Brown Rice Cafe @ 5-1-17 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

Brown Rice Cafe is an immensely popular place that has been well-covered by bloggers that are both residents of, and visitors to Tokyo. It’s clearly eked out a name for itself, and it’s not hard to see why. One reason for its popularity could be the fact that it’s actually the culinary outlet of Neal’s Yard Remedies – a Covent Garden-based health and beauty retailer that I used to visit once (just once) a year when I was a student in London. (For those who are interested, NYR is always a sensible place to visit on Christmas Eve, when choosing an appropriate gift for mothers and aunts starts to become slightly, well, critical). Shopping aside, Neal’s Yard (the lane, not the retailer) is also home (or used to be home… apparently it has closed?) to the hippie-tastic World Food Cafe – a proud endorsement for vegetarianism if ever there was one. Enough reminiscing, back to Tokyo.

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Brown Rice Cafe @ Omotesando

Brown Rice Cafe is a 100% vegetarian (almost vegan) restaurant located a short walk from Omotesando. It’s tucked away within the web of crowded and immensely character-full side streets that run off Aoyama Dori. The Cafe itself is hidden away from the road, so keep your eyes peeled for the signboards (and/or the distinctive Neal’s Yard logo). Perhaps unsurprising given the location, it’s popular with ladies who lunch and their accompanying daughters. If it wasn’t for an elderly American couple (tourists, one male), I probably would have felt a lot more self-conscious than I already did. It probably didn’t help that I was sitting at a large, communal table and was flanked on one side by an adult mother-daughter combo, and on the other by two friends (both ladies), and one of their’s young daughter. Even the servers were all female!

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One soup and three sides set

Not that any of this really, mattered, of course, as I was there to lunch. The menu is small but select (and, thankfully, in English), and I actually found it very difficult to choose one dish over another – they all sounded delicious. Eventually I settled for the one soup and three sides set (¥1,500), which came with miso soup (the “soup”, duh), miso-flavoured tofu with simmered root vegetables, some pickled vegetables and brown rice dusted with black sesame and sunflower seeds (the “sides”). And, of course, the obligatory post-prandial tea or coffee. Very civilised.

As expected, the miso tofu was delicious. The miso – which is essentially fermented soya beans plus some other tasty stuff – provided strong salty and sour flavours that were nice balanced by the robust-but-bland wedge of tofu on which it sat. I guess the closest British equivalent would be cheese and pickles (apologies to all the Japanese out there I have probably just offended), as every bite was punchy and invigorating, but slightly soothing as well. The tofu came nestled amongst an array of wintery root vegetables – lotus root, asparagus, pumpkin, shiitake mushroom and hijiki – which added an additional spectrum of earthy flavours to the meal. The simple naturalness of the ingredients worked together well to provide a relaxed and effortless eating experience that could (and should) appeal to all. Blokes included.

Brown Rice Cafe
5-1-17 Jingumae, 1F Green Building, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
+81 3-5778-5416
brown@nealsyard.co.jp
Website
Open 12.00-21.00 daily

See also:
Time Out Tokyo’s review
Bon Voyage Vegan’s review
Bebe & Us’s review
Tokyo Eats review
The Tokyo Street’s review
Universotokyo’s review
Pocket Witch’s review
Meagan Mastriani’s review
JoJo + Japan’s review

T’s Tantan @ Keiyo Street, Tokyo Station

T’s Tantan is a fully vegan, and yet uncannily popular eatery located in the labyrinth of subterranean tunnels that support Tokyo Station (and environs). It specialises in ramen, but has a few curry options on the menu as well. It’s a bit like a fast food chain with a personal, proprietary touch. It’s fresh and efficient and for good reason very, very popular.

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T’s Tan Tan @ Keiyo Street

T’s has a detailed English menu that showcases the array of ramen (miso/fermented soybean, shoyu/soy sauce, shirunashi/dry), curries (see below) and “fried soybean meat bowls” (scary, I know!) on offer. Importantly, they also tell you what each contains (in terms of ingredients), so for ramen neophytes like myself, it’s relatively easy to choose one you think you will like. Not that choosing between them is particularly difficult, as everything looks as credible as it is edible.

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The vegetarian ecosystem, explained.

Inside, T’s is an interesting place with lots of murals on the walls (a lot like the one above), and patrons in the seats. The sound of noodles being slurped surround you – the sound of good food being consumed if ever there was one – and appeared to come from both vegans and non-vegans alike. I’ve ranted about this before, but such is the Japanese fidelity to good quality food that the “vegan” label appears to be more a source of interest than divisiveness. Shame the same can’t be said for… OK, enough! Lah.

