Okonomiyaki at Abeno Too – Covent Garden WC2

Turn away now if you’re tormented at the idea of having a big fat tasty Japanese pancake cooked right in front of you, ready to eat all steaming hot and covered in tuna flakes, kewpie mayo and Japanese trimmings…

We tried and loved okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) while on holiday in Japan last year (see Okonomiyaki in Japan blog). Somehow, I only recently heard about Abeno, okonomiyaki specialists in London, so was keen to visit.

At the original Abeno restaurant in Bloomsbury, you can book a table. Our visit last night was to Abeno Too on Great Newport Street (off Leicester Square) where there are no reservations. It’s a small restaurant and being a Saturday evening, we headed there early after a shopping spree.

Abeno Too in 43 seconds:

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Okonomiyaki menu at Abeno Too

We started with a couple of refreshing drinks: K had a kirin beer @ £4.75 while I had a summery miyako odori with berries @ £8.50.

Kirin Ichiban , Miyako odori and kyo geiko

For starters we shared kyo geiko @ £8.50 (dried prune? not that exciting) and beef kara-age @ £13.80 – really tender (as in Granny’s-slow-cooked-beef-stew tender).

Beef kara-age – crispy nuggets of organic fillet beef, with a garlic, ginger + soy seasoning

Mio sake – light + refreshing at only 5% alcohol but not cheap @ £14.00 for a small bottle

On to the exciting bit. This restaurant specialises in okonomiyakis, so that’s what we ordered.

Okonomi-yakis are Japanese pancakes, and the ingredients vary based on the region of Japan. However they vary, the basic ingredients are cabbage, egg and dough with spring onions, ginger and bits of tempura batter (in Hiroshima for example, they include soba noodles).

K ordered an Osaka mix – pork, kimchi and prawn, and I ordered a Tokyo mix – pork, squid and prawn. And we went for the deluxe (regular) size @ £14.25 rather than the super deluxe (large) @ £16.25.

Two okonomiyaki pancakes in the making – Tokyo mix left, Osaka mix right

Watch it cook:

Steaming and a-sizzling – time to add bacon

The pancake is flipped over when it’s done on the first side, and sprinkled with Katsuobushi or bonito tuna flakes (so light, they dance in the steam) and aonori (powdered seaweed).

Nearly ready…  topped with Kewpie mayonnaise + okonomi sauce before serving

Inside Abeno Too

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Queueing outside Abeno Too  – a line had formed by the time we left at 7.30pm

The bill for this fairly quick meal for two, which included a couple of drinks each, came to £94.75 before service.

The verdict: Authentic Japanese experience, it’s not cheap but it’s something a bit different in London. And very tasty too. What’s not to enjoy about having a pancake cooked in front of you, containing a load of ingredients of your choice?

Abeno Too restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Okonomiyaki, Japanese
– Address: Abeno Too, 17-18 Great Newport Street, London
– Postcode: WC2H 7JE
– Nearest station: Leicester Square
– Website + menus: Abeno Too website
– Abeno photos: photos on flickr
– Location: Abeno Too map

Abeno Too Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Check out this ‘sakura-yaki’ special at Abeno in Bloomsbury, London:

Petal-shaped pancakes, a cherry blossom season special at Abeno, May 2017 
(a 20 second timelapse)

The five mini-pancakes are: beef, bacon, squid, prawn + mushroom, around a central egg yolk (pistil), with a kewpie-mayo ‘blossom’ outline, dusted in powdered seaweed and sprinkled in tuna flakes @ £20.80 (shared between two).


Murakami – Japanese in West End, WC2

Creative. Stylish. Comfortable. Downright tasty.

If you want to get straight down to it, these are the words that describe Murakami appropriately.

I arrived early and was immediately excited by the Japanese themed cocktail menu. A Lost in Translation (a tiki of El Dorado rum, Kraken spiced rum, quiquiriqui mezcal, pineapple, elderflower, cardamon for a subtle spicy flavour and fresh lime) @ £9.00 slipped down far too easily. I ended up recommending it to the couple who sat down at the neighbouring table – the restaurant was empty and tables closely spaced (private conversation could be a downside here, if you’re after some privacy).


