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Itadaki Zen, Kings Cross

by Krista

Itadaki zen sign 
Itadaki Zen
139 King's Cross Road

Date of Last Visit:  Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The Victim: Reiko

The Damage: £35 each

The Background: You might remember that I was in Cardiff towards the end of November. At some point, after the Australia-Wales Rugby Match, we ended up in a random Malaysian restaurant. (Never wrote about it, sorry!) I was with Craig and his wife Leanne. Craig leaves to go to the men's room and Leanne and I are sitting chatting. I make a comment about the people waving Australian flags in the restaurant. (Craig and Leanne are from Downunder.) Leanne follows my gaze and yells, "Oh my God! That's my cousin!

Yes, she ran into her cousin Taman at a random Malaysian restaurant in Cardiff. He was with his girlfriend Reiko, and we all got to chatting over the rest of our meals.

I told Reiko about my blog and my trip to Tokyo in 2008 and she pronounced herself a willing victim for any meal. So it was that we found ourselves at Itadaki Zen in King's Cross on a Wednesday night in January. This was Reiko's choice, and I was intrigued. It's a vegetarian Japanese restaurant, and I'd never heard of it. Never. I like never hearing about places.

But then of course, the week before we're supposed to go to Itadaki Zen, what happens? Time Out runs this review. I was kinda bummed. Mainly because I wanted to go someplace I knew NOTHING about. But I couldn't not read Guy Diamond's review.

The Entrance: Itadaki Zen is all light wood and quiet. They had an architect in from Japan who designed the space, and apparently, he thought people would never eat in groups of three or four because he built this huge mega-wide bar down the side of the room. Not so good. I was glad it was just me and Reiko.

Itadaki zen sushi 
The Food: I put Reiko in charge. I don't know what I'm doing. Reiko had the chef brought out so we could all chat. Or, well, that Reiko and the chef could chat because it was all in Japanese. So we started with the vegetable sushi and you know what, I wasn't so impressed. Vegetable sushi is boring. (And high-margin.) Luckily, I snagged the fried tofu bit.

Itadaki zen spinach 
The spinach and tofu, on the other hand, I really enjoyed. Dense and savory. I could have had more of this.

Itadaki zen beans 
The beans…I could have passed on these. I'm not exactly sure what they were–soybeans of some sort. But they didn't talk to me. At the end, this was the only dish we didn't finish.

Itadaki zen tofu 
So I was worried about the agedashi tofu because Guy Diamond in Time Out said "…mirin and shoyu (soy sauce) broth called tsuyu – should have intense flavours to complement the delicate tofu, but this version disappointingly lacked great depth." But I actually thought this was one of the better examples of agedashi tofu that I've ever had. Normally, I find the broth too watery and lacking flavor, but I thought this one was pretty good.

Itadaki zen springrolls 
I really liked the spring rolls. A lot. Eons later and I'm still thinking about them. I would tell you more but I've written this post like three times now because Typepad and my computer are not getting along at the moment. So I'm kinda highly annoyed.

Itadaki zen tempura 
Then there was the tempura. The carrot and onion mish-mash was pretty fantastic. The rest was good, but would have been better with the tempura dipping sauce I'm used to. (At Itadaki Zen, the tempura is served with just the salt. I don't know enough about dipping sauce vs. salt to comment.) Once this stuff was cold…well, not so great. (In comparison to say, cold fried chicken, which only seems to taste better the next day!)

Itadaki zen sesame pudding 
And here's the sesame pudding. I'm a sucker for anything sesame but I can see many people not liking this. But you know what, I don't care what you think. I really liked this. Anything sesame is delicious to me.

The Service: Sweet. Not Japanese. (Just stating some facts.) Very knowledgeable about the food and what they're trying to accomplish. I  like that.

The Area: Sketchy.

The Verdict: I'd seriously go back for those spring rolls. And the carrot and onion tempura. And some sesame pudding. Oh, and some more of that spinach and tofu mixture. Don't be worried about the lack of meat and fish. There's enough choice here to make up for that.