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Shoyu ramen

The Shoyu Ramen (¥750) was as delicious as it was simple. Ramen, soy sauce (shoyu), some sliced scallion and bean sprouts, a large piece of nori (seaweed) and a few bits of gluten and bamboo shoot: that’s all you need to make and sell a slurptastic bowl of ramen! It was warming and refreshing at the same time, and rather good value as well.

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Matsaman curry

The Matsaman Curry (¥300 for a small bowl when paired with the ramen above) remained true to its Thai roots, being strong on both spice and lemongrass. It may not look like much, but this was the standout dish for me. It came with a small helping of long grain rice and was very, very tasty.

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Smile curry

The Smile Curry (¥900) was a Japanese-style curry that takes its name from the large, crescent-shaped wedge of pumpkin that comes with it. Whilst the curry was very thick and had a pleasant cinnamon flavour, it seemed a little bland after the punchiness of the Matsaman. And that dark brown colour unnerved me a little. And if that wasn’t enough, the vegetables it came with – potato, carrot, onion, green pepper and a cherry tomato – were rather miserly in volume. My advice? Stick to the  slurp and the spice and you won’t be disappointed.

T’s Tan Tan
1-9-1 Marunouchi, Keiyo Street, Tokyo Station, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
03-3218-8040
info@ts-restaurant.jp
Website
Open 07:00-23:00 daily

See also:
VegOut Tokyo’s review
Tofu Senshi’s review
Time Out Tokyo’s review
Bon Voyage Vegan’s review
Food Sake Tokyo’s review
Big Tent Vegan’s review
Just One More Spoon’s review
Real Monkii’s review
Move Over Godzilla’s review
Vegan Miam’s review

The Aldgate @ 30-4 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku

Located in the heart of Shibuya’s frenetic and rather youthful Udagawa-cho shopping district, The Aldgate couldn’t be further removed from it’s London namesake. And yet casting such locational idiosyncrasies aside, The Aldgate is actually a fantastic replica of a British pub. The atmospherics, the fizz and the vege-friendliness of the food all conspire to make this place well-worth a visit. With 21 kinds of draught beer and (apparently) over 6,000 albums on the boombox, it’s a dream come true for an otaku of the best that Britland has to offer. Add to the mix an impromptu stabbing, rampant swearing and/or the theft of a phone and one could almost imagine being back in Ingurando. Almost.

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The Aldgate @ Udagawa-cho

With a resplendent Union Jack fluttering from a makeshift flagpole outside, and an olde English map of my birthplace (Canterbury) inside, it didn’t take long for me to begin to feel a sense of belonging. Add to such geographical identifiers the tasty-yet-obscure range of ales and ciders on offer, the abundance of sarcastic signage, and the dark and fuggy atmosphere, and it soon became clear why 95% of the clientele had a genetically white face. A home away from home this place most certainly is.

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Ye olde Canterbury

If all this isn’t enough to pique your interest, then the food also deserves a mention for being uncharacteristically vege-friendly. There is an impressive (by Japanese standards) array of vegetarian options on the menu – salads, jacket potatoes, vegetable chilli, cous cous – not to mention an expansive “tapas” menu (by which they mean “fingerfood”). Opting to choose variety over depth, we stuck to the patas. I mean tapas.

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Falafels

To start, the falafels (¥500) were heavily cuminated and came slathered with a pungent mustard dressing. They were safe, predictable, and very, very moreish. Whilst the dim lighting probably helped to make them appear tastier than they really were, this was probably the best dish we tried.

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Mushroom quiche

The mushroom quiche (¥500) proved to be a bit of an exercise in deception. It looked passable – being sprinkled with freshly chopped basil and stuffed with both shimeiji and button mushrooms – but the base was, unfortunately, served cold. Sort of gives the game away! Even for an Igirisu-jin like I.

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Potato wedges

The chips (¥700) turned out to be another good choice. Large in size, well-roasted and very filling, they were brought to life by a generous dousing of Sarson’s malt vinegar. An iconic British brand that was acquired by Japanese condiment firm Mizkan in 2012, I couldn’t help but rejoice in the cross-border connection. A perfect fit for the setting.

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Welsh rarebit

Finally, the Welsh rare bit (¥500) also turned out to be quite disappointing. It was touted as being “made with beer, milk and mustard”, but all I could taste was dry baguette and processed cheese. The overall effect was one of scratchy blandness that, if nothing else, only served to reinforce popular stereotypes about British food (whatever they may be…).

