Restaurants & Bars 5

Itadaki-Zen, King's Cross, London

limster | Nov 22, 200910:15 AM

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.

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