This post couldn’t be timelier, given my recent grumblings about vegetarian burger options and how Japan is way ahead of the pack. Well, here’s more proof of the pudding (that’s invariably in the eating) – Kyoto’s very own Cafe Matsuontoko. After a day of hard cultural grafting in sub-zero temperatures, there are few places that can warm a vegetarian heart faster than an eatery that serves a variety of meat-free, carb-heavy meals. Cafe M ticks all the right boxes in this regard, as it serves up a veritable variety of vegan pizzas, pastas, burgers, curries, and a few salad dishes as well. Spoilt for choice! And yet when we visited they had unfortunately exhausted their supply of curry. So burgers it was.
Funnily enough, the lack of curry was not the only supply-side problem we faced that evening. Such was the harshness of the night that the beer kegs had frozen and we had to stick to the bottled stuff instead. And yet, despite having to wage constant war against the elements, the inside of Cafe Matsuontoko is as homely as you could hope. Anime was projected onto a big screen across the bar, and each seat was furnished with its own blanket. The bare necessities (cold beer and warm knees) in place, it was still a shame they had run out of curry. Curry, oh curry.
To start with, we had the smoked tofu with olives (¥530). It was presented as some sort of cheese platter for vegans: a few Meiji crackers, a handful of olives, and some smoked… Tofu? Why not! It was certainly interesting. The tofu looked and tasted like a cross between overly processed cheese, and overly processed ham. It did have an interesting, smokey flavour, but the overall impression was one of manufactured rubberiness that did its beautiful soya roots a disservice. I don’t think i’ll be waking up in the middle of the night craving for this stuff, but full marks for trying to elevate vegan fare to the echelons of canapé chic.
Moving on to the mains, the teriyaki fried soymeat burger (¥930 or ¥1,400 as part of the burger set) looked an awful lot like a chicken breast grilled with teriyaki sauce, such was the fidelity to its namesake. It smelt the part too – rich and tangy and begging to be devoured. And devoured it was, for it was delicious. Inside the buns was a generous dollop of mustard that really helped to cut the sweetness of the teriyaki glaze and, whilst the buns themselves were small, they were also very chewable and not unsatisfying.
As you can see, the burger came with a salad and French fries. The salad was delightful – lightly doused with a sesame-infused vinaigrette, it contained a pungent assortment of leaves. My favourite was the mizuna – with its jagged leaves and mildly peppery taste, it looked as angry as it tasted. Lots of attitude, very cool.
The miso katsu burger (¥980 or ¥1,400 as part of the burger set) used a unique, Kyoto-style miso paste to add flavour to the patty. It was sweet and fruity in flavour and, as you can see from the picture, creamy in colour and consistency. Again the physical resemblance to a chicken breast was uncanny, but the savoury-sweet flavour combination was a little too left-field for my conservative culinary leanings. My advice is to stick to the teriyaki burger – it’ll blow your socks off.
Maybe that explains the blankets…?!
538-6 Shijyo Agaru Shinkyougoku-dori, Nakano-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto-shi
Open 11:00-23:00 daily
Deep Kyoto’s review
Bon Voyage Vegan’s review
Just One More Spoon’s review
Big Tent Vegan’s review
So Koreazy’s review
To Happy Vegan’s review
Kansai Vegan’s review (in Japanese)