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The price of humour

Clearly The Aldgate is the sort of place you would go to for the nostalgia-value. It’s warm and cosy and very, very British. Whilst the selection of vegetarian dishes is rather impressive, the overall quality is not. If nothing else, it serves an important reminder not to confuse serious drinking with serious eating. I’m quite sure that i’ll be back.

The Aldgate
30-4 Udagawa-cho, 3F Shiniwasaki Building, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
+81 3-3462-2983
Website
Facebook
Open 18.00-02.00 Monday-Friday; 17.00-02.00 Saturday-Sunday

See also:
Time Out Tokyo’s review
Tokyo Beer Drinker’s review
Beer Tengoku’s review
Tips for Brits in Tokyo’s review
Japan Beer Times’s review
Kaiju Pop’s review

Fill-a-Pita @ Shenton Way (REDUX)

Regular readers of this blog (there must be one, somewhere…) would be forgiven for thinking that i’ve had falafels on the brain lately, given my recent missive on Tokyo’s finest pitaria – Kuumba du Falafel. There is a certain truth in this, and it was precisely this mindset that propelled me back to Singapore’s finest pitaria over the weekend – Fill-a-Pita. Well, that and that fact that I have not been back for a shamefully long period of time. Although in my defence absence does makes the palate grow fonder, desu ne?

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Fill-a-Menu

During my hiatus, there have been a few developments. A swish new signboard has been installed behind the counter, some of the prices have been slightly re-jigged, and the infamous koshari rice has been allocated a more permanent place on the menu. And, perhaps most importantly of all, proprietor Hassan has been awarded the Singapore vegesphere’s equivalent of an Oscar – the Hungry Ang Mo award for “Best Service” in 2014. To say such a lofty accolade is well-deserved is to state the obvious; he sets the standard for service in Singapore. Ever-present, ever-helpful and ever-charming, I even noticed him returning mugs to the neighbouring drinks stall. Talk about a symbiotic relationship!

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Fava bean pita (whole)

Despite droning on about falafels so much, this visit was all about expanding my appreciation for Levantine cuisine. So the fava bean pita (SGD 7.00 for a whole one) seemed like the perfect place to start. I have always thought of fava beans as the slightly more sophisticated sibling of the legume family. To be perfectly honest, this is most probably due to the fact that they first settled on my culinary radar after watching Anthony Hopkins’ endorsement (of sorts) in The Silence of the Lambs. Whilst human liver may not be the most obvious pairing (not for a vegetarian, at least), it’s probably the Chianti association that has helped elevate the humble fava bean’s brand to the upper echelons of the culinary A-list. Well, in my mind it has.

And indeed, the f. bean pita does not disappoint. Served cold in order to better showcase the complexity of the filling, the fava beans, tahini and cumin coalesce to form a luxuriously rich and energetic array of flavours. Generous chunks of crunchy red cabbage and the zingy acidity of fresh lemon juice provide nuance to every bite, serving to further expand the spectrum of flavours and textures. It’s as intelligent as it is tasty, and a more than viable alternative to its falafel counterpart. Fava beans are the fodder that has sustained generations of Egyptian farmers and cognoscenti alike; once you try Hassan’s fava bean pita, it really isn’t difficult to see why.

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Labna pita (whole)

The very first time I visited Fill-a-P., Hassan gave us a small dish of labna to taste, and since then I have been meaning to push the boat out with a whole sandwich. Labna is another Middle Eastern staple – it’s essentially a sort of strained yoghurt that has the thickness of cheese and the slightly sour taste of yoghurt. The labna pita (SGD 6.00 for a whole one) helped to balance out the aromatic warmth of the fava beans (above) and the fiery spice of the koshari rice (below). Clean and elegant, it reminded me a lot of the British summertime equivalent of a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich. It’s the focus on simplicity that is the common denominator. Paired with cucumber and green olives, this sandwich relies on fresh and cooling flavours and silky textures to relax and rejuvenate the palate. Larrrvely.

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Koshari rice

And finally the koshari rice (SGD 6.00), oh the koshari rice. The first and last time I ate this stuff was in Hong Kong, and I have been meaning to try the Fill-a-P. version ever since. It’s the national dish of Egypt, and contains a rather interesting mélange of macaroni, rice and lentils intermixed with a fiery, arrabiatta-like tomato sauce. Whilst the Hong Kong version I tried seemed more koshari-lite, Fill-a-P.’s provides a spicy suckerpunch that will, if nothing else, leave you with a hairier chest, a more sonorous voice and a tingling mouth. I loved it. Pair it with an espresso and you’ve got your daily dose of rocket fuel, yes!

