4th September 2010
I have been longing to go back to Itadaki Zen and who better to take with me than my Japanese mother or Baba as the Little Man calls her, to see if it made the grade.
Having learned a very valuable lesson from last time – that the Dinner Courses are mahusive we went for lots of smaller dishes to share.
I’d already decided on having the Neba neba don before we got there and I wasn’t disappointed. It was filled with things I love but haven’t had for a long time like yama imo, Japanese yam that is grated and becomes what I can only describe as gloop but is delicious with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar. There was also natto, fermented soya beans that have cob web like strands trailing off it, sometimes I think you have to be introduced to it when you are young as it can scare some adults! Since becoming vegan have not been able to find natto that doesn’t have fish in the accompanying sachet of sauce. The natto in this dish was homemade which I think is maybe why it was tasting a little bit tempehish. Neba neba means slimy, or sticky according to the menu, and all the elements of the dish, including okra have a slipperyness about them which apparently makes them really good for the immune system.
Another of my favs is kimchi, it’s orginally a Korean dish but the Japanese eat it a lot. Sadly this another one that always contains fish when I’ve seen it in the shops. It’s pickled vegetables with chilli and garlic, and this one was really flavourful and exactly how I remember it tasting.
The gomae (sesame) I’m used to having on spinach, here the sesame dressing was served on perfectly al dente green beans. The hijiki no nimono is one of Baba’s favourites which she makes at home, I’ve never been that keen on it, it’s a special type of seaweed cooked with soya beans and tastes kinda sweet to me. This one was more soya beans than hijiki and it should really be other way round.
We also ordered one of the ‘special dishes’ ryokusaimaki which neither of us had heard or seen before. This was a cooked cabbage leaf wrapped around a mashed vegetable filling. It was the perfect healthy alternative to the spring rolls (although they will do these grilled rather than fried on request) and dipped in the soya sauce and vinegar dressing very tasty.
Baba was not happy that she was unable to get a bowl of plain rice, it came either with aduki beans or the other option I think was with mixed grains. However the rice itself was up to her standards, she is VERY fussy and a bit of a rice snob which has now rubbed off on me as I’m now used to the premium rices she favours such as Akita Komachi and Nishiki (around £25 for 10 kg). A tempura was ordered mid way through the meal, which we didn’t acutally need as we had chosen enough to fill our bellies. It was nicely seasoned with a good variety of veggies, and seaweed, we were however given a tiny bowl of dipping sauce (again generally this will have fish in it in non veggie establishments) and had to ask for a second.
We split the dessert from the specials menu which was a matcha kanten, a jelly made from agar agar (seaweed) and flavoured with green tea powder. The jelly itself had a really subtle green tea flavour, just the hint of bitterness when you steap tea too long. I think it was a red bean topping on the top and the soya milk around the base was light and refreshing I could have drunk a cup of that on it’s own.
Dinner for two was £18 each including beer and tip.
I would definitely recommend this place for authentic wholesome Japanese food and can’t wait to go back and try out the Healing Course which you have to order 24 hours in advance! If you are interested in making your own natto I found a recipe here and try Japanese Cooking by Miyoko Nishimoto Schinner for lots of traditional but vegan Japanese recipes.