A colleague of mine, who has also visited Japan, recently said that he had found better versions of all of his favourite Japense dishes here in London. I was initially shocked by this, thinking of all the delicious food I enjoyed in Tokyo and Kyoto. I quizzed him a little further and he admitted that sushi was certainly an exception. I mentioned that in the case of okonomiyaki, although my visit to Abeno came close, it was not better than in Japan. His response to this was to ask if I had sampled the okonomiyaki in Brixton Market at Okan. Just like that, I was already planning my visit.
I live half an hours’ walk from the market, so there was no excuse. I waited for a lovely sunny day and made the short trip. Before going in to the restaurant I stopped by Federation for a hot chocolate. This gave me time to soak up the market atmosphere. It is an interesting mix of trendy, hipster cafes and restaurants, alongside art and craft shops and traditional fresh produce stands. Throw in street food from around the world and it becomes pretty exciting. I have been to Borough Market a few times, but that is quite a different vibe. Here in Brixton you can wander the shops without feeling trapped amongst hundreds (if not thousands) of tourists. The smells drifting through the place are quite tempting.
Okan is in the main market area under the covered roof on ‘2nd Avenue’. Take the time to explore a bit before you go in. The restaurant itself is small, given that it is based in a market. Inside is rustic with Japanese signs and lanterns adorning the walls.
The menu is simple street food: Okonomiyaki, Yaki Soba and Yaki Udon. I went for the lunch time deal, the okonomiyaki of the day (pork), miso soup and an edamame salad (£7.50). My boyfriend had the pork Yaki Soba (£7.85), but of course sampled a fair amount of my miso and salad. I got my own back by having some of his noodle dish. It had a delicate aromatic flavour, especially when eaten with the kimchi (pickles). Both dishes were sprinkled with bonito (fish) flakes. I really loved the plate the okonomiyaki was served on. The ‘pancake’ itself was a good size and thickness, with the thinly sliced pork grilled on the bottom. I enjoyed it, even if it could have handled a little more sauce, and thought the meal was very good value. Service was fast and friendly. It’s a fantastic place to stop off for a quick lunch, and is great value for money.
The big question is, was it better than the okonomiyaki I had in Japan? Sorry, the answer is regrettably still no. It came close, and was better than Abeno given the price and atmosphere. Having sampled the Yaki Soba, I am keen to go back for a whole plate. Perhaps I will have the Omu Soba instead (the same as above but wrapped in an omelette).
One reason we came up with, for better dishes in the UK, was the unfair advantage that we have produce imported from all of the world. Whilst some people promote the benefit of only eating food in season, few of us actually follow this rule. We are lucky enough to be able to enjoy fresh ingredients all year round. In Japan however, food is very much seasonal. The best is made of what is available. I believe this means we can throw everything at our (for example) ramen, making it just a little better. In my opinion there’s only one way to make this a fair competition…I’ll need to spend a year in Japan (I wish).