Reading some of the other reviews out there, it would appear that just about everyone that visits Fill-a-Pita has a good time. What I like most is that it’s packed full of pleasant little surprises, all of which are buttressed by the absolute commitment to impeccable service and high quality. Without doubt it’s the go-to place for a Levantine lunch in Singapore; an all-round experience that is not to be missed.

Fill-a-Pita
#01-02 Shenton House, 3 Shenton Way
9835 1446
Facebook
Twitter
Open 08:00-15:00 Monday-Friday; 12:30-14:30 Saturday; CLOSED Sunday

See also:
Vegetus’s review #1
Hungry Ang Mo’s review
Singapore Foodie’s review
Fat SG Boy’s review
The Best Singapore’s review

Kuumba du Falafel @ 23-1 Shinsen-cho, Shibuya-ku

There is something about falafels that I simply adore. Whilst I have never really sat down to meditate on the many wonders of these things, it would appear to stem from a combination of the savoury-spicy flavour, the nutty-crumbly texture, the protein punch, the sensuous smell, the inoffensive and easy-to-eat size, and the harmonious – and quite heavenly – relationship with houmous, salad and pita. Of course, the fact that they are inextricably associated with vegetarianism helps as well. In Singapore the whole falafel scene is rather niche, being centred around the Middle Eastern eateries of Kampong Glam, and two other bastions of vegetarian virtue – Fill-a-Pita in Shenton Way and Pita Pan in MBS and Marina Square.

You can imagine my excitement, therefore, when I read good things – lots of good things – about Kuumba du Falafel in Shinsen, Tokyo. It’s a place that is fully vegan, and is absolutely raved about in the blogosphere. Unlike in Singapore, where non-vegetarians often feel like they will leave hungry and/or disappointed if they go to a vegetarian eatery, Kuumba du F. is the darling of all. It’s fully vegan, but like the nearby Nagi Shokudo doesn’t flaunt that fact. Instead it uses its hipster-cool vibe to attract the punters, and its formidable falafels (and houmous, and lentil soup) to keep them coming back for more. It’s a sophisticated place that caters to a discerning clientele; hats off to both.

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Kuumba du Falafel @ Shinsen-cho

All this being said, whilst my visit to Kuumba du F. was propelled by a wave of eager anticipation, I couldn’t help but find the location a little underwhelming. It’s nestled next to a web of busy overpasses that constantly whirr with the sound of traffic; the environment and frontage give the impression of urban austerity. But open the door and the warming aroma of cumin helps to melt away any apprehensions. The lighting is soft, the decor as minimal as it is natural, and the countertops stacked with rows of dried figs, dates and nuts. And with a logo that’s one part charming, one part playful and two parts creepy, it soon became clear to me that Kuumba du F. is one hell of a distinctive place.

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Menu du Falafel

For those of you that were wondering about the name (I was), a quick sniff around Google suggests that “Kuumba” is equated with creativity in Swahili (or, more specifically, the desire to make the community a more beautiful and beneficial place). It comprises one of seven principles that are encompassed by the term Kwanzaa – a weeklong celebration of African-American culture that apparently occurs every year throughout African diasporic communities in America and Europe. So whilst the connection to Japan and falafel may be a tenuous one, the spirit of creativity is obvious. Just look at the picture below!

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Half falafel bouquet… Sorry, sandwich

To cut (finally) to the chase, the half falafel sandwich (¥880) I had was visually stunning. I felt like I had been handed a bouquet of flowers, not lunch. The vividness and selection of colours, and the arrangement of the salad were absolutely beautiful. Too good to eat, almost.

After what felt like a good ten minutes of dumbfounded staring, my stomach kicked my mind into gear and I levelled up to the next challenge: how to eat this thing. Elegantly but slowly with a fork? Attack it with the mouth? Dismantle it and look like a complete wimp? Either way invariably results in some sort of embarrassment. I settled for a combination of options 1 and 2, the end result being an eating style not unlike that of a prudish caveman. Or so I imagined.

