On the face of it, London’s Japanese restaurants might not appear to be the likely champions of vegetarian-friendly cuisine… Just the mention of Nobu or Roka would have you thinking of black cod miso or rock shrimp tempura! Yet both establishments have always done well by my veggie lot (and long before flexitarianism became an official dietary label).
From fine dining favourites to hidden gems, here’s where I get my fix of Japanese classics…
NOBU OLD PARK LANE
This year saw the launch of the Nobu hotel in Shoreditch, adding to their prolific presence in Mayfair’s Berkeley Street and Old Park Lane. It’s the latter which remains my perennial favourite for its trendy yet laid-back appeal that’s appropriate for any time or day of the week, for smaller or larger gatherings and for dressing up or down – it really just depends on you and your mood!
Reflecting Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa’s short stints in Lima and Buenos Aires, the menu features a South American twist, showcasing Peruvian dishes, flavours and seasonings. Star billing goes to the tofu steak, pan-seared with the restaurant’s signature anticucho sauce for a spicy kick. Other vegetarian hits include the warm mushroom salad; asparagus laced with dries miso; and of course – nasu miso, a sweet and sticky sliver of grilled aubergine, garnished with sesame. Just make sure to save room for the chocolate bento box afterwards…
Nobu, Metropolitan Hotel London, 19 Old Park Lane W1K 1LB
ZUMA & ROKA
The buzz-worthy sister restaurants by chef Rainer Becker really need no introduction. Zuma is still as fashionable as the day it was launched back in 2002, but if you fancy a more relaxed, smart-casual setting – then Roka will do nicely. The micro-chain has come a long way since its original (much-lauded) opening on Charlotte Street, with larger branches now located in Aldwych & Canary Wharf.
I’m forever partial to the robata grill counter at the smaller Mayfair outpost, where I’m often found gossiping with the girls over endless rounds of lychee martinis, as we feast on their vegan twist on Japanese staples. Think veggie nigiri, aubergine glazed with mirin and miso, fiercely-grilled tofu skewers and a decidedly meaty rice toban (hot-pot) loaded with truffles and Japanese mushrooms. Truth be told, there’s nothing which hits a more heartwarmingly rich spot!
Roka Mayfair, 30 N Audley St, Mayfair W1K 6ZF
Other fine-dining favourites include the new Asian restaurant at Four Seasons at Ten Trinity Square, majoring in both Chinese and Japanese cuisines. The bar is a cosy spot to perch at, offering a front-row seat to watch as your sushi is assembled with an artful aplomb. Vegetarians are not exempt from the show either, with my tempura maki roll wow-ing on a recent visit for its gloriously-crunchy yet surprisingly-light texture.
Of course, an Asian riff on cocktails is also in order – each intriguingly presented in a ceramic glass fashioned after the four key elements of Chinese astronomy (the azure dragon of the east; white tiger of the west; black turtle of the north; and vermilion bird of the south)! Full review, here.
Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, 10 Trinity Square EC3N 4AJ
It’s worth taking time out for a sumptuous lunch at this Pan-Asian restaurant tucked away at the top of Harrods (on the same level as Shoe Heaven), before you trot off in search of that next pair of party heels. The dedicated vegetarian menu is as expansive as it is excellent (crisp sweet potato sushi anyone?), with the melting chocolate sphere and green tea & white chocolate fondant adding a fabulous flourish to finish with. Full review, here.
Chai Wu, Harrods, 87-135 Brompton Rd, Knightsbridge SW1X 7XL
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DREAMIEST desserts last night @ChaiWuLondon – one of my favourite pan-Asian restaurants, tucked away at the top @Harrods // Mum made quick work of this chocolate sphere (doused with ALL the toffee caramel). While I pretty much inhaled that light-as-air green tea & white chocolate fondant! A special shout-out to @Alegaro86 for the lush, off-menu cocktails 🍸🍸 #MatchaMarvellous #ChaiWu #DessertTime #DessertTable #FoodieLife #TheFoodieDiariesLondon
What this hidden gem off Baker Street is lacking in ambience, it more than makes up for with dishes that are fresh, creative and beguilingly-beautiful in presentation. The veggie sushi here is undoubtedly the best I’ve had in London, with the kitchen amenable to preparing gutsily-textured alternatives to their signature specials such as the Mysterious Dr. Watson roll.
Ohisama is co-founded by ex-Nobu chef of 15 years, Segu Mohamed Lareef, so you can expect all the classics too – right down to the dreamiest rendition of nasu dengaku (so deliciously tender that it gives the original a good run for its money!).
Ohisama Sushi, 39 Paddington Street W1U 4HH
STICKS ‘n’ SUSHI
Sticks ‘n’ Sushi is a Danish export, originally founded 18 years ago in Copenhagen by brothers Jens and Kim Rahbek and Thor Andersen who combined their half-Japanese, half-Danish background to create a distinctive culinary experience.
As the name would suggest, the focus is on sticks (grilled skewers) and sushi, often manifesting in unusual but enticing combinations. Having enjoyed a memorable visit to the original outpost in Covent Garden, I’m definitely convinced to try their latest opening in Nova Victoria. Billed as “a sushi restaurant even for those who don’t like fish,” it promises more vegetarian choices than you can shake a stick at…
Sticks and Sushi, Unit 3-5 3 Sir Milton Square, SW1E 5EB
A Foodie’s job is never done, so do be sure to check back for updates with the latest recommendations!