IMG_3354b_black cod
Black cod – ‘stand out’ dish from the robata grill menu

J ordered a Japanese whisky sour (so good, made of Nikka from the barrel Japanese whiskey, shichimi spices, pineapple syrup, lemon juice and whites) and then we moved on to beer from the main drinks menu, which offers a load of sake, Japanese whisky and wine too.

20170113_Murakami cocktails and restaurant interior
Cocktail – Lost in Translation

We chose a selection of food, from the varying menu sections with a little help from our waiter: salted edamame @ £4.00 from the starter menu; volcano roll @ £12.50 from the signature rolls menu; crispy baby squid @ £9.00 from the hot plates; grilled cauliflower @ £4.50 and black cod saikyo @ £25.00 both from the robata Japanese grill menu.


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Volcano roll – deep fried in tempura with salmon, tuna, yellowtail, tobiko, avocado and spring onion


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Grilled cauliflower – from the robata Japanese grill menu served with peanut and goma dressing (highly recommend this)


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Black cod saikyo – marinated black cod on saikyo lemongrass miso with mango salad (the two robata dishes stood out as the highlight of the meal)


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Crispy baby squid – large portion of baby squid with chilli, coriander and lime @ £9.00 (definitely for sharing)


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new Gyoza Bar next door – next time…


The verdict: Creative, interesting and very tasty Japanese food; the robata grilled dishes were the highlight for me. Comfy restaurant despite the tables being so close together. Service was a bit hit and miss. Our total bill for two came to £112.84 including service (and a cocktail and couple of beers each).

Restaurant info:
– Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
– Type: Japanese
– Address: 63-66 St Martin’s Lane, London
– Postcode: WC2N 4JS
– Nearest station: Leicester Square, Covent Garden
– Website + menus: Murakami website
– Photos on flickr: Murakami images
– Location: Murakami map

Murakami Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lotus – classy Indian restaurant, West End

It’s 30th December, and it’s our new tradition to dine at a classy restaurant on this date (then stay in and eat home-made food on new year’s eve). After last year’s visit to the excellent Gordon Ramsay’s Maze we had wondered where to treat ourselves this year, when LardButty received an invitation to "go try out Lotus in Covent Garden” with a voucher issued on behalf of Chef & Manager, Bhaskar Banerjee, a ‘seasoned’ chef (doh!) who trained with award winning premium brands in India before creating an “inspired collection of signature dishes” in the UK.

• opened just over three months ago in August 2015 and already ranks #36 of 18,000+ London restaurants on TripAdvisor
• is named after India’s national flower (a water lilly representing beauty and non-attachment, reputed to smell of myrrh, that – importantly – lends its shape to India’s mother temple in New Delhi)
• sits in the Indian fine dining category alongside the likes of Benares, Cafe Spice Namaste and Cinnamon Club restaurants.

We arrived early for our 6.30pm reservation, following a visit to the Big Bang Data exhibition at Somerset House and shopping at Selfridges, full of the joys of the Christmas holidays.



Fine dining Indian restaurant between Leicester Square and Covent Garden

Arriving early this evening (with the intention of enjoying a leisurely cocktail at the bar if our table’s not ready) we are greeted and seated promptly. We not only order a cocktail each – a Nai Dilli Darbar for K: Indian whiskey, lemonade, black salt + lychee @ £9.75 and a Sames Margarita for me: tequila and cointreau @ £9.75 – but our waitress brings us complimentary proseccos as an aperitif too (really lovely prosecco served in impractically shaped, top-heavy flutes… we’ll say no more about that though).


