LONDON: Naomi rates Itadaki Zen at 4/5 stars.
It seems incongruously unusual to me to think of a Japanese restaurant without the smell of fish. Naively, this connection was so engrained within me that I had not even considered Japanese vegetarian food before. However, Itadaki Zen revealed to me a whole new perspective upon Japanese cuisine. It is definitely worth the visit for their delicious vegetarian and vegan meals.
The restaurant is just behind the School of Oriental and African Studies, SOAS, and offers a 10% discount for students. It is located centrally, close to King’s Cross and St Pancras stations. It’s convenient as well as yummy!
Very much focused on the understanding of the ‘healing qualities’ of food, Itadaki Zen pronounce on their website: ‘the Itadaki-zener believes that food is closely related to human consciousness as well as human body. Itadaki means ‘to take the food life’; Zen means ‘to fix, to mend’.’ Their ethos dictates maintaining a healthy balance of grains, vegetables and seaweeds. In exchange, you gain a healthy, balanced body. What’s not to like?
The restaurant itself is warm and cosy. It is right behind SOAS so probably popular a favourite amongst students and professors! Everything is home-grown at the restaurant’s own allotment out of town. A peep behind the hatch’s curtain at the back of the restaurant shows that many Japanese ladies work tirelessly in the kitchen. It seems like another world from the busy street of King’s Cross Road.
The London Lunch Menu features some great deals: Kake Udon (£6), Kitsune Udon (£6.50), Kakiage Udon (£7), today’s Donburi (£7), Kimpab Sushi roll (£6.80), Tempura Bento (£10), as well as various reasonable side dishes. Their set menu is plentiful with options – you really are spoilt for choice.
Some of the set menus are on the more expensive side at £15-28, but these feature sushi, tempura and other vegetable dishes, therefore it is a lot of food. The rice served is deliciously brown, including barley, lentils, bulgar wheat, konbu seaweed, mung beans, umisiba seaweed and all sorts of healthy green and brown things.
My favourite here is the Tendon Set for £12, which comes with marinated peanuts, sanpousai and miso soup. The vegetable tempura was always my favourite part of the dish as a child, so this is a nostalgic favourite. I’m not such a fan of the puddings, but they do have a small selection, including sesame pudding – white sesame Kanten jelly (£4).
For those with more adventurous taste-buds, you can also try the Wazengyou-Shinmishoku (Seaweeds Healing Course) 和善行心味食 as a Saturday lunch, which must be booked by reservation. This costs £29 but its content is really impressive, with over eleven options for you to choose from, many different seaweeds, Goji berries and Azuki beans.
Japanese food in London is glamorised at Nobu and commercialised at Wagamama and Yo Sushi. A trip to Itadaki Zen reveals a refreshingly different (and still delicious) side to Japanese cuisine, and it cleanses the soul in the process. What a bargain!
Itadaki Zen London can be found on 139 King’s Cross Road London, WC1X 9BJ.
Photos courtesy of Itadaki Zen (unfortunately I did not have my camera with me at the time of my visit)