From a consumption perspective, the genius of this sandwich lies in its construction. The eater is treated to wave after wave of flavour that keeps the excitement levels buoyant until the very last bite. First you get the zingy mint dressing and the top layer of veg: crazy mizuna leaves, fried aubergine strips, lettuce and tomato. All of them bursting with crunchy freshness and colour. Next comes the wedges of cucumber and the houmous. And at the bottom? The part you’ve been waiting for all along – the falafels and the pita. A culinary crescendo that I challenge anyone not to enjoy.

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Don’t be shy!

Of course the base layer is what this thing is all about – it’s the soul of the sandwich. The wholemeal pita managed to stay warm and chewy, despite the sheer volume of gunk shoved on top of it. And the falafels? Oh the falafels, those beautiful falafels. Spicy, soft and granular, they were like squashed little globes of greatness.

Eating this sandwich is a multi-sensory experience. The crunchiness, the pepperiness, the spiciness, the hot, the cold, the colour, it all comes together in a wonderful melee of energy and enthusiasm. Even the napkin you are given to wipe the muck from your face with is thick and luxuriant, like a miniature blanket. Incredible. Next time – and there will be a next time – it’s full-size for me. Plus an extra side of houmous. And most probably a lentil soup as well. Can’t wait.

Kuumba du Falafel
23-1 Shinsen-cho, 1F Me Building, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
03 6416 8396
Website
Facebook
Open 11.30-14.30 (Lunch) & 17.30-20.30 (Dinner) Monday-Saturday; 11.30-18.30 Sunday & PH

See also:
Time Out Tokyo’s review
Khao Man Girl’s review
Sakai Nakako’s review (Japanese)
Bon Voyage Vegan’s review
The Shimokitazawa Food Diaries’ review
The Wikipedia entry on Kwanzaa
A Daily Mail article on the British love of houmous

Cafe Matsuontoko @ 538-6 Nakanocho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi

This post couldn’t be timelier, given my recent grumblings about vegetarian burger options and how Japan is way ahead of the pack. Well, here’s more proof of the pudding (that’s invariably in the eating) – Kyoto’s very own Cafe Matsuontoko. After a day of hard cultural grafting in sub-zero temperatures, there are few places that can warm a vegetarian heart faster than an eatery that serves a variety of meat-free, carb-heavy meals. Cafe M ticks all the right boxes in this regard, as it serves up a veritable variety of vegan pizzas, pastas, burgers, curries, and a few salad dishes as well. Spoilt for choice! And yet when we visited they had unfortunately exhausted their supply of curry. So burgers it was.

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Cafe Matsuontoko @ Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto

Funnily enough, the lack of curry was not the only supply-side problem we faced that evening. Such was the harshness of the night that the beer kegs had frozen and we had to stick to the bottled stuff instead. And yet, despite having to wage constant war against the elements, the inside of Cafe Matsuontoko is as homely as you could hope. Anime was projected onto a big screen across the bar, and each seat was furnished with its own blanket. The bare necessities (cold beer and warm knees) in place, it was still a shame they had run out of curry. Curry, oh curry.

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Smoked tofu with olives

To start with, we had the smoked tofu with olives (¥530). It was presented as some sort of cheese platter for vegans: a few Meiji crackers, a handful of olives, and some smoked… Tofu? Why not! It was certainly interesting. The tofu looked and tasted like a cross between overly processed cheese, and overly processed ham. It did have an interesting, smokey flavour, but the overall impression was one of manufactured rubberiness that did its beautiful soya roots a disservice. I don’t think i’ll be waking up in the middle of the night craving for this stuff, but full marks for trying to elevate vegan fare to the echelons of canapé chic.

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Teriyaki fried soymeat burger

Moving on to the mains, the teriyaki fried soymeat burger (¥930 or ¥1,400 as part of the burger set) looked an awful lot like a chicken breast grilled with teriyaki sauce, such was the fidelity to its namesake. It smelt the part too – rich and tangy and begging to be devoured. And devoured it was, for it was delicious. Inside the buns was a generous dollop of mustard that really helped to cut the sweetness of the teriyaki glaze and, whilst the buns themselves were small, they were also very chewable and not unsatisfying.

As you can see, the burger came with a salad and French fries. The salad was delightful – lightly doused with a sesame-infused vinaigrette, it contained a pungent assortment of leaves. My favourite was the mizuna – with its jagged leaves and mildly peppery taste, it looked as angry as it tasted. Lots of attitude, very cool.

