Simply Sublime. New Japanese restaurant WANOBA gets creative with vegetables

By on June 5, 2014
If you have turned away from a meat-based diet and you live in Tokyo, chances are, finding a vegetable-focused restaurant that offers a diverse selection of flavours and quality can be irksome.
According to the Japan Vegetarian Society website, there are only 104 accredited vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo, a paltry size for a big city of 13 million population. Yokohama is even worst with only 22.

When Japanese restaurateurs EPLGA decided to open a restaurant in September 2013, they decided to create one that was seriously lacking in the Tokyo food scene- a place that fills the diverse needs of diners and promotes Japanese flavours. They called it Vegetable House WANOBA 和の場, (a place for Japanese taste), making skillful use of only fresh homegrown produce without the help of any imported ingredient. Even zucchinis, shallots and bell peppers are all sourced locally. “The restaurant’s philosophy is to serve fresh vegetables that are truly tasty and promote good health,” describes Johnny the house chef. Johnny was for 10 years a chef at various Italian restaurants in Tokyo. He draws inspiration from Italian cuisine and fuses homegrown artichokes, zucchinis, etc with Japanese recipes. His sous-chef Tetsu Yamagachi had worked in a number of restaurant/bars serving fusion cuisine.

WANOBA is located in Ebisu sanchome between Roppongi and central Shibuya area. Wanoba has a very casual feel with simple minimalist interior design and a neat washi (Japanese paper) wall decor as accent at the center of the room. For a more cozy feel, there are two tiny private corners for a group of 3 and 4 (warning: one is really tiny even for one with an average height but will be perfect for those with babies). An open kitchen greets you at the door with a bar seating for 6 people. The place is open for private parties of 25 people or less.

I started my Wanoba experience with what many know as the simplest but complicated-to-cook dish – the Tofu cutlet (840 yen). Deep fried to perfection, the agedofu is golden crispy on the outside but has a melt-in-your-mouth texture on the inside. Topped with tobiko (flying fish roe), shizo leaves and shirasu (whitebait), the bite was an explosion of pleasing Japanese flavours. This protein-rich dish will definitely keep hunger pangs at bay!

IMGP0050Taka, the friendly English-speaking staff at the place guides us to the popular plate for pollotarianists- the house’s sizzling Lotus Root steak (735 yen), chicken-stuffed lotus holes seasoned a la teriyaki. The stark contrast of teriyaki sweetness and lime twist will distract your taste buds in a good way.

IMGP0057To Johnny, using fresh vegetables is just one secret to whipping up a good dish. Johnny relies on science tricks to transform a simple boring dish into a plate delight. “Take for example the case of grilled vegetables. There’s a great difference in taste between cooking with charcoal and gas. Unlike gas, charcoal heats up really fast. The extreme infrared radiation of charcoal hinders the juices and flavours from escaping, sealing all the essential nutrients you want from your veggies,” explains the chef.
For some who prefer only the all-natural taste of fresh vegetables sans seasoning, try a cocktail of steamed veggies (cauliflower, bell peppers, zucchinis, shallots, baby carrots, etc.) with flavours all locked up in a special cast-iron Dutch oven drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

IMGP0063Have your meat and eat it too
Called a Vegetable House, Wanoba conjures up notions of a place that serves only veggies. The truth is Wanoba aims to please everyone. Pescatarians can pick any from Herb crusted White Fish Roast (1,260 yen), Oven grilled catch of the day (1,680 yen), and White Wine Steamed Sea bass with soup (1,470 yen). Seafood lovers don’t have much of a choice as only Shrimp and Seasonal Vegetable Frite (945 yen) is on the menu.  Dining carnivores have a much better selection: Charcoal-grilled Star Pork from Kagoshima (1,575 yen, 200 g; 2,310 yen 300 g), Roasted Jidori chicken from Miyazaki (1,680 yen), Wanoba Special Hamburg (1,260 yen, 180 g; 2,100 yen, 360g) and Oven-grilled smoked lamb chop (1,680 yen). Wine, sake and champagne are also available.

All’s well that ends well
After a hearty meal comes the best part – desserts. Wanoba serves tantalising cheese flavoured ice cream cake (630 yen), chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream (735 yen) and apple pie with vanilla ice cream (735 yen) served in small portions. Who needs more servings after a heavy meal anyway!


Wanoba is an 8-minute walk from Ebisu station.Open for lunch and dinner (6pm-2 am)
IMGP0041_2_2_2IMGP0071_3Vegetarian House WANOBA
3-1-1 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Open Mon-Sat Lunch-Dinner

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