Bar area at Lotus


Cocktails – Nai Dilli Darbar (Indian whiskey, lemonade, black salt + lychee) and Sames Margarita (tequila and cointreau)


While we’re leisurely reading the menu, our waitress (who seems very knowledgeable about the menu and specialities despite having worked here for only a few weeks) brings us Corn Chaat Golgappa – corn puffs filled with sweetcorn and herbs, normally @ £3.75. She tells us to pour the fresh jaljeera and tamarind ‘chutney’ (a runny green sauce) in to the corn shells, and – when it becomes fluffy – to eat straight away (in one mouthful! too messy otherwise).

We are also served rice, potato and finger millet poppadoms with fruity chutneys (mango and apricot, mint, red chilli and green tomato) – normally @ £2.75.


Amuse-bouche/bite-sized hors d’œuvres: complimentary corn chaat golgappa with jaljeera + tamarind sauce and poppadoms + chutneys


The starter menu has some inspired offerings ranging from tandoori partridge and rabbit kheema to pigeon masala dosa and chicken wing tulips.


Starter menu


To share, we choose cod cheeks, bream and tuna coated with semolina, curry and coriander dip @ £8.75 and butternut squash + chilli samosey with red beans, dates and tamarind chutney @ £6.75.

I love all of the ingredients of the samosa – particularly tamarind, and while the pastry initially looks quite dense, it really isn’t (it’s perfectly crumbly). While I thoroughly enjoy the samosa, the flavours are denser and much less subtle than those of the cod cheeks starter which are more delicate, lighter, and simply divine.


Starter recommendation: cod cheeks


Cod cheeks, bream + tuna starter


Cod cheeks, bream + tuna starter


Squash + chilli samosey with red beans, dates + tamarind chutney


After all of the aperitifs, amuse-bouches and starters we have a breather before the main course and enjoy sipping gruner veltliner, one of my favourite dry white wines from Austria @ £31.75 a bottle (this one is a perfect accompaniment to spicy food).

Bhaskar Banerjee pops over to introduce himself, see how we’re doing, and talk a bit about the influences and style behind the unique dishes he’s created. It’s a nice touch (and something that I really like about my favourite restaurant, Nancy Lam’s Enak Enak where Nancy always does the rounds and talks to her customers, giving it her personal touch. Done well, it goes a long way).

For main course, K orders 23 karat gold lamb shanks khorma (neither of us are convinced that the gold leaf – which, we are told “aids digestion” – is necessary – but the lamb is amazing, slow cooked and falling off the bone with gorgeous spicy flavours) served with roast potato mash, papaya pickle, spices, green cardamom and cashew @ £21.75.

I order red snapper kebab with mustard essence, crisp Bengal gram and dill yoghurt @ £13.75 and a raita cucumber, rose petals + pomegranate @ £1.75 (gorgeous!).

And we share some sides:
palak pudhina paneer: spinach, coriander, fennel + mint scented sauce @ £6.75
dal maa dumpukth: black lentils simmered overnight with garlic, tomato, butter and cream) @ £5.7
saffron and green peas rice @ £4.75
house bread basket: variety of Indian flatbreads @ £3.75.


Main course recommendations: lamb shanks khorma and red snapper kebab


23 karat gold lamb shanks khorma with roast potato mash, papaya pickle, spices, green cardamom + cashew


Red snapper kebab with mustard essence, crisp Bengal gram + dill yoghurt


Saffron + green peas rice


Dal maa dumpukth – slow simmered black lentils + raita with pomegranates (right)


Palak pudhina paneer – spinach + cheese


It probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that we’re too full for a dessert… but in the interests of reviewing every course (!) we sample a raspberry and cranberry shrikhand with dumroot halwa @ £6.75 with two spoons (lovely, deep fruity flavours). Oh, and then there’s a complimentary sweet pastry to squeeze in (really nice).


Raspberry and cranberry shrikhand


And, as if that’s not enough, there’s just one more amuse bouche taster-stylie-dessert:

A final, complimentary taster sweet-pastry course


This meal for two would have been £184.00 including service so roughly £90.00 per person for a shed load of absolutely gorgeous, tasty (and taster) dishes and drinks.

