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It’s rare that I make the short journey to Brixton these days due to no other reason than laziness. A long walk, a train and a tube makes it just too challenging to tempt me down. Every now and then though I hear of a new restaurant that just manages to intrigue me enough to lace up my boots and get walking.
Nanban is not particularly new, I have been wanting to go there for months, but for some reason every time I have been scheduled to go something has gotten in the way. Try as the universe might it should know that it can’t keep me away from ramen for long!
Ramen reviews have been plentiful on WBLF recently and for very good reason. Ramen seems to be the go-to dish in the capital, the new hottest trend. Nanban is much more than your typical stripped down ramen bar, like Shoryu or Kanada-ya, one look at the menu and you can see that this is a fully fledged Japanese izakaya here to take london by storm.
On walking in one of the first things you notice are the subtle Japanese symbols adorning the room, reminding you of where you are at each turn. In front of you tables made from reclaimed wood and bold wrought iron give the decor an earthy warm feeling.
We sat down in our table nicely positioned in the bay window. Having folded ourselves into the bench seats we placed our drinks orders, 2 gin and tonics for the girls and a couple of Kirin pints for the boys, and got to work perusing the menu. The menu itself is large and quite varied with options of snacks, small plates, larger dishes and ramen. As a bit of a Japanese veteran I immediately knew what I wanted, some edamame beans, karaage chicken and the Kumamoto pork ramen.
The edamame was what you would expect from edamame at most restaurants, well cooked with a bit of bite left and sprinkled with a delightful mix of flaky salt and black sesame seeds. Next arrived my karaage chicken, for those unaware this is a Japanese way of marinating and frying meats, most often chicken, in a delicious crispy batter. This particular karaage was made using chicken thighs lightly marinated before being fried and I have to profess that this is some of the best I have had the privilege of eating. Not only was the batter beautifully crispy and the chicken wonderfully tender, but sprinkled on the top was a hint of an amazing sweet and salty spice mix taking the the flavour to another level.
Needless to say after my appetisers I was keen for my ramen to arrive. The Kumamoto pork ramen is slightly different from the other tonkotsu ramens you tend to find elsewhere in London. The main difference in this one is the addition of fried garlic and the omission of the nori and wood ear fungus staying true to this particular ramen’s origins. Before long the ramen arrived as did my side orders of extra chicken thighs, pork belly and a tea pickled egg. Having had Kanada-Ya ramen for a second time only a week prior this was always going to be a head to head comparison.
Nanban serve their noodles on the harder side, which I am a fan of but others may find off-putting. The first thing I noticed before beginning to slurp my way through was the very thick broth coating everything in the bowl whilst letting off a wonderful meaty aroma. First tastes were encouraging, the broth had some potent flavour, without quite the complexity and depth of the Kanada-Ya equivalent. The pork belly was thickly cut and melted away into the bowl leaving chunks of lovely tender meat to be mixed with the fried garlic and spring onions. As I always do I left the tea pickled egg till nearly last and this did not disappoint with the yolk a lovely jelly-like consistency and a beautiful umami flavour from the pickling.
I didn’t try enough of the menu at Nanban to be able to pass complete judgment on it, but if the rest of the is even half as good as what I tried then it is obvious that Masterchef winner Tim Anderson will not be plying his trade confined to Brixton for much longer. Did I prefer the ramen at Kanada-Ya? Yes, marginally, and that is down to personal preference over any issues with the ramen at Nanban. I can safely say this is a restaurant to get down to again and again. I know I will be going back to sample more of the amazing looking menu as soon as I possibly can. Watch this space…