It takes courage to open a ‘destination’ restaurant, one so out of the way that diners must ‘seek to find’ it. Without walk-by foot traffic, destination restaurants depend on reputation and recommendation, other diners spreading the word about great food and service.
Izakaya Midori is one such restaurant. Opened in June 2019 in Reedy Creek in the space formerly occupied by The Allotment Café, this little izakaya (a place where you can sit down to have food and alcohol) is tucked away out of immediate view behind a few other shops. Remote in people’s imagination it may be, yet it’s not far off the highway at all.
Still, we’re a little surprised, when we visit mid-week for lunch, that every chair in the simple veranda space is taken. We’re soon to discover why.
Izakaya Midori is owned by Chef Fumiyoshi Iwasaki and his wife Yuka Otani, his business partner/manager Yuki Kanazawa and his wife Lilian Chang, who greets us warmly and takes our drink orders.
Midori (meaning ‘green’ in Japanese) is the Gold Coast’s first plant-based Japanese restaurant, our first and only vegan izakaya.
“It is a great pleasure for us to use the name ‘Izakaya Midori’ because of what it means in Japan. We try to live considering the welfare of other people, the earth and animals, and we hope to teach people the benefits of having a plant-based diet,” Chef Fumi says.
While there are some plant-based dishes on most izakaya menus, there’s also a lot of fish and chicken, so we’re intrigued to see the chef’s interpretation of plant-based izakaya fare.
Before long, Chef Fumiyoshi comes out to greet us. A chef for the past fifteen years, Chef Fumi has worked in two of our most respected Japanese restaurants. He secured a job at Kiyomi at The Star thanks to Executive Chef Chase Kojima, then his latest position has been at Yamagen with Executive Chef Adam Lane.
“After my wife became a vegan just over a year ago, I became a vegan too. Now I no longer want to cook meat,” he tells us.
“Cooking vegan Japanese food was not an easy task,” his wife Yuka explains, “as most Japanese seasonings are made using animal products, even for colour. Fumiyoshi researched all the products he uses. All the sauces and broths have to be made from scratch, not only replicating the taste of the original Japanese food, but making it taste even better than the original.”
The menu carries many Japanese favourites, from edamame (including a smoked version) to gyoza, and sushi to curries. It’s not all traditional fare though, the chef putting his own spin on well-known dishes and creating original new ones. With a mixture of share plate dining and bowl food, there’s something to please everyone!
Our lunch dishes begin to arrive.
It’s fitting that the signature Midori Ramen, a plant-based dish, is a deep rich green soup containing ramen and vegan pork mince. It’s not only deliciously addictive but also Insta-worthy. We are so intrigued that we ask Yuka about the dish’s origins.
“Fumiyoshi wanted to make a new category of ramen. It’s not vegan miso ramen, vegan shoyu ramen or vegan tan-tan men. It’s Midori ramen,” she says.
“He tried to make the soup and topping to be well-balanced in taste with plenty of body that spreads in the mouth so that people get hooked on this taste [as we did]. Midori Ramen gains its colour from the spinach paste that Chef Fumi makes. Its thickness comes from sesame, and the body broth is made from vegetables and seaweed.”
Mushrooms carry a umami of flavour for vegetarians and vegans, with every mushroom dish we try at Midori a winner. A platter of Eringi X, King Oyster mushrooms with a vegan XO sauce, is beautifully presented, as is the King Mushroom Ceviche, a vegan version of Kiyomi’s ‘modern Japanese-style’ kingfish ceviche, using the same sauce (with permission).
Both mushroom dishes are exquisitely presented – beautiful and soul-pleasing.
Vegan Katsu Don is a soy-based dish, the ‘chicken’ pleasant in texture. Several other donburi bowls are available, including karaage and teriyaki bowls that we’d like to try another time.
Assorted sushi provides a balance of toppings between the lighter vegetables (peeled sliced tomato and cucumber) and deeper, darker umami toppings of mushroom, tempeh and seaweed caviar.
This is food that vegans and plant food lovers will go out of their way to find. In fact, we haven’t seen this finesse in veganism since From Earth and Water. It’s world class!
Moreover, there’s a depth and philosophy to the restaurant that is greater than veganism alone.
Midori’s owners tell us that it’s about “a future for Japanese food with wabi-sabi [the Zen Buddhist belief in accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished and transient; valuing purity, simplicity and imperfection] that makes the earth, people’s health and animals happy.” It’s about providing their best hospitality possible using plants.
As one diner recently commented, “This is handmade food, served up with love and a genuine concern for the diner [and the planet]. It’s a combination that’s hard to beat.” We couldn’t agree more! Midori is a destination well worth seeking out.
Shop 7/50 Woodland Drive Reedy Creek Ph: 07 5645 6625
Open: Sun, Mon, Wed and Thurs 11am – 8:30pm (last order at 8pm); Fri – Sat 11am – 10:30pm (last order at 9:30pm)
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast dined as a guest of Izakaya Midori.