Sometimes a girly dinner is really needed. I hadn't seen two of my best friends in ages, so we organised a girls night. It just so happened my cousin, (also a best friend) was in London that night too, so she joined us. We were travelling from and to almost every corner of London so we needed somewhere central. We settled on Itadaki-zen in King's Cross, a completely vegan Japanese restaurant, with the help of Happy Cow. I use Happy Cow all the time, I can't recommend it highly enough, it was a life saver in Berlin, it's a website that lists vegan and vegetarian eateries. You can filter searches by vegan and vegetarian friendly/vegetarian or strictly and read reviews.
Itadaki-zen is very small. We turned up as soon as it opened for dinner (6pm) and only just managed to get a table, I would recommend booking in advance. They say good things come in small packages though and Itadaki-zen certainly proves this rule.
The decor is simple and clearly inspired by Japanese design, clean lines, wood and bamboo, minimal with splashes of colour. It is unassuming and perfectly suits the food served. The atmosphere is relaxed and with the small size cosy. You can hear the hum of the kitchen as you eat, something I really like.
Itadaki means ‘to take the food life’; and Zen means ‘to fix, to mend’. The food reflects a belief in food being a healer, a belief held within Far Easten for thousands of years, and only recently rediscovered in the West.
The menu at first was a bit confusing. Well maybe not for everyone but I was having a little difficulty. They appeared to only have a set menu, and I thought a set menu was for sharing. But it basically meant you got a main with a side included all to yourself. Which is actually so great. Once I got over my confusion I got on with ordering!
We shared starters, getting three between the four of us, seemed to be just right.
We ordered Harumaki (spring rolls); these were different to your average spring rolls, the flavour was richer and you could tell the vegetables were super fresh. Foods containing a lot of oil take a long time to digest, so Itadaki-zen combine okara (soy pulp) and tofu and add vegetables that help digestion. They can also be grilled on request, but we went for deep fried. Because hey who cares?!
Homemade Kimichi; I have never tried kimichi before which is something I was desperate to rectify. And it was just as good as I had been hoping it would be. Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from fermented Chinese (Or Korean) cabbage leaves. Every Kimchi recipe varies slightly, but they usually involve chilli, ginger, garlic and other spices. This Kimchi had the perfect balance of tang from the fermentation process and heat from chilli. It was so good, and I really am going to have to work on making my own. (It's hard to find vegan kimchi in a jar as it often contains fish sauce of some kind, I have a kilner jar ready to go so I just have to actually get round to doing it!)
And lastly okra balls; fried balls of okra and seasonal vegetables which were sticky and squishy and just really delicious.
For main I went for the Kitsune Udon Set. This entailed a massive bowl of udon noodles in broth topped with two pieces of fried tofu, spring onions, seaweed and sesame seeds. I love thick udon noodles, there is just something so satisfying about their texture. The broth was beautifully rich and flavourful. The Tofu was air light and crispy. It was some of the best fried tofu I've ever had, in no way greasy or full of oil! This was also served with five kimbap rolls. I'm not the greatest lover of sushi. But this was an amazing accompaniment to the main. I often find sushi a bit slimey but this wasn't the case, the seaweed wrapping the rice was firm. The sushi rice at Itadaki-zen has organic brown rice flour added to it to compensate for the shortcomings of polished rice. They also add egoma (wild sesame) oil for its intestinal cleansing benefits. We asked for some of the homemade vegan mayonaise as a dip for kimbap. It is super creamy and available on request.
They also have a range of sugar free deserts on sale, but by the time we finished the main everyone was full. They looked amazing though. This just means I will definitely have to go back to give the deserts a go. In fact even without the lure of dessert I will definitely be back to Itadaki-zen as I thought the food was amazing! At at £15 a head, I was really impressed by the price, and so were all my equally broke millennial friends. This place is great value for money and really stunning food. Every mouthful bursts with perfectly balanced Asian flavours. Itadaki-zen is definitely my new favourite central London eatery!