Japanese soul food with an infusion of Brixton market flavours, Nanban was your classic popping-up nomad diner until MasterChef Professionals winner Tim Anderson put more solid roots down for his offbeat Japanese Ramen Izakaya bar. To which this correspondent’s rule of local dining thumb shall be applied. If this were in Soho, would I be walking in? And walking out, would I be impressed? Just being on the doorstep isn’t enough.
Nanban is home to a curious and interesting menu. If I was short of a thesaurus I’d say eclectic. Snacks, small plates and main courses, showing off Japanese inspired creations with little splashes of innovation and on-the-doorstep market foraging. And burgers as a curiously sideways alternative. They even serve a Japanese carbonara so be thinking global fusion with an oriental drumbeat.
Chicken Karaage – marinated deep fried chicken thighs are something of a signature starter. I’m not completely sure why but a nice indulgent first base. More interesting was Electric Eel – smoked eel with sansho pepper, apple, cucumber and daikon, a finessed combination of meaty eel and delicate pickled veg. Salmon Kake-ae – vinegar cured salmon with daikon, carrot, cucumber and miso-sesame dressing fused a milky miso dressing to oily salmon and sharp vinegar while Beef Tataki was a westernised seared sliced sirloin with chive salt and grated horseradish.
And on to what are, for me, the essence of Nanban, Anderson’s steaming soupy, noodle, brothy large bowls. To dive for. Kumamoto Pork Ramen – nose-to-tail pork broth noodles with garlic chips, pork belly, tea pickled egg and mustard greens (they like a tea pickled egg here) was a homely bowl of spice, kick, bold flavour and sharp pickle around slow cooked strips of pork belly.
Surpassed by Lazy Goat Tsukemen – braised goat in a spicy curry broth with tea pickled egg, seafood sawdust, shallots, noodles and bamboo shoots. With the emphasis on deep meaty goat and an invigorating heat. I like the fact Anderson works his neighbourhood market and the Caribbean meets Japan synthesis. Both palates would welcome the heat. Washed down with draft Kirin.
Easy to eat in (and, yes you can book) Nanban is serving innovative, interesting, sanely priced dishes with little splashes of culinary dash far beyond a local oriental diner or the middle of the road familiarity of Wagamama. They do weekday lunch deal ramens for practically the price of a pint and that’s a good deal whether you are in Brixton, deepest Soho or downtown Tokyo.