Sunday, 9 September 2012

Okan: good hash man

Cheap, delicious Japanese street food

Occasionally I get cocky and call myself a food critic, and it's always greeted with the same derision - that food critics never write about the food.

It's true that the great food critics of our day - AA Gill, Giles Coren, Jay Rayner Marina O'Loughlin etc - tend to spend more time on the set up than the pay off. But often, the food is the least important bit - if every restaurant served the same food, some would still be better than others. The most memorable meal I have ever had, which you can read about here, involved some very average food indeed. Great food does not necessarily make a great restaurant, and Marina writes exactly that sentiment here. The joy of eating out is the experience and, as any writer will tell you, explaining the uniqueness that is a moment in time is almost impossible. Most of the time it takes most of the time; it takes words, it takes space, it takes thought. It takes a paragraph that seems completely at odds with the purpose of the review (ahem), but it always has a point in the end.

But then you go to somewhere like Okan in Brixton village, where the food is so central to the experience that you want to tear up all those first paragraphs and punch some sense into AA Gill, with particular reference to the one in which he shoots a baboon.

But it's easier to focus on the food when your restaurant is four foot square, mostly kitchen and serving pancakes. Walking in from the harshly lit concrete streets of Brixton village, you suddenly feel like you've crashed a home kitchen, where a very accommodating Japanese family are trying to buy into Shrove Tuesday. If this was the case, from now on I'm doing it their way.

Okan is one of the few places in London that you can eat Okonomiyaki. Most websites will tell you this is a kind of Japanese pancake. Bollocks I say - if you tried tossing one of these you'd be finding cabbage around your kitchen for weeks. It has a lot more in common with a hash. It's hotchpotch of vegetables and noodles, seasoned, spiced and fried together, bound by one lonely egg. So far, so simple. But it's the toppings (or boppings, seeing as they are on the bottom). I ordered the Okan Special, which is bopped with prawns, squid and delicious kimchi, a tangy mess of fermented vegetables that really sang out next to the fried veg. But what really makes these hashes even more special is the sauces. They're drizzled with a thin satay sauce and special Okonomiyaki sauce, a slightly sweet and much thicker version of our own venerable Worcestershire sauce.

It's a wonderful plate of textures and tastes, varying from salty to sweet and crunchy to slimy. It's delicious, trashy and cheap. If I didn't live so far north, it would be my new hangover stop. In Japan it's very much considered fast food - if only we could have one of these on every high street, then we'd all be talking about the food.

Unit 39, Brixton Village, Brixton

Okan on Urbanspoon

No comments:

Post a Comment