ECO EATERY: Itadaki Zen

This review was originally written for the Londonist

An organic, vegan Japanese restaurant? Really? We’re intrigued. The organic, vegan bit fits well with our eco eating mission, the Japanese bit is something of a surprise. Organic loving vegans don’t get to eat sushi or noodles very often. Itadaki Zen in King’s Cross promises to be all three – in fact it declares itself to be Europe’s first organic vegan Japanese – so we head there feeling excited.

Visiting the website before visiting the restaurant itself, we’re braced for the medicinal messages that the menu is laced with. Unrushed and enveloped in delicious cooking smells, we enjoy spending a long time looking through it (and giggling a little at the promises of cleansed bowels and blood).

We try the three different sushi rolls on offer, priced at £2.90 for three pieces or £5.10 for six. Agesan, with fried bean curd, shiitake mushroom and some kind of radish, is very similar in looks and taste to Koya Tofu, which has freeze dried tofu instead of fried curd. The third swaps the tofu for red pepper. Our opinions are split a little, but the overall sushi verdict is nice, but a little boring.

Next we try three larger dishes – Ten-don (tempura on rice), Miso-nikomi udon (noodle soup) and Neba-Neba-don (vegetables and rice). The Ten-don is the best, an attractive and tasty dish piled high with carrot, onion and seaweed tempura. The udon noodles are suitably fat but the creamy miso and vegetable soup they’re served in is quite bland. The Neba-Neba-don is as sticky as the menu suggests, in fact we’d go as far as slimy. Again it’s a bit bland and the texture pretty odd.

While it’s possible to drink alcohol here, we decide to stick with tea as there’s an interesting selection. We try Siawese, made from gogi and jujube berries, and Sasou, made from palm leaves and buckwheat. The Siawese promises to improve harmony between our organs and the Sasou to powerfully clean our bowels, something that makes us nervous.

We arrive at 7pm on a Monday night and the small restaurant is busy and buzzing. By 9pm we’re the only ones left. While we linger over our meal – and are made welcome to – for most people this is more of a pit-stop kind of place. At £13.50 for two courses, tea and service, it’s cheap eat territory (if you avoid wine at £5 a glass).

In some ways our evening ends with a few regrets. We wish we’d opted for one of the bento boxes or had an adventure with some fried noodles made from sweet potato. It certainly isn’t the best meal out we’ve ever had, but we’d consider returning to try out more of the menu.

Itadaki Zen, 139 King’s cross Road, WC1X 9BJ; www.itadakizen.com

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