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..OKAN Okonomiyaki, South Bank SE1..a review..

Updated: May 13, 2022


A little while ago, I posted a review of what used to be London's sole okonomiyaki specialist restaurant; Abeno in Bloomsbury. Personally speaking, I loved Abeno: the food was excellent, the service faultless and the value for money 100% spot on. But Abeno is no longer London's only okonomiyaki restaurant, now there is OKAN (which in local Osakan dialect means "mum".) I'm not sure exactly how long OKAN has been open but the first outlet started in Brixton Village and now Okan has three outlets, Brixton Village, Brixton East and now London's South Bank. (BTW: If you don't already know, an okonomiyaki is a Japanese savoury pancake made with a wheat flour batter (or a mix of wheat and yam flour) mixed with shredded cabbage and other ingredients. Okonomiyaki in Japanese means, "fried as you like it", so as the name of the dish implies, you get to select what additional fillings go into your okonomiyaki.


So, I went along to Okan South Bank one rather gloomy Monday lunchtime wondering how it would compare to the rather wonderful, Abeno. The first two things I should point out about Okan are as follows:

  • All the Okan outlets are very small - they are described as canteens - so it's probably wise to book ahead. I had visited Okan once before, without booking ahead, and as I had faced a wait of over an hour to be seated, I'd given up. So this time, I booked in advance. As it turned out, being a Monday, I needn't have bothered as Okan South Bank wasn't at all full.



  • Okan South Bank is quite difficult to find! The restaurant is tucked away in the rear of the old Greater London Council Building on the South Bank but the only clue outside is a small wooden pavement sign, so be prepared for some sleuthing before you find the place.


Once I had found my way to Okan, I had an Alice Through The Looking Glass experience as I went inside. Okan's interior is a designed to look like a 1970's or 1980's Japanese "hole in the wall"

restaurant and I have to say that they've done a great job in recreating that ambience and atmosphere - the place is decked out with lots of 20th Century memorabilia and looks very authentic - in fact, it looks like those "authentic" places that are getting harder and harder to find in Japan itself these days. Okan South Bank really is a "hole in the wall" size restaurant - 7 tables and a counter - so no more than 22 diners at a time. (So, yes, booking in advance does make a lot of sense.)

Although OKAN has a street food vibe, the place was clean and the tables spotless. The chef and his "teppan" hotplate were behind the counter and in full view of his diners. My one criticism of Okan's interior would be that it was just too gloomy inside. You could say that's part of the ambience but I do like to see my food and I found Okan's interior just a little too dark - dark enough that people with poorer eyesight might struggle to see the menu. (I should also mention the fact that if you feel the need for a trip to the WC , there isn't one in OKAN - you have to leave the restaurant and walk for a minute or so down through the corridors of the GLC Building to find the Ladies and Gents. But the restrooms are very modern and rather swanky, so once you've found them, you'll no doubt be happy!)


The design of OKAN also reminded me a lot of a ramen restaurant that I visited some month's ago; Heddon Yokocho. If you've read that review, you'll know I liked the ambience but the food left an awful lot to be desired. So, I wondered, would OKAN be all flash and no substance?


What did we eat?


We ordered the following:


  • Sweet Soy Lotus Root

  • Isobe Maki mochi

  • OKAN Special Okonomiyaki (Kimchi, Squid and Prawn)

  • OKAN Omu Yakisoba

The Lotus Root and Isobe Maki dishes were starters and these duly arrived first, followed about 15 minutes later by the Special Okonomiyaki and Omu Yakisoba main dishes. Timing-wise, this all worked well, just long enough between the first and second courses.


How did the food score?


  • Sweet Soy Lotus Root 7.5/10

The small dish of lotus root (renkon in Japanese) arrived stir fried and seasoned with a little chilli and saffron. The lotus root itself was nicely fried, maybe a little on the soft side but certainly with some crunch left in it. The dish didn't taste particularly sweet but had a slightly barbecued, toasted quality to it, which I liked. I couldn't taste any trace of saffron however. Both my co-diner and I thought the same thing - an ideal side dish to enjoy with a glass of cold Japanese lager.


Conclusion: A decent enough start to our meal.


  • Isobe Maki Mochi 9/10

Isobe maki is a simple enough dish. Japanese mochi rice grilled in soy sauce and wrapped in a square of nori seaweed. There isn't much that can go wrong with Isobe Maki unless you burn the mochi rice. OKAN's serving of Isobe Maki was well made: the mochi was warm and soft. seasoned with just the right amount of soy sauce and wrapped in a tasty square of seaweed.



Conclusion: A nicely made starter that I couldn't fault.