The verdict: Great, classy Indian food with a difference. Good choice of drinks (without being overly extensive) and wine pairing recommendations. Really good service. Our table (table #16) was on the edge of the bar thoroughfare and server-station/till area where serving staff inevitably wait and can be quite busy, so – if booking a table, I’d recommend requesting a table in the rear area (where there are some booths and less people-traffic).

The memory of that lamb shank and red snapper will stay with me. I left feeling very full but wanting to return and try more of the menu. I’ll definitely be back…


Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Indian
~ Address: 17 Charing Cross Road, London
~ Postcode: WC2H 0EP
~ Nearest station: Leicester Square
~ Website + menus: Lotus website
~ Photos on flickr: images of Lotus food
~ Location: Lotus map


Lotus Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Suda – Thai at Covent Garden

“The best chicken green curry outside of Thailand, guaranteed” claims Suda’s menu. A bold statement, no? I was sucked in, and had to put it to the test.

But first, S and I shared a starter of tod mun and prawn skewers (not ‘lollipops’) @ £5.95. The tod mun fishcake balls were perfectly squidgy and spicy, while the deep fried battered prawn balls were a pleasant enough texture contrast but not particularly exciting.

IMG_1642b_Suda_tod mun and prawn skewers
Tod mun + prawn skewers

For main course, S had kao pad pak ruam @ £8.25 – mixed veggies stir-fried with brown rice (healthy and tasty) and I had the Gaeng kiew waan gai – “the best” green chicken curry @ £11.00, which has a 2-star spice rating (an “intermediate” spicy level, and was spicy-tasty, not spicy-fiery-hot).

Kao pad pak ruam – brown rice packed with tofu, broccoli, mushrooms, peppers etc

At first glance the green curry looked very soupy and watery but the liquid was packed with flavours, particularly basil which I love. And the sticky rice @ £3.00 readily absorbed the juice.

Of all the green Thai curries I’ve eaten in the twenty years since I went to Thailand, I honestly can’t say if this was “the best” of them all (I can’t *remember* them all) but it was up there, ranking highly.

Chicken green curry @ £11.50 – gorgeous basil + nicely spicy flavours

To drink, I had a couple of glasses of Monsoon Valley Chenin Blanc from Thailand’s Hua Hin Hills vineyard (my first wine from Thailand) @ £5.10 a 175ml glass – medium dry but with sweeter after notes than Chenin Blanc normally has, which made a perfect pairing with spicy food.

I was a bit of a sucker for these cute wooden carvings (table decorations) too, particularly the goat, with its tufty beard and tall horns:

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Table decorations – wood carved animals

The verdict: Spacious restaurant that felt comfortable and relaxing with its black patterned walls and dark decor and soft lighting; attentive and pleasant service and great Thai food, reasonably priced. If you’re in to puddings, the choice is limited.

Inside Suda restaurant – dark decor, spacious

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: Thai
~ Address: St Martin’s Courtyard, 23 Slingsby Place, Covent Garden, London
~ Postcode: WC2E 9AB
~ Tel: 020 7240 8010
~ Nearest station: Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Charing Cross
~ Website + menus: Suda website
~ Photos on flickr: Suda photos
~ Location: Suda map

Suda on Urbanspoon

Ahhhh Bistro

Mayfair-style dining in Soho on a budget

You’re made to feel really comfortable at Bistro1, making it an easy restaurant to return to: I’ve lost count how many times I’ve eaten here – lunchtimes with work colleagues, evening meals out with friends, even a new year’s eve group celebration back in 2008.

The three branches of Turkish-influenced Bistro1 mediterranean restaurants (on Frith Street and Beak Street in Soho, and Southampton Street in Covent Garden) offer a wide choice of quality dishes at budget prices – two course lunch for £8.50 or three courses for £9.90. These prices might be akin to a fast-food chain but the food is more akin to Mayfair.

Frith Street restaurant

R and I met at the Frith Street restaurant for lunch today. As usual, small bowls of olives and Turkish bread were put on the table for us to nibble on while we read the menu, and service was polite and speedy.