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Miso katsu burger

The miso katsu burger (¥980 or ¥1,400 as part of the burger set) used a unique, Kyoto-style miso paste to add flavour to the patty. It was sweet and fruity in flavour and, as you can see from the picture, creamy in colour and consistency. Again the physical resemblance to a chicken breast was uncanny, but the savoury-sweet flavour combination was a little too left-field for my conservative culinary leanings. My advice is to stick to the teriyaki burger – it’ll blow your socks off.

Maybe that explains the blankets…?!

Cafe Matsuontoko
538-6 Shijyo Agaru Shinkyougoku-dori, Nakano-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
Open 11:00-23:00 daily
+81-075-251-1876
matsuontoko@gmail.com
Website

See also:
Deep Kyoto’s review
Bon Voyage Vegan’s review
Just One More Spoon’s review
Big Tent Vegan’s review
Japanophile’s review
So Koreazy’s review
To Happy Vegan’s review
Kansai Vegan’s review (in Japanese)

Nagi Shokudo @ 15-10 Uguisudanicho, Shibuya-ku

Whilst Tokyo’s Shibuya district may be best known for its razor-sharp youth culture and sensory bombardment of lights, noises and people, it also has a few secrets that provide a calming counterbalance to such overwhelming urbanity. One such secret is Nagi Shokudo – a charm-loaded vegan eatery that is a short stroll from Shibuya Station. It’s a small, quiet and soothing place (in Japanese “Nagi” = calm, “Shokudo” = cafe/eatery) that serves some quite fantastic – not to mention varied – vegan food. To get there you have to resist the magnetic pull of Shibuya’s scramble crossing and head south. Nagi S. is located next to a Lawson Station, in a slightly recessed basement plot.

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Nagi Shokudo @ Shibuya

I had been looking forward to visiting Nagi S. for a long time. M had enjoyed a meal there back in 2013, and Time Out Tokyo reckons it’s the best vegetarian eatery in Shibuya. I can’t claim to know that much about Shibuya’s vegetarian scene, but I can certainly understand the adulation. Not only is the food top notch, but there is an unforced coolness about the place that is so natural it’s imitation-proof. No evangelising about the benefits of veganism or any of the other holier-than-thou type stuff that usually goes with vegephilia – just delicious food that does all the preaching that’s needed.

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The vegetarian bible

To keep both mind and palate sated, an edifying array of Japanese and English literature is also available for perusal. Indeed, the folks at Nagi S. take enrichment via the written word so seriously that they have even published their own vegetarian cookbook, of which M is a proud owner. Despite the absence of any sort of dairy or gelatin in its cooking, this is quite clearly a place that is not to be trifled with.

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Nagi soup plate

I had the Nagi soup plate (¥1050) – a lunch set that consists of a vegan version of tonjiru (literally “pig soup”), brown rice, an assortment of four sides and a cup of tea or coffee to flush it all down. Tonjiru is known to be a winter-specific version of miso soup; my bowl was heavily populated with hearty root vegetables (carrot, burdock, daikon, potato, konjac) and tofu that combined with the miso broth to warm both body and soul. The smooth richness of the miso paste brought the ingredients to life, especially the tofu, which took on a wonderfully creamy flavour and consistency. As I slurped the soup from the bowl I couldn’t help but think how well this stuff provided a perfect antidote to the icy winds outside. Brrr, burp, and brrr again.

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Heaven, multiplied

Special mention goes to the sides, which were as varied as they were delicious. As is so common with Japanese cuisine, the focus was on balancing different flavours, textures and temperatures. I had rich and creamy aubergine and miso paste (right), sour and crunchy pickled greens (left), tangy gluten mixed with tomatoes and onion (top) and some light and delicate strips of sweet potato and mildly astringent fuki. Everything was delicate, harmonious and well-thought-through. Oishii kat-ta!

And if all this wasn’t enough, this is yet one more reason to return: curry. Next time, without a shadow of a doubt…

Nagi Shokudo
15-10 Uguisudanicho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Open 12.00-16.00 (Lunch) & 18.00-23.00 (Dinner) daily

See also:
Time Out Tokyo’s review
Bon Voyage Vegan’s review
Vegout Tokyo’s review
25 Cafe’s review
Big Tent Vegan’s review

Jamaicana @ 1-22-27 Nakayamatedori, Chuo-ku, Kobe-shi

The cultural exports of the Caribbean are relatively popular in Japan and, much to my delight, there are a few establishments dotted around that are dedicated to the region’s culinary, musical and aesthetic offerings. One of these places is Jamaicana in Kobe. Jamaicana is run by a Jamaican bloke called Mr. Winston who does the cooking and entertains the crowds. He is supported by a Japanese lady who I assume to be his wife; she manages the floor and controls the soundsystem. To say the responsibilities are evenly matched would be an understatement.

