Hip joint outshone by the real deal
It's a pity that okonomiyaki is little known compared to sushi, ramen and yakitori - the dish is Japan's version of soul food. It's a thick savoury pancake, usually filled with pork, shredded cabbage and cheese, amongst other ingredients.
Okonomi means 'what you like' and yaki means 'grilled'.
As with so many beloved dishes, okonomiyaki is deeply divisive. Osaka fans prefer to mix all the ingredients in a bowl and cook it themselves on a table fitted with a teppan (hotplate). For Hiroshima supporters, ingredients are layered like a cake and a chef cooks it in front of you.
We start the night off at Bang Bang Pan Pan: an Osaka-style restaurant on Leighton Road packed with local, hip teens. Spray-painted walls bring home that this isn't your average pancake house.
We stick to its original-style (HK$88) with a selection of ingredients including pork belly, cheese and baby mushroom. The server quickly returns with a bowl full of batter and instructions: mix the batter, toss it on the teppan, shape it into a circle and let it cook.
Simple enough on the surface, but a minor struggle with the vague instructions leaves us perplexed, and the busy waiters aren't much help. We manage in the end, and the final product is fairly appetising, if slightly undercooked and bland. Don't get us wrong, we're well aware of the place's allure: like hotpot or Korean barbecue, part of the fun is the group atmosphere.
But for a real okonomiyaki, with high-quality ingredients and a chef who knows his stuff, better outlets exist. Kozy Okonomi-yaki Teppan-yaki is a recent addition to Causeway Bay's upstairs restaurant craze. Sleek and simple, its subtle wood-panelled decor mixes traditional and contemporary.
We arrive later that night - word round the chef campfire is that things don't heat up until 11pm, with Kozy's doors closing at around 4am. And like any truly authentic restaurant, the place is packed with folks from the home country all eager for a beer and a chat while the chef serves up their favourite food.
Taking a seat at the counter, we again order the original, pork-and-fried-noodle-filled pancake (HK$78), with cheese on top (HK$10 for each topping). As we wait, we chat with a couple of expat Japanese salarymen. And if there was ever a case for okonomiyaki legitimacy in Hong Kong, it was this: after four years of living here, neither of them has even heard of the seemingly popular Bang Bang Pan Pan, but are regular Kozy customers. A heaped pancake arrives in front of us, each layer perfectly cooked. From the fine, fluffy batter, to the golden-brown pork; from the smooth melted cheese to the painter-like strokes of okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise, it is far from healthy but every bit delicious.
The verdict: an easy win for Kozy - but we're not ignorant of its rival's charms. Those hoping to replicate the shared experience of a hotpot night out with some good old-fashioned Japanese comfort food can't beat Bang Bang Pan Pan. But true obsessives will know that Kozy is where to go.
Bang Bang Pan Pan
G/F Star Light House 34 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay
Tel: 2203 4009
Kozy Okonomi-yaki Teppan-yaki
9/F Circle Plaza 499 Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay
Tel: 2591 1281