Itadaki-Zen, King's Cross, London
A fairly new all vegetarian Japanese place, across the from the Travelodge. A fellow chowhound spotted it as we were headed to Kings Cross station, which piqued me to try it.
A thin sheen of mayo on bright short strips of peppers (red, green, yellow), the light creaminess a nice foil for the raw crisp vegetable.
Hijiki, a black seaweed, was simmered in a medium to full bodied soy sauce, the centre of gravity in the dish a heavy umani, modestly rendered. A very slight bit of sweetness from carrots and a fair amount of what I thought were bits of inari-like tofu (but not as sweet and with more substantial whitish tofu bits beneath the skin; rather tau-pok like for those familiar with the Hokkien term). And a few strategic green peas, more for colour than taste. A pleasant, minimalistic dish, nicely composed, I might have liked it a shade sweeter. Satisfying and ingredients of good not great quality.
I liked the crispy but light kakiage tempura, a meshwork of carrot and onion strips (and perhaps other vegetables) mixed with tempura batter and deep fried. The sweetness from the onion and carrots really comes to life under the graceful deep-frying. It is nicely bolstered by a pile of zaru udon, cool medium thick noodles with a good chewy quality, eaten with a dipping sauce spiked with a dab of wasabi and sprinkled sesame seeds. Great contrast of texture and temperature between the tempura and udon.
Desserts delight. A soy milk pudding, jelly-like in texture, sweetened by a dark syrup (palm sugar?) and bolstered by what I'm guessing is a sweet paste made from toasted soy bean powder. The warabimochi was brilliant -- slightly warm, with just the right bouncy, chewy quality than gave way rapidly to a decisive rip as a one bit in. This was a variant made from sweet potato flour. A toasty nutty aromatic coating of kinako (powdered roasted soy bean) and sesame seed.
Quite inexpensive for the quality, various starter sized small plates for ~£4-5 or less, noodles/rice main courses at ~£7-9, desserts £3.50-4. The warabimochi is totally worth seeking out, and the other dishes have an honest, comforting, homey quality. A serene and elegant but unassuming room adorned with the colours of sand, wood, leaves and petals.
Just had dinner here last night and really enjoyed it. Super sweet service. Like Limster, I really enjoyed the carrot/onion tempura. (I checked and it was just carrot and onion...I thought maybe parsnip but manager said really only carrot and onion.) Also loved the agedashi tofu. And the desserts were pretty cool...we had both the soy milk pudding and the sesame pudding. Loved the tofu paste on top of both.
Definitely something different. But if you're into Japanese food and/or have a Vegetarian in your life, worth trying.
Manager told me they are funded by London's Japanese Association? And that they brought in a special architect from Japan to work on the space. Their goal is to grow their own vegetables locally, although they're not there yet. All in all, seems like they have a lot going on.
I went with a Japanese friend so my experience might be slightly different in that we got a lot of advice on what to order, chef came out to meet us, etc.
I'm glad people are going here. I'm also glad to hear it's got external funding. I walked by every other day while they spent six months crafting the room with beautiful care and attention, to the point where it almost seemed an absurd performance of high japanese aesthetics transposed into that glum corner of Kings Cross road, and I hate walking past now and seeing that room empty. I've stopped in for take out there a couple of times and have been very impressed by the care put into the delicate rolls I've unwrapped later, but at the moment am too short of funds to properly explore the menu. However people I know who've been properly say it's great, so it's definitely on my list.