In the past, we have struggled to find a good range of vegetarian or vegan food in Tokyo. We tried a macrobiotic place on the top floor of a department store once that charged the earth for the tiniest portions. We used to like going to the café in the basement of the Crayon House bookstore, when it used to be all vegetarian, but recently it seems to have changed to veg friendly, with only a monthly all-veg dining session. Our top favourite is still Bon, and on our 2014 trip we headed there for our 5th Wedding Anniversary meal. It was every bit as good as the meal we had for my 40th birthday. We even dined in the same private tatami room.
Last time we dined here was during autumn. Our 2014 trip was during the spring, so the courses were slightly different, fitting in with the season and what produce was naturally available. Our wedding anniversary also coincided with Boys’ Day in Japan, and one of our 13 courses was based around some of the symbolism of Boys’ Day.
Some of the other dishes we ate:
The craftsmanship of the dishes was as stunning as we remembered. We were told the meanings of each dish, but I can’t remember them all! The third image is of a piece of potato cut and cooked to resemble a piece of sushi. I do remember that one!
Bon is a special treat kind of place, though. We’d soon be on our uppers if we ate there every night!
In 2014, we noticed an increase in listings on our trusty favourite Happy Cow. Intrigued, I read up on why this might be, and it seemed that, post-Fukushima, there was a swing in Japanese eating habits towards organic and healthier foods. A by-product of this for us was an increase in places we could eat with confidence on our most recent trip.
One place we tried was just across the road from Crayon House. Called Brown Rice Café, it seems to be a wholefood café that happens to be vegan rather than one based on vegan philosophy. The menu is a strong one, using fresh seasonal vegetables from all around Japan to create a delicious balance of flavour and nutrition. We both had set meals from the menu. I chose the seasonal steamed vegetable set, which was made up of fifteen different kinds of steam veg with brown rice, salad, a miso dip, sakura salt and miso soup.
My husband had the daily set menu, but I didn’t make a note of what it consisted of! Both came with a drink and, because we’d had a busy day and were feeling the effects of lots of walking, we went for the ume-sho bancha.
This was a revelation. Black tea blended with Japanese plum (ume) and ginger. For me it was the embodiment of the Japanese concept of umami. It’s hard to describe the flavours, but it was rich and comforting and spicy all at once.
Despite the generous size of the portions in our set meals, we had room for dessert. My banana and maple syrup cake was delicious, and came with a whipped soy cream.
According to a reviewer on Happy Cow, the restaurant is currently closed for refurbishment (June 2014-September 2014), but once it is open again, I definitely recommend it as a place to eat for anyone visiting Tokyo. Vegan or no.
Our second new dining experience was at another vegan café in Minato, a short stroll from Omotesando. Pure Café is located in the Aveda building just across Aoyama Dori from Brown Rice Café. We headed here for lunch after a morning visit to the Japanese Sword Museum in Yoyogi and a stroll through Yoyogi Park via Meiji Jingu. The reviews on Happy Cow seemed decent enough and we figured that paying more for smaller portions was worth it just to be sure we weren’t eating anything meaty or fishy!
It was really busy, and it’s quite a small space, right next door to the Aveda store it shares a building with. We joined a queue to place our order at the counter. There is an English menu, which gave the impression that we might just have missed the lunchtime specials. When I tried out my Japanese on the member of staff behind the counter to ask whether we were too late to order from the lunch menu, she looked at me blankly. Happy Cow said that the staff speak English, so I asked in Japanese, “英語を話しますか?” (do you speak English?), to which the reply was no, so I just plunged in and ordered from the lunch selection anyway.
We were given a number and went to find a seat in the very crowded dining area. We ended up sitting at the breakfast bar bench in the window, squeezing in next to a tiny Japanese woman who was occupying a surprising amount of space.
When our number was called, we headed back to the counter to collect our trays of food. I had the special lunch plate, which was made up of a really tasty tofu curry with soya yogurt, a salad, an avocado spring roll, brown rice and a cup of Darjeeling tea. I thought the price tag of 1200円 (about £7) for a decent sized tray of food was a lot more reasonable than I was expecting it to be.
We were so tired and hungry following the exertions of our morning expedition that neither of us took any photographs of this meal. You’ll have to take it on trust that it looked good as well as tasted good!
The dinner menu looks good as well, so maybe we’ll try it in the evening next time we’re in Tokyo, and I’ll remember to take some pictures.