We noticed En Izakaya while wandering Carlisle St a few years ago and made a mental note to come back one day. That day finally came this week as we celebrated some friends' upcoming move to the neighbourhood.
En's vegetarian options ran a little shorter than we remembered, and the vegan options shorter still. Nevertheless, our waiter cottoned on to our needs very quickly, steering us past the egg and mayonnaise and a dish that concealed fish stock.
The options that fit were fab. We started with a soba noodle salad ($12) with abundant fresh green leaves, cucumber, zucchini and tomato, all dressed in a killer wasabi & white miso vinaigrette.
The dumplings ($12) weren't the gyoza we expected: rather, starchy balls of sweet potato, carrot and mushroom in deep-fried batter. Your eyes don't deceive you - we ordered three plates of these!
The final kicker was this row of seared tofu and baked eggplant ($13) smothered in thick, sweet miso. Each molten mouthful was painfully delicious - I couldn't wait for it to cool down.
This is fairly fancy Japanese bar food with prices to match. While En's menu isn't designed with vegos in mind, what little we can order hits the high notes.
En Izakaya has generated consistently positive blog posts since it opened in 2009, from 1001 Dinners 1001 Nights, Expounder with Cheese, doublecooked, One Fat Cow and Asian Restaurants in Melbourne; only :: GOINGKOOKIES in MELBOURNE :: has been unimpressed.
277 Carlisle St, Balaclava
menu 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
Accessibility: We think En has a flat entry. Tables are densely packed but there is a clear corridor through the centre of the seating area. We received full table service and didn't visit the toilets.