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Jamaicana @ Chuo-ku, Kobe

To get to Jamaicana, head to Sannomiya Station, then walk up Kitano-zaka in a northerly direction (towards the hills). Cross Yamate Kansen and Jamaicana can be found on the other side of the road, in the middle of the intersection. You’ll know when you’re there as Jamaicana has rigged up an ingenious soundsystem that uses some rather long cables to connect a speaker at groundlevel with a CD player up on the 8th floor. The result? You will probably hear this place before you see it. For us it was the melodious angst of Ini Kamoze that signalled our arrival. Ah sey one! 

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Hours of bijinesu

Take the lift up to the 8th floor and you will be funnelled into a small restaurant that is a cross between the Jamaican tourism board and your grandmother’s living room. It’s undeniably personable, cosy and interesting, as nearly every surface is adorned with a picture or poster or other piece of paraphernalia that tells you a little bit about Jamaica. By the time we left the place was packed with patrons, many of whom appeared to be regulars. It’s not hard to see why.

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A home away from home

If Jamaica is closely associated with reggae, and reggae with Rastafarianism, then it is only natural that a Jamaican restaurant serves vegetarian food. Why? Because well-behaved Rasta’s follow a vegan diet known as ital. The ital diet is one defined by the simple principle that all food should be pure, natural and from the earth in order to increase ones’ life energy (or “Livity”). This means no meat or fish, no dairy, no chemical modifications or artificial additives. In its purest form, even salt, colourings and flavourings are omitted. Thankfully the ital grub at Jamaicana is a little less puritanical, and our food was as flavour-full as it was meat-less.

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Ital meal: the food of kings, Rasta’s… and us

Our vegetarian meals (¥1080) were a delightfully comforting mess of overcooked vegetables (French beans, okra, cauliflower, broccoli, some carrot), and salad smothered with some sort of pink dressing. Whilst it looked a lot like something I would make, it actually tasted rather good thanks to the salty-pepperiness of the veg and the tanginess of the salad dressing. It came with a side dish of the Jamaican staple: rice and peas (kidney beans), cooked in coconut milk with a lot of thyme. Whilst it doesn’t look like much, but it was certainly a warming and tasty plate of food that fit the mood of the place perfectly.

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Fried bread

Accompanying the meal was another Jamaican speciality – some absolutely delicious fried bread. This stuff is made with cornmeal and, accordingly, is quite sweet (so much so that I mistakenly thought it was meant to be eaten at the end of the meal, as a dessert). Nonetheless, despite the method of cooking it was surprisingly non-oily and immensely moreish. Probably a good thing that we were only given one piece each, plus a satsuma for dessert (all gratis). Now that’s the sort of largesse that the world needs more of. Yahh mon!

Jamaicana
1-22-27 Nakayamatedori, Kitano-cho, Dom’s Building, 8F
+81 78-251-6488
Open 11.30-14.00 & 17.30-24.00 Tuesday-Sunday; CLOSED Monday

See also:
Japanzine’s review
Wikipedia’s entry on ital eating

Vegetable bean burger @ Freshness Burger

Whilst vegetarians may well be (slightly) more virtuous than the average meat-guzzler, we do have our flaws. One of mine is burgers. To me at least, burgers are closely associated with two things: eating out (both literally and figuratively – summer barbecues, yes!), and junk food. These two associations do not often bode well for us, even though they are undoubtedly good for wallet and waistline alike. Indeed, the search for a good vegetarian burger often results in either paying an absurd amount of money for something loosely termed “gourmet” (and often accompanied by over-sized but under-portioned truffle fries), or being given a mushroom or tofu patty in a bun slathered with sauce. In both instances, the outcome often struggles to be better than adequate.

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Freshness Burger @ Omotesando

In Singapore the relationship between fast food and vegetarianism is an embryonic one. Apart from McDonalds’ flirtation with the Indian-spiced McAloo Tikki in 2013, one has to resort to either the rather expensive and inconveniently located VeganBurg, or Mos Burger and their infamous (and quite delicious) potato croquette burger for a vegetarian fast-food-fest. If, however, you follow the path of righteousness all the way to the Land of the Rising Sun, then the options become a little more tantalising. For Japan is the birthplace of Freshness Burger – an enlightened, vegetarian-friendly fast food restaurant that offers a killer bean burger and a good selection of sides (deep fried stuff, soups and salads) as well. They also serve draft beer, meaning a perfect food-drink combo awaits every prospective customer with an appetite for indulgence.

