Itadaki Zen, Europe’s first vegan Japanese

I’m an omnivore that quite likes going to vegetarian-specific places, as despite drawing from a more constrained set of ingredients, they often produce more creative and interesting dishes as a result. Well, either that or you get a bunch of average dishes with rubbery tofu on everything. When I heard that London had a place that claimed to be not only vegan (ooh), but also organic (yay) AND Japanese (omg!), I knew I had to try it.

My fiancé Mr K and I share a love for Japanese food though it always seems to involve meat or fish so I was curious to see what would be on the menu. He’s also helping me become more conscious about buying organic and eating less meat overall, so I decided to take a risk and try it out for lunch on his birthday.

I fell for the zen vibes from arrival. The largely wooden interior, with shutters, tables and even a small tree trunk in the corner, gave it both a homely and spa-esque feel. Add some potted plants and orchids and all it was missing was one of those mini sand tray things to feel fully relaxed. A calming, soothing start… were it not for Mr K being desperate for the loo the entire walk over from King’s Cross. He appreciated it more after dashing off to relieve himself though, and we got a cosy corner table for two sitting side by side.

The menu was in a booklet of plastic wallets which we found quite confusing, as some things appeared to be labelled as dinner menus, but mixed up with set menus, and a very short lunch menu was on the very back page after the drinks. I needn’t have worried about variety as veggie sushi was just the start of it; there were also plenty of larger udon and donburi dishes and unpronounceable but interesting smaller dishes. They also had an impressive range of organic drinks, which included a couple of beers and wines. We’d gotten quite warm on the power walk over so opted for some organic lemonade, which turned out to be cans from Whole Earth and nicely refreshing.

I wanted to try almost everything (classic) so opted for the Itadaki bento box, which was a beautiful, bright burst of colour and interesting components. I took my time taking it all in (and taking pictures as the fiancé eye-rolled) before digging in. My favourite part by far was the kakiage tempura, two oversized vegetable fritters in a light seasoned batter. So delicious and not oily at all; I only wish there had been more than two in the bento!

I also liked the kimbap rolls and generously donated a couple to the birthday boy. I was pleasantly surprised by the harumaki of tofu and chopped veg, having expected the spring rolls to be quite heavy. The same goes for the grilled tofu which I’d thought might be quite boring, but didn’t even need soy sauce after arriving in their special yangyeom sauce. My least favourite part was actually the green salad as I found the dressing on it a little too sour for my liking. As if that wasn’t enough food for me it all also came with a miso soup, which I found quite strong.

Bento Bonanza

 

Mr K opted for the sushi set and was I think similarly stuffed afterwards (after also helping finish my food). The various sushi pieces were topped with a range of veggies from string mushrooms to asparagus, some wrapped in nori, and again came with small side dishes such as tofu.

8-piece sushi set

 

Token arty pic from Mr K

The servers were friendly throughout, though it’s quite a small place so should be straightforward to keep on top of anyway. It also means the tables are quite a cosy distance apart on the whole, so not the place for too private a conversation! It’s not the most polished then but I think we were both charmed by the ethos of the place, to eat for good health and prepare food fresh so as not to be wasteful, so I hope they do well. It was certainly full when we visited so you’re probably safest making a reservation. Prices were high end for what you get but affordable – £11-15 typically for a set including sides – and reflects the quality of the ingredients. Besides, having that happy and wholesome feeling on a full stomach afterwards? Priceless.

Food:★★
Service:★★★★☆
Atmosphere:★★★★
Value:★★★
Overall:★★★

www.itadakizen-uk.com
139 King’s Cross Road, London, WC1X 9BJ

Itadaki Zen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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