  • OKAN Special Okonomiyaki 7.5/10

My co-diner's Special Okonomiyaki arrived straight from the chef's "teppan" hot plate dressed with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, powdered nori and powdered katsuobushi. I have to admit i was a little surprised that the restaurant was using cheap powder instead of katsuobushi flakes. Okonomiyaki is Okan's flagship product, so I didn't think corners would be cut here. Nonetheless, the pancake was nicely cooked and well flavoured. The kimchi flavour was quite subtle but then kimchi does tend to lose its powerful spicy flavour when cooked. There were fairly generous portions of squid and prawn.


Conclusion: Overall, this was a dish of okonomiyaki that was authentically Japanese and good to eat.


OKAN Omu Yakisoba 7.5/10


For me, the way to judge a good yakisoba is not only the taste. but the texture of the noodles, the "bite." This is all the more difficult to get right if the noodles are cooked/recooked over a teppan hot plate. I'm happy to say the chef got these right, the noodles were just how I like them, still with some body. Taste-wise, I couldn't complain either. Okan clearly use a shop made sauce that has a distinct, smoky flavour which I rather liked.


Conclusion: Like Okan's okonomiyaki, this was a satisfying dish that I would happily order again.


The Bill.


Lotus Root £ 4.50


Isobe Maki mochi £ 3.00


Special Okonomiyaki £13.95


Omu-Soba £11.50


Total £32.95


(Excluding service)


Summary: I liked Okan. I enjoyed the somewhat nostalgic interior - some might say it is contrived but I think it was done very well. Okan's food was good / very good and exactly what I would have expected had I walked into Okan in downtown Tokyo or Osaka. Minor criticisms: first, the twilight grade gloominess was overdone, second, the chef and waitress probably needed some help, they were coping with the restaurant half full but people were having to try several times to get the waitress' attention - but there again, that's probably what you would expect in a small ma and pa run okonomiyaki-ya in Japan, so maybe it's all part of the experience.


Inevitably, you have to compare Okan with Abeno, the long time champion of okonomiyaki dining in London. A homesick Japanese might be attracted to the nostalgic atmosphere of Okan and the home from home feel of the place. On the other hand, if it's the food and the food experience you are looking for, then Abeno wins by a good distance. Abeno's food is beautifiully presented (Abeno's Omu-Soba is a visual treat as well as a culinary one - in terms of presentation, there's no contest.) The food is also cooked at your table and tastes very, very good. But, on the other hand, that's probably not the point of Okan, which is very much a no-frills dining experience. I should point out that price-wise, there's very little difference between Abeno and Okan. On the basis of the food alone, Abeno would get my money every day of the week.


Food: ★★★★☆ Ambience: ★★★★☆ Value for Money: ★★★★☆


You can find OKAN at County Hall, Belvedere Rd, London SE1 7PB. Reservations and takeaway via www.okanlondon


(PS: the restaurants I review are unaware that I am reviewing their fare and service. I pay for what I eat. My opinions are honest and unbiased....)

 

And how about making it yourself?


We all love to dine out and you certainly won't be disappointed by Abeno's offering. But don't forget you can make Japanese food at home which will not only taste good but for a fraction of the price too! I've listed two recipes below for items I ordered during my review. Why not give them a try? Just follow the links to the written recipes and Youtube tutorials.


Recipe #1 Sweet Soy Lotus Root

OKAN's sweet soy lotus root is a great way to serve this unknown superfood. (Check out lotus root - it is very, very good for you!) I like to think my recipe (which doesn't use saffron as I think the taste gets lost) is even better than OKAN's! If you want to try it out yourself, then just click Sweet Soy Lotus Root to go to my recipe. You'll be making this delicious, healthy dish in your own kitchen in no time!

 

Recipe #2 Okonomiyaki with Prawns & Squid

OKAN describes this dish as their Special Okonomiyaki. It certainly made for a tasty meal (although, like me, you have to like squid!) But don't think it's something that you can't learn to create at home - okonomiyaki is really quite simple to make. If you want to try it out yourself, then just click Okonomiyaki with Prawns & Squid to go to my recipe. You'll be eating okonomiyaki in your own kitchen in no time!

 

About the reviewer:


Hi, I'm Kurumi, a cooking writer and blogger. I'm Japanese but I have lived in London for the last

30 thirty years. Back in the days before the internet (and Youtube), I was a food writer. My first book published in English was called Japanese Cooking for Two which I wrote in 1994. It has become the 9th best selling Japanese cookbook ever… yippee!

My other books were ‘The Noodle Cookbook”, “The Soy for Health Cookbook” and “Healthy Noodles.” I also published a book in Japanese “English Home Cooking”. Then I had children and my life changed!

By the time my children had grown up, the world had changed quite a lot too! Internet, Youtube, Insta etc. So, these days, instead of books, I publish recipe and articles on my website and on my Youtube channel. I hope you'll check out my recipes - they are all tried and tested (some more times than I care to mention!) until I think you will get them right first time when you make them and enjoy eating them.


If you’d like to read more about me or my books, then follow the link here:


https://www.kurumicooks.co.uk/about


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