what must count as a new option. And rubbish didn't come into it.
The venue in question is Abeno Too, an okonomiyaki bar in the West End. You wouldn't know it from the rather playful website, but by all accounts Abeno is a pretty big in Japan, but as yet there are only two in Europe. Last night Antonia and I failed to get into the heaving main branch on Museum Street and therefore ended up visiting both of them.
Abeno Too, just off Leicester Square is a pleasing, bustling little place, with just a few tables and a big central island bar, all equipped with both hotplates and places to stand your beer in between. A particularly nice touch, for a central London eatery that would surely otherwise be a natural draw for bag snatchers, are the benches, which are in fact chests for customers to pop their belongings in when they arrive, enabling them to stand - or rather sit - guard on them throughout the meal.
Okonomiyaki apparently means "cook what you like, the way you like it". Those crazy Japanese. What it amounts to is a kind of batter-based omelette cum pizza with egg, cabbage, pickled ginger and a choice of other bits and pieces, cooked in front of you on the hotplate built into the table/bar. The dish is traditionally finished with twin spirals of a savoury-sweet brown sauce and some Japanese mayonnaise, a sprinkling of dried seaweed and a layer of fish flakes which dance around beguilining in the heat. The finished okonomiyaki is left on the turned-down hotplate for you to help yourself with a cute little trowel.
And it's utterly, utterly delicious. I had one with pork (actually streaky bacon) and kimchee, and it was great. The salty bacon, the umami smack and the juice from the sauces on top, the nuance of bubble and squeak from the cabbage, the sweetness of the ginger... and of course the dancing fish flakes... All of it goes together to form a deeply satisfying, savoury treat. Antonia's veggie option featured spinach and a layer of grated cheese melting away in the middle that didn't sound paticularly authentic but certainly hit the spot.
Two of these delicious creations, a generous bowl of edamame, a portion of tasty spinach and tofu gyozas and a couple of beers each and we were out of there for a shade over £20 a head. Exactly what you'd have paid for a curry or a chinese in the West End but without the attendent abuse from the staff and fellow diners. I'll be back.
Abeno Too 17-18 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JE 020 7379 1160