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Vegetarian bean burger

Freshness Burger’s vegetable bean burger (¥496 inc. tax) really is a wonderful marriage of affordability and tastiness. The patty itself is made from three types of beans – chickpeas, kidney beans and marrow beans – which are as filling as they are rich in flavour. Such richness helps to mellow both the tangy tomato salsa that sits on top of the patty, and the cool and crunchy lettuce and onion underneath. The Hokkaido pumpkin bun adds a subtle sweetness (and a delightfully warm orange hue) to the overall flavour-fest. Indeed, being Japanese as much thought goes into how it looks as how it tastes. And if nothing else, this really is a beautiful burger.

There are, however, just two problems. The first is that – like any bean burger – the patty is liable to crumble, meaning you had better be prepared to get your paws dirty. And the second? It’s a seven hour flight to get your hands on one. Worth every second, I say.

Freshness Burger
Website
Facebook
Twitter

Your Little Brown Bag @ Lau Pa Sat

I haven’t been to Lau Pa Sat for a long time, not since writing about the delicious Thunder Tea Rice that can be found there. M and I went yesterday after being disappointed by the veggie options available at the nearby Golden Shoe Food Centre. Shu Vegetarian looked greasy and a bit too heavy going for a Tuesday luncheon, The Salad Corner a little insipid and unsatisfying and, surprisingly, My Vegetarian Way had closed down (as of 9th December, according to Hungry AM). So LPS it was. Not wanting to eat Indian food (which seems to be gloriously over-represented at LPS – nice for a change), we settled for sandwiches from Your Little Brown Bag.

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Your Little Brown Bag @ Lau Pa Sat

Your Little Brown Bag is a curiously nondescript sort of place. Beyond the generic press releases announcing the arrival of “new” stalls at LPS, there is little more to shape YLBB’s digital footprint. No website, Facebook page or Twitter feed, no blog reviews, not even any feedback on the community platforms like Open Rice. Nada. So I hope this post goes some way to raising the profile of this rather promising little sandwich shop. Not least because out of the eight sandwich options available, no less than four of them (that’s 50% folks) are vegetarian (egg mayo, zucchini, brinjal and potato patty). Don’t believe me? Just have a look at the menu below.

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Your Little Brown Bag’s menu

Amazing, no? Certainly unprecedented. For me at least, this is the future of vegetarian dining. The 100% pure vegetarian business model is notoriously difficult to execute – it’s all about finding a middle ground that alienates neither enlightened vege’s nor ignorant omni’s. And it’s for this reason if nothing else that everyone should give this place a try. Everyone.

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Zucchini vegetarian sandwich

The zucchini vegetarian sandwich (SGD 5.50) had me flummoxed from the first bite. I had forgotten that it was meant to be zucchini (also known as courgette) inside, and immediately thought they were large wedges of gherkin (also known as pickles) instead. Thankfully my confusion was only shared with M, who kindly reminded me it was zucchini. But in itself this reveals just how powerfully sour the vinaigrette, and just how flavourless the zucchini were. If it was a blind taste test, I would have said it was a Big Mac without the patty, such was the abundance of mayonnaise, shredded lettuce and crunchy, vinegary zucchini. It also came with a little tomato and a few sliced mushrooms wedged in between a rather tasty grilled focaccia. Don’t get me wrong, I actually quite liked this thing, but struggled to get the Big Mac association out of my head after the first bite. Possible evidence that YLBB takes the whole “middle ground” thing a little too far? Quite possibly, yes.

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Potato patty vegetarian sandwich

If the zucchini sandwich packed a very sour punch, the potato patty vegetarian sandwich (SGD 5.50) struggled to pack any punch at all. Much of the flavour came from the grilled focaccia (again, delicious), whilst the filling did exactly that – it filled space. The potato patty (more like a croquette, nevermind) could have done with some liberal seasoning, whilst its bedfellows – shred upon shred of crisp lettuce – could have done with some company. That said, both sandwiches were large and well-priced, and sparked my curiosity to know what the brinjal and egg mayo options are like. Judging by these two fella’s, they could be a little deviant.

Your Little Brown Bag
Stall 41, Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, 18 Raffles Quay
8299 5159
yourlittlebrownbag@gmail.com
Open 07.30-20.30 Monday-Friday; CLOSED Saturday & Sunday

See also:
The Straits Times’ coverage