I’ve never had vegetarian Japanese food before so when SW said he wanted to invite his vegetarian colleagues out for lunch, I jumped at the opportunity to suggest Isoya.
Firstly, my friend YK has been there twice since I mentioned it to her. So a repeat visit meant that it was worth trying. Secondly, it’s in my neighbourhood and a mere five minutes from our home.
Walking along the busy Wan Chai road (the section between Johnston and Queens Road East) Isoya is quite invisible. Unless you happen to see the green standee sign by the building’s glass doors, you would never know it is there.
Up on the 9th floor, the rather grubby lifts opens up to a lobby area with a lacquered gold wall and immediately, a feeling of unexpected tranquility.
Get through the traditional Japanese cloth doors and the space opens up to a bright, minimalist dining space which is spacious and clean. The tables were well arranged so that there was plenty of space and the furniture itself looked versatile and light.
We sat near the windows, the outside light muted by translucent window blinds. It lent a discreet yet natural atmosphere.
The menu is available in chinese and English. Essentially you have a choice of either a light set meal consisting of 2 starters, a main course and dessert or the deluxe set which allows you to select 3 starters and a main course, with a sushi platter and some tempura thrown in.
We decided to get one light set and one deluxe set to get a feel of the range.
For the starters, we chose the avocado salad, cabbage, egg plant and the yam-sesame pancake with skewered tomatoes. All were relatively small portions (for example there were just two smallish pieces of eggplant in a small sauce bowl) but fairly tasty. I liked the avocado salad and the yam pancakes the best.
For the mains, I got the tofu udon to share with the small person and SW got the vegetable curry rice.
I thought the udon portion was fine but the soup was a little too sweet. Perhaps it’s hard to get this right without the meat broth component. SW enjoyed his vegetable curry rice although he found it surprisingly spicy and slightly bitter.
The sushi platter was interesting if a little basic. The balance of vegetable to rice could have been adjusted so that the vegetables equalled the rice. For example the yellow pickle was just a sliver, the roasted vegetable was sliced so thin that you couldn’t really taste it. Great presentation though. Definitely made us feel like eating it. My suggestion would be that the chef should be more creative, maybe multi-layered vegetables or hand rolls.
The dessert, green tea mochi with a cream filling, was very nicely done. Not too bitter and not too sweet. The texture was perfect.
My thoughts are that this restaurant does well in aesthetics but it would’ve been good if they could make the vegetable components heartier. The carbohydrate portion seemed to overwhelm the meal, and it was a pity that the vegetarian restaurant had to resort to fillers when there could be so many interesting ways to present wholesome vegetables exclusively.
Having said that, the flavours certainly seemed more natural than many other chinese vegetarian joints which rely greatly on sauces and condiments to emphasise flavour.
We left feeling full but got hungry pretty quickly after, but that may be normal for vegetarian food.
There’s plenty of space for prams and strollers, ikea high chairs are available and child friendly cutlery. I think most kids could find this vegetarian place appealing.
Service was top notch and the rice tea was served warm in a double lined glass which was a nice touch.