I’ve always been big on the ‘sharing is caring’ motto, and it seems to be a sweeping trend amongst restaurants to follow suit. Offering a selection of small plates, big plates and hearty dishes, Nanban, a self-proclaimed Japanese soul food restaurant in Brixton, caters for both those wanting to try a bit of everything on the menu and those with one-bowl-for-me appetites.
The beauty of Brixton is that at any point in time you could be in the middle of a Turkish medina, an Italian pizzeria, Spanish Taverna or a Japanese beer joint. Right in the heart of Coldharbour Lane, just around the corner from Brixton Station and the buzzing multicultural scene of Brixton Village, Nanban really could not be better located. Boasting an air of refined cool, and an easy-going NY speakeasy vibe, it’s the type of place where you can chill out with a beer in the downstairs booths or by the bar, or head upstairs to dine looking out the large window on the street below, in a bright and airy space where you chow down until the soul is content.
On a Saturday night the venue is largely filled with friends catching up, grabbing a bite to eat before heading out to the bars, locals coming to get their regular dishes, and with owner and head chef Tim Anderson being a family man himself, it’s definitely welcoming of families of all ages. The perfect environment to sip on an ice cold craft beer at the end of a long day, or even if you’ve just been chilling in the park, it’s worth grabbing a pint of Nanban’s own collaborative beer, Pressure Drop 5.5 NanBan Kanpai (£5.50). I’m not the biggest beer drinker myself, but found this to be a well-balanced, bittersweet IPA with zesty grapefruit undertones that cry out to be accompanied for some tasty fried chicken, or in our case KFJ (£4.95), marinated deep-fried jackfruit with a honey-miso mayo.
As recommended by the menu, we ordered a few small plates each to share a ‘full on feast’ - this was mainly to avoid food envy, but also because we wanted everything on the menu. Being an avid scotch egg fan I had to try the Third Best Scotch Egg - a tea-pickled egg, wrapped in pork mince and flavoured with Scotch bonnet, bamboo shoots and garlic chips before being panko-crusted and deep-fried. This was Tim Anderson's 2018 entry in the Scotch egg challenge, and surely deserved of a place in the top three. The yolk was a beautiful shade of orange, gooey-soft in the middle, encased in a hearty pork mince with bold flavours. The cocktails were a feast for the eyes too. My Japanese Liberace (£10) was a refreshing, summer mix of Courvoisier, rose water, lemon and ginger, livened up with some interestingly flavoured gins and pear sake. Decorated with rose petals and served in a wooden box, it’s one to sip at delicately with both hands.
The remaining plates started to flow in one after another. First the Hanetsuki Gyoza, a dry aged pork gyoza with crispy ‘wings’. This was unusually presented (in my experience at least) with the gyozas still joined together in a circle. Fronting a crispy top and soft underside it offered a mix of different textures and flavours with each bite. At Nanban you just have to order a carafe of Sake to sip alongside the food - we tried the Kameizumi (£8.50 per 125ml), chef Tim’s favourite - which was a light and fruity sake, easy to drink and a perfect accompaniment to the strong, authentic Japanese flavours of the dishes. I also realised that I've definitely been drinking the wrong type of sake until now.
Next up was the Brixton Market Tempura (£4.50), a dish that changes depending on what’s looking good at Brixton market that day. Tonight it’s the mackerel, which at first I wasn’t too interested in but my partner in crime persuaded me and I’m all the better for it - the taste of the light tempura batter soaking up the delicious tsuyu dipping sauce, added to the freshness of the fish, was a delight. We of course had to mix this with a meat option, so out came the Chicken Karaage (£5.95) - delightful Japanese fried chicken with honey miso dip - and what turned out to be my favourite veggie dish of the night, the Sweet Miso Aubergine (£4.50). Glazed with caramelised miso sauce, the aubergine was so sweetly soft you could pull it away from the skin and scoop it up with the crispier textures of the pine nuts and potato crisps that accompanied it.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Fronting top quality dishes, intricate flavours and textures, and fresh, locally sourced ingredients, in Nanban, Tim Anderson has masterfully translated what you'd expect from a high-end venue into a welcoming, easy-going joint to enjoy good quality beer and sake with some very soulful food.