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The London Foodie February 22, 2010 - 9:23 am

I drive past this place whenever I go into town, and stopped to have a look the other day. It looks very authentically Japanese with all that beautiful wood and minimalist decor. Did you ask them why they would not serve the dipping sauce with the tempura? I’ve never had tempura without it. Possibly because being a vegan restaurant, they would not serve the dashi (bonito fish based sauce) with it? The restaurant is part of the TasteLondon card which I got (50% off food bill) so I think I will try it now (had given up the idea after Dimond’s review). Thanks.

Luiz @ The London Foodie

Webcowgirl February 22, 2010 - 10:03 am

Hmm. The agedashi tofu looks good but the rest of it looks pretty unimpressive. Have you been to Yoisho on Goodge Street?

Kip February 22, 2010 - 10:11 am

You ordered some of the same things I ordered when I tried this place! I really liked it on the whole because it was simple, not too over the top, and I could trust there wouldn’t be fish products. If you do have a larger party they’ll seat you downstairs, where there’s room for larger parties. Still not huge, but very nice. Plus the lady who waited on us was just adorable!

Krista February 22, 2010 - 10:38 am

Yes, must say that I really did like this place! And now that I know I can get a tastelondon discount, I will definitely be back!

Krista February 22, 2010 - 10:40 am

No have not even heard of Yoisho! Is it good?

Really–the rest of it was pretty impressive. I had very low expectations after the Time Out review, but I really liked it!

Krista February 22, 2010 - 10:41 am

I have a TasteLondon card too so now I will definitely have to go back!

Mr Noodles February 22, 2010 - 10:56 am

The food looks beautiful. BTW – what was in the spring rolls ?

Reading your review and then T**e Out’s, I have some observations. On the agedashi tofu, it seems that Dimond has a salty palate (previously I thought it was just bitter). In fact, he bangs on about ‘salt’ being the dominant flavour of Japanese cooking. Now I’m no expert but is he sure ? Oh and the tea that he thinks smells like ‘Shredded Wheat’ is probably barley tea.

msmarmitelover February 22, 2010 - 12:06 pm

I hung out there for hours the other day. Good food and people.

Krista February 22, 2010 - 12:30 pm

Spring rolls…wish I could tell you! Tofu, for sure. They were really dense and, well, savoury. (Did I say that before? I forget and am too lazy to check post again so apologies for the narrowness of my vocabulary here.)


I'm a salty fan myself, which is why I thought the agedashi was one of the better examples I've tried.


Re dominant Japanese flavor…is there one? Can be quite varied, right? And they're certainly not pouring raw salt on their food like we are. (OK, I know they use soy sauce.) What about mayo? Japanese love mayo!


Yes, definitely barley tea…one of my favorite things. Had a nice big cup of it at Itadaki Zen.

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Lizzie February 22, 2010 - 4:02 pm

I’ve been wanting to visit this place out of a sick fascination (vegan? VEGAN?). Glad to see the food looks and tastes good.

gastrogeek February 22, 2010 - 7:29 pm

Interesting to read a positive review of this place, I’d like to try those spring rolls and I am such a fool for agedashi tofu.

London Chow February 23, 2010 - 1:07 am

Hmm… vegetarian sushi. Not sure I would be in a hurry to try that. Then again, it’s just me, I can’t live without my meat. 🙂

Just curious, what did Itadaki Zen use to substitute its ‘tuna’ (found on the sushi rice roll) with? As for agedashi tofu, I’m definitely for some salt sprinkled on top. Wait a minute, does that make me a ‘salty’ as well?

Wild Boar February 23, 2010 - 8:48 pm

Vegan sushi sounds very very odd to me. I’ll probably give this a miss but sounds like you had a more than decent meal.

mobistro February 24, 2010 - 9:32 am

I drive past this place whenever I go into town, and stopped to have a look the other day. It looks very authentically Japanese with all that beautiful wood and minimalist decor. You ordered some of the same things I ordered when I tried this place! I really liked it on the whole because it was simple, not too over the top, and I could trust there wouldn’t be fish products.

Reiko March 2, 2010 - 12:11 am

I was the lucky victim!
Krista don’t forget to buzz me when you go next time – I really liked Spring Roll (Haru maki), it was so good. Agree Vegetarian Sushi is not my taste…. I love real SUSHI 🙂

Krista March 2, 2010 - 7:29 am

Watch for my post coming up "soon" about Kikuchi! (Sorry am a little behind these days!)

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