Where: Neko Neko, 83A Smith Street Fitzroy
What: What a vegan would eat in Japan, should such a place exist
Bloat score: 0 – Living the Dream
Vegetarian ramen lovers, fret no more – there is a new cutesy Japanese eatery that does not only vegetarian ramen, but vegan ramen.
It’s always awkward when you want to have ramen out with friends and you choose a place (such as this one in the city, which is amazing) but then upon arrival, learn that they only make pork-based broths – making you the subject of serious death stares from that friend who’s a better person than you and has made a lifetime vow to not eat meat.
To avoid this, I’ve chosen to a) refrain from visiting the vegetarian-friendly yet massive hipster bastardisation that is Shop Ramen and b) ostracise my vegetarian friends when I’m in a ramen mood and go out with that one ramen-loving friend I have who isn’t vegetarian and isn’t averse to pork. She has now moved away, however, so Neko Neko couldn’t have sprung up at a better time, for everyone else I know is vegetarian.
This all makes it sound as though I ordered the vegan ramen at Neko Neko, but whether my ramen uses egg-free noodles or not, it still makes me bloat. And a mushroom broth, which is what the ramen at Neko Neko consists of, would have possibly been worse for me than the typical pork broth.
And although Neko Neko has many options for vegans – think vegan nasu dengaku, raw vegan okonomiyaki, and quinoa and chickpea gyoza – it also prides itself on being a place for pescatarians. There is no red meat or white meat, but there is lots of fish.
Neko Neko has a simple menu, but the star of it – other than said ramen – are the teishoku set meals, which is akin to an Indian thali meal where you get to try a bit of everything. Each teishoku set meal has a choice of protein in the middle surrounded by black/brown rice and nibbles such as curried cauliflower, potato salad, pickled zucchini and a sushi roll. The proteins range from vegan options such as agedashi tofu, bean and potato croquettes and nasu dengaku to panko salmon, teriyaki balsamic salmon, tuna karaage, king prawn tempura and salmon/tuna sashimi.
I went with the near unhealthiest option I could get my hands on in such a wholesome place – the panko-crumbed salmon with wasabi tartar sauce.
The teishoku set was a smorgasbord of flavours and perfect for people who get FOMO such as me, and who often opt for sharing a few things between friends rather than ordering something for themselves. It also had minimal amounts of onion and garlic, as far as I could ascertain from the incredibly friendly waiter, and didn’t result in a bloat after. What will be the point of this blog, you may soon wander? My last review was a zero-bloat review as well.
My dining companion ordered the Japanese curry equivalent of my dish and commented that it was a much heartier and thicker sauce than she was used to (we were both comparing it to Don Don, which is the best, but perhaps not the pinnacle of Japanese curries).
What I loved about Neko Neko is that I didn’t feel like gorging myself on Messina after I finished my meal, which I am prone to doing if I have something quite healthy because it’s almost like I’ve cheated my body, y’know? My set meal was filling, it was nourishing, but most of all – it was delicious.
The place itself is tiny, with a few window seats and a triangular table in the centre forming the communal space through which diners sit at, but I found that we were able to stay for close to two hours, and the wait-staff at Neko Neko had no problem with that (although I should note that it was a Monday night and that things could well be different on a Friday or Saturday night).
I can’t wait to return to Neko Neko and try the teishoku set meal with another protein or if I’m feeling up to four bloats, I may even try its vegan ramen.
Neko Neko is open from 12pm to 3pm and 5.30pm to 10pm Monday to Frday and from 5.30pm to 10pm on Saturday.