I found a Japanese restaurant in Angel & Islington, London and was sorely tempted NOT to write a review. Not because it was a bad place; on the contrary, it was one of the best Japanese meals that I’ve had outside Japan.
Forgive me Buddha but I was led astray by impure thoughts and wanted to keep the secret for myself! Having lived in Japan for some years, I am very particular about ‘washoku’ and usually disappointed outside Japan. Residing in the West again, I have taken to “settling” and accepting poor manifestations of Japanese cuisine (washoku). Of course, big cities like London will have good Japanese restaurants for high-spending expatriates and diplomats but at exorbitant prices. I won’t name the ones dotted around the Japanese Embassy in central London.
ZEN MONDO Japanese Dining
Classic Japanese cuisine with a modern twist, including sushi, sashimi, hot pots and noodle dishes.
Address: 326 Upper St, London N1 2QX, UK
Nearest Tube Station: Angel on the Northern Line (8 minutes walk)
ZEN MONDO Philosophy
To provide a comfortable and relaxing environment in which to enjoy our modern Japanese cuisine.
“Nourishment for body and soul.”
A mondō (問答) is collection of dialogues between a pupil and a rōshi (Zen Buddhist teacher). Zen tradition values direct experience and communication over scriptures. Taken to extreme, the instruction is to tear up the scriptures! However, sometimes the mondō acts as a guide on the method of instruction. One example of a non-Buddhist mondō is the ‘Sokuratesu-no-mondō’, the Japanese translation of “Socratic method”. Socrates asked his students questions in order to elicit the innate truth from assumed facts.
The owner, Ms Akemi, is an artist as well as chef and takes pleasure in choosing all the crockery and decor to provide the holistic experience. She says: “Delicious, healthy, affordable and fresh Japanese food for you and your family. That’s what’s on our menu – and we are glad you stopped by for a taste.”
Her art work is not yet for sale but you can leave your name and contact details for when she decides to do so…
The menu offers a small selection of the best of Japanese food with a modern twist. As well as their signature Sushi & Sashimi, they also offer hot dishes that are rare in London such as Sukiyaki, Ishikari Nabe & Butakaku.
For those on-the-run, the Bento Box selections can be picked up for the home or office.
A small selection of warm and cold sake has been curated by the chef for pairing with various foods. Uncommon drinks include yuzu and plum wines as well as sparkling or unfiltered sake.
It was probably my fault for the communication misunderstanding as I tried out my ‘Japlish’ (Japanese/English) on the waitresses. Later, I discovered they were Chinese and only the owner and chefs are Japanese. That is why I accidentally ended up with two large main courses and had no room for hot dishes or dessert.
The first impression is a harmonious palette as the crockery and sake cup have been selected to complement the food. Here an amuse bouche of diced simmered daikon accompanied my 2009 IWC gold medal-winning Uragazanryu Koka warmed sake. Fruity and Fresh with a hint of Nashi Pear, it is recommended with Sushi.
Sashimi Moriawase (18 pieces) £25
Tuna, Salmon, Snow Crab, Scallop, Sea Bass & Yellow Tail
Immediately, from the glistening surfaces, texture and smell, you could appreciate the freshness of the fish. Actually, there was only a faint odour of sea water, as it should be. Be aware that shellfish and oily, shiny fish (e.g. mackerel) are eaten very fresh but meaty fish (tuna, salmon, sea bass, yellowtail) need some aging for best umami flavour and tenderness.
As this was not a specialist sushi restaurant, I could forgive them for having only one type of soy sauce on the table instead of two different ones for sushi and sashimi. However, the selected soy sauce was a high grade dedicated variety. Although I would not expect freshly ground wasabi root, I was pleasantly surprised by the wasabi reconstituted from real wasabi.
The unusual decoration of grapes and flowers added to the Zen composition. There was no ōtoro (fatty tuna) or chu toro (middle fat tuna) available but the Hamachi (yellow tail) is actually my favourite raw fish. Foodie myth has it that a famous shogun died from overeating Hamachi…..
The unctuous morsel caressed my tongue and danced like an angel on its way down. Always save a shiso (perilla) leaf to wrap around the fattiest slice of meat for an exquisite experience.
I amused myself with an ‘ikebana’ arrangement of scallop, cucumber and nasturtium.
Sushi Moriawase Mondo
(7 Contemporary Nigiri, 4pcs Roll & 3 Sashimi) £25
Tuna, Yellow Tail, Salmon, Sea Bream, Prawn, Scallop, Snow Crab, Salmon & Avocado Roll & Tuna, Salmon & Yellow Tail Sashimi
This was my original preferred selection that mixed sushi and sashimi on the platter but the extra sashimi platter appeared earlier. They must have thought that I was some “gaijin glutton”….they’d be right! Truth be told, I prefer sushi because the soured warm rice makes for a great combination with raw fish especially if full of ‘umami’ goodness from the fatty types.
I had changed my sake selection to Garyubai Ginjō: a premium grade, pure rice sourced balanced brew served chilled. It was drier than the first sake but with a longer “tail” aftertaste.
By the time the last morsel had undulated “down the red lane”, my satisfaction was at a climax. Simply the Best!
Little touches like the deep fried shredded leek or banana shallot and caviar garnishes on the sushi made for a different experience than traditional techniques.
Bearing in mind that this cosy restaurant offers more than one type of food rather than the sushi specialist establishments, it has my AlphaLuxe Two-Thumbs Up!
Only as an academic reference for our readers, ZEN MONDO also serves other styles of Japanese cuisine.
The Signature Dishes here are the ‘chirashi’, a Western Japan / Kansai specialty of layers of seafood laid over sushi rice. I recommend Zanmai Chirashi: Tuna, Salmon, Yellow Tail, Scallop, Prawn, Sea Bream, Sea Bass, Snow Crab, Marinated Mackeral, Grilled Eel with Ikura (Salmon Roe) & Shredded Egg on Mixed Vegetable Sushi Rice.
The Noodle Selection includes Niku (meat) Udon or Soba, Nabeyaki Udon, and Kamo Namban (duck) Udon or Soba amongst others.
The Hot Pot Selection includes Mizudaki (Pork & Chicken), Shabu Shabu (Beef), Sukiyaki (Beef), Kaisen (Seafood) styles.
The Tempura Sets come in two flavours: Fiesta or Vegetable Lover.
There are three Dessert Sets: Matcha (green tea) Plate, Fruit Plate and Chocolate Plate.
They say, “Don’t Look back in Anger” but I just had to one more time as I bid farewell to ZEN MONDO…..distraught that I was heading the WRONG way!
AlphaLuxe Three-Tongues Award
Other AlphaLuxe Japanese Restaurant Reviews
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).