Click to see sample menu
Bistro1 sample prix fixe menu

I’ve tried most of the menu (having been a regular at the old Brewer Street branch before it closed a couple of years ago) and now find it a challenge to choose anything but the mixed meze for starters. It consists of a few small portions of crunchy falafel, houmus, tzatsiki, kisir (spicy tabouleh – like couscous), dolma (stuffed vine leaves) and a cheese borek (small pastry). R had deep-fried spicy chicken skewers served with salad and a spicy garlic yoghurt dip.

Chicken skewers and mixed meze

For main course, R had beef mousakka served with rice and salad while I had a fillet of sea bream (slightly dry) topped with smoked salmon and saffron cream (lovely sauce), served on a bed of mashed potato (perfectly fluffy).

Bistro1_main courses - beef moussaka and seabream
Beef moussaka + sea bream

A bottle of house wine, red or white, is currently only £11.50. We decided to risk the house white which was a dry Italian (it had the weaker flavours of a pinot grigio, complemented the food just fine, and was easy to drink). For £14.95 you could get a bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc or a South African Chenin Blanc, or a prosecco for £19.95.

So, two prix fixe menus at £8.50 each and a bottle of wine at £11.50, and the total bill came to £28.50. For £16 each (having added a 12% tip) we’d eaten and drunk well and were well and truly stuffed, even though the plates are smaller than they used to be. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing as Bistro1 have managed to keep their prices down for years now, and the portions were plentiful enough to fill us.

More of the menu @ Bistro1:

Starters: Smoked salmon + avocado and calamari salad

Starter: grilled sardines

L–R: Feta salad starter, calamari + fries, Cumberland sausages + mash

L–R: Main course chicken penne, beef bourguignon + mash and fishcakes + chips


~ Lardbutty rating: 3.5 / 5
~ Type: Mediterranean, Turkish
~ Address: 27 Frith Street, London
~ Postcode: W1D 5LE
~ Tel: 020 7734 6204
~ Twitter: @Bistro1_London
~ Nearest train station: Leicester Square
~ Sample menu: Prix fixe
~ Bistro1: photos on flickr
~ Website: Bistro1 website
~ Location: Bistro1 Frith Street map


More Soho dining:
~ Cây Tre
~ Wagamama Soho
~ Andrew Edmunds

Bistro 1 on Urbanspoon



Cây Tre Soho – Vietnamese café on Dean Street

Inside Cây Tre on Dean Street, Soho

Cây Tre, a Vietnamese café on Dean Street, Soho, is a weird and wonderful experience.

The decor is somewhat reminiscent of a classy eel and pie shop with its white tiled walls and fairly basic chairs and tables. It’s a long, narrow restaurant so even when it’s not packed it feels busy, as customers and waiters have to shuffle past you in the narrow gangway between tables.

It’s just the kind of place to go for a quick meal during a mid-afternoon shopping spree but probably not somewhere to go for a long, cosy, get-settled-in type of evening meal.

We popped in while Christmas shopping recently. Our waitress helped us with the menu and we chose a few dishes to share.

Chaû caù Laõ Voïng or La Vong Grilled Fish, cooked at the table @ £7 per person

My favourite was the Chaû caù Laõ Voïng or La Vong grilled monkfish marinated with galangal and turmeric, cooked at the table, and served with a Vietnamese dipping sauce (nuoc cham). K wasn’t a fan of all the feathery green vegetation swamping the monkfish but I really enjoyed it, with its refreshing, crisp and cleansing (something Alpine-like?) taste.

There’s a surprisingly impressive selection of drinks too: I had a glass of prosecco @ £6 while K had a St Mungo beer @ £4.50 (really lovely, malty beer brewed in Glasgow by independent brewery, WEST, the first UK brewery to produce its beers in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot, or the ‘German Purity Law’ using four core ingredients only: water, malt, hops and yeast, and no artificial additives, colouring or preservatives).

Vietnamese dishes paired with St Mungo lager

I’m not sure which part of ‘simmered fish caramelised in anchovy fish sauce’ initially appealed to us but the Mekong Catfish was fishy fish overdose. Squared.

