June 27th, 2008


London eats the world, burps, pays

London. To minimize the culture shock -- this is a city that offers the best of everything on condition that you think the worst of everyone, by which I mean it's misanthropic-logistical-imperial-managerial -- we're eating only Japanese food, though Hisae's love of the English fried breakfast will shortly prevail.

Thursday lunch happens at one of my favourite London places, a Japanese cafe on Brick Lane (opposite the bagel bakeries) called Bodhi Gallery. It's a for-love-not-money type of place, which is to say very un-London, despite being one of London's best people-watching sites. The man who runs it is super-nice. He's waiting on the doorstep when we arrive, unable to open because his food hasn't been delivered yet. When we come back twenty minutes later he's thrown the cafe front open, flooding the interior with sunshine. There's still no hot food, but you can sip matcha shakes and eat edamame and pick at a sushi box (under a fiver, in stark contrast to the £12 lunch dishes being offered at the high-concept Swedish diner over the road).

Bodhi is a delightful place to be. There's free wifi, illustration-like art on the walls, quirky Okinawa folk music playing, and a kind of Street Peeper flow of visually- interesting people on the almost traffic-free street outside. I suppose it might be more typically Londonish than I'm willing to own, because the secret of London is finding some kind of humane and liveable niche in a city which is organised around the principle of binding the world backwards over a barrel and frisking it for cash.

Dinner was at Abeno, which has branches near the British Museum and opposite the Photographer's Gallery in Covent Garden. The man who started it is from the Osaka district of Abeno, which happens to be where Hisae is from too. We've often eaten okonomiyaki -- the popular Japanese seafood omelette -- at hot little shops near Tennoji station. A filling dish costs about £2.50. Here in London, served in high concept, high rent "design" surroundings, it's £12. An Englishman fluent in Japanese cooks it on the hotplate built into the counter. "Hi guys," he says, "have you eaten here before?" (Everyone in Britain uses this "Hi guys" formula these days. Even the ticket inspector on the train is like "Hi guys, I need to see your tickets.")

Abeno's okonomiyaki is to 2008 what sushi was to 1986; a Japanese gimmick, a trend with a premium price, no matter how humble its origins. (The contrast with the cheap, modest okonomiyaki shop I found in Vienna couldn't be greater). But, if you're prepared to be scalped at billtime, Abeno is excellent. Fishflakes flutter atop delicious tofu, the salad sauce is great, the okonomiyaki piping hot and delicious. They even have my favourite beer, Asahi Kuro Nama, similar to Erdinger schwarz weissbier, but, here, six times the price. Global evil has global rewards, and naturally they cost the earth.