Nanban: Japanese Comfort Food In Brixton
Japanese comfort food is something we can use a lot more of in London, right? If the likes of ramen, okonomiyaki, katsu curry and these cornflake-covered, egg mayo-filled buns are anything to go by, then please do bring it all to us with roe on top. It seems that we are in luck, too, because this is food that Masterchef winner Tim Anderson gets excited about, and after numerous successful pop ups and residencies he’s opened a whole restaurant dedicated to ‘Japanese soul food’ in Brixton. This part-Japanese pub, part ramen bar is located on what some people might call the wrong side of Brixton market, but that won’t be the case for too long. Hopefully this marks the beginning of some excitement for this dreary end of Coldharbour Lane, which has none of the character of the buzzy markets, and has been let down by the weirdly sterile re-development outside The Ritzy.
We reverse onto short stools in the downstairs restaurant (advice: book a table upstairs if you’re more than a party of two), and start with some Electric Eel (a reference to the nearby Electric Avenue and the tingle from the sansho pepper) and Horumon Yaki, which is pig tripe in a miso sauce. The oleaginous eel is topped with quenching cucumber and a tangle of contorted fried noodles which remind us of Bombay Mix (that's a complement) while the tripe manages to do something we never thought possible, which is to make us enjoy tripe again under any circumstances. Bravo for that. At Nanban, slivers come slippery in a full-on sauce, meaning they’re more of a fun texture to chase around the mouth, less like a competitive eating challenge. Our chopsticks click frantically until the bowl is clean.
Of the larger plates, Curry Goat Tsukemen is brilliant. A cross between the classic Caribbean dish curry goat and Japanese dipping ramen, it’s thick and murky in the best possible sense, the curry equivalent of gravy scrapings from the roast meat pan, or the crisp edge pieces of lasagna. There’s a tea pickled egg on top, and scotch bonnet infused bamboo shoots, which is a lovely way of working in the essential Caribbean pepper. Next time you feel like curry goat, ditch those identikit takeaway versions and give this a try instead.
Mentaiko Pasta immediately becomes our new happy place. Spaghetti is served in a chilli-cured roe sauce, rendering it creamy with tiny pearlescent eggs. It's softer than bottarga, and helped along by an onsen egg (a just set egg with a runny yolk) which collapses under the tip of a chopstick, so it ends up as a big messy bowl that clasps you to its bosom and holds you there until you feel better. There's also Parmesan, pancetta, aonori seaweed…yes it’s salty, and that’s just how we like it thank you very much. The serving size is massive, too, and therefore entirely correct. We glug back a couple of Pressure Drop IPAs, one of their 'Nanban collaboration beers' with yuzu, orange and grapefruit and promise that soon, very soon, we'll brave the shochu selection.
Somehow, we forgot to order the soft serve ice cream for dessert, and can only blame this on the carb coma. Next time, for there will be many. Nanban is perfect for Brixton, with its fun, casual menu blending Japanese comfort food dishes with local Caribbean staples from Brixton’s markets. You can go alone and stick your face into a bowl of that pasta, or you can go with friends, sit in a wheeled-carriage booth and order the lot. Mostly however, it sticks a big old tick in the box next to FUN. On Christmas Eve for example, they followed Japanese tradition by offering a fried chicken menu, the perfect antidote to frazzled last minute shopping and the imminent consumption of too much cheese and boozy fruit. We wish we’d been there.
Nanban, 426 Coldharbour Lane, SW9 8LF
Last Updated 08 January 2016