Vietnamese dishes, l to r:
~ Caù kho toä – Claypot simmered Mekong Catfish caramelised in anchovy fish sauce @ £10
~ Kim chi – with pickled ginger, side veg dish @ £4.50
~ Toâm xaøo su su – Red Sea Prawns with Choucho stir-fried with oyster sauce, black pepper + Vietnamese herbs @ £11

All in all, an interesting and different experience – I particularly enjoyed having the monkfish cooked right in front of us on our table and served straight from the pan. And trying new vegetables – flavours that I couldn’t previously have dreamed up (like the cucumbery ‘choucho’ served with prawns).

But it’s nothing amazing and it’s not in the same league as Mien Tay.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 3 / 5
~ Type: Vietnamese
~ Address: 43 Dean Street, Soho, London
~ Postcode: W1D 4QD
~ Tel: 020 7317 9118
~ Nearest tube station: Oxford Circus, Leicester Square, Piccadilly
~ Website: Cây Tre Soho website
Menu: Cây Tre menu
~ Location: Cây Tre Soho map

Cay Tre Soho on Urbanspoon

Rowley’s char-grilled entrecote

**UPDATE, MARCH 2011**
K and I went to Rowley’s last night, 29th March, and had a brilliant time. We were served by a really lovely, bubbly Hungarian girl – service was really great. We both had rare steaks (the house speciality in butter sauce) which were perfectly cooked and tender. As they’re served on a metal platter over a flame, it seemed a good idea to order them rare then you can leave them to cook through a bit further if you wish to. We also tried a mushroom tart for starter which was amazing – divine crumbly pastry and really tasty mushrooms. The atmosphere early evening was much more relaxed than the Friday lunchtime I came previously. And, if you dine before 7pm you can currently download a ‘50% off food’ voucher from Rowley’s website. So, it’s always worth checking their website for latest offers.

Rowley’s may seem a bit twee at first: it’s on gentrified Jermyn Street (famous for its tailors) and is usually filled with an older clientele and pin-striped business-men when I stroll past and peek through the glass frontage during my lunch breaks.

But it is ‘tweeness’ of a good sort – Rowley’s is situated where the Walls meat business began in the eighteenth century. And if you’re a meat eater, you simply have to try their steaks.

Rowley’s house speciality is their ‘famous char grilled entrecote’. Choose from
~ 6 oz – £24.00
~ 10 oz – £32.00
~ 6 oz w/ Larder Trim – £19.50
~ 10 oz w/ Larder Trim – £26.50
~ 6 oz Rump – £17.50
~ or corn-fed chicken breast for £16.50

All are served with a delicious herb and butter sauce and unlimited French Fries or a portion of chunky chips. And, if you’re still hungry you can get a second 6 oz steak or chicken breast for £10 (prices as of November 2010 and subject to change).

I went at lunchtime and the 6oz steak @ £24 with chunky chips and a side of green beans was more than sufficient (although a complimentary bread basket had been served when we initially sat at the table). The meat was served on a platter over a flame, keeping the butter sauce melted (slightly caramelising) and the meat warm – it was such a good cut it really did just melt in my mouth and was cooked medium-rare (as requested) perfectly. Absolutely divine.

rare steak with herb butter sauce over a flame

Having bought discount vouchers from Groupon in advance (£12 for £35 worth of food and drink from the a la carte menu) this was outstanding value. For such quality food, the menu is reasonably priced when it’s full price but do check their website for latest offers (50% discounts are offered if you eat at off-peak times).

A special place to take friends and relatives when they visit London. Twee shhmee.

Restaurant info:
~ Lardbutty rating: 4 / 5
~ Type: British fine dining
~ Address: 113 Jermyn Street, London
~ Postcode: SW1Y 6HJ
~ Tel: 020 7930 2707
~ Nearest tube station: Piccadilly
~ Website + menus: Rowley’s website
~ Location: Rowley’s restaurant map

Rowley's on Urbanspoon