Nanban [Brixton, London]

I’d been waiting a few years for this one to open. Tim Anderson’s food was something I’d wanted to try since he won Masterchef in 2011. This restaurant had been on the horizon for ages, with a false start in East London that got canned for one reason or another a couple of years ago. Since then I believe Tim had been hosting various popups, and has now finally launched a permanent location 5 minutes from Brixton tube station. In the time it’s taken him to launch, ramen has gone from nowhere to everywhere, so I was interested to see how this would rank.

We went on the Friday of their first normal week of opening (I believe they soft-launched the weekend before). Service was fairly muddled. Our drinks order got lost, and staff stumbled over dish explanations when they arrived. I’m sure these issues will be ironed out in time. The restaurant was showing as fully booked online after 19:15 the day we dined, but by the time we left there were still plenty of empty tables. Groups of 2 were mainly being sat at stools around the perimeter of the upstairs dining room, but there were some tables for larger groups. The kitchen is downstairs with more seating.

Food was much better than the service. To start, we shared the Chicken Karaage, and the Electric Eel. The chicken was moist, and batter had good flavour - I’d made this recipe from his book and this was pretty similar, but in the restaurant version the chicken itself didn’t take on as much of the marinade flavour. Far better than a recent portion of the equivalent dish at Tonkotsu. I think this might have been the first time I’d had eel, so nothing to compare it with but I really enjoyed it.

Main courses were the Kumamoto Ramen and the Curry Goat Tsukemen. The ramen had the richest, dirtiest stock of any I’d had. It was great, but I don’t want to know how much fat must have gone into it. The customer next to me was warned by the waitress in advance that it really wasn’t healthy - I’d never seen that in a restaurant but I got no such warning - they must have been trying to tell me something!

The tsukemen was a portion of curry quite dense with goat meat, alongside a portion of noodles to dip in it. This was also delicious, the curry had a good level of spicing and the noodles were accompanied with an excellent scotch bonnet pickled menma which packed a punch.

All the portion sizes seemed slightly on the small side, but I didn’t leave hungry so that must have been my eyes. The menu has a couple of other ramens and non ramens and various small dishes. Drinks menu contained a few Japanese and London craft beers along with the various beers that Tim has collaborated on.

They plan to have a form of Japanese soft serve ice cream for dessert, but this machine was out of action when we were there.

All in all, an enjoyable meal worth venturing from the East End for.

Thanks for the report. Glad to see he’s finally managed open somewhere, given the false starts. Britxon’s not far for me so will give it a go.
Speaking of the ramen how rich and fatty is the stock compared to Bone Daddies tonjitsu?

I was also really, really excited for Nanban to open ever since he featured and won on Masterchef. I went to Nanban last Friday but came out a little underwhelmed, I suppose. Everything felt a bit rushed, we were in and out within 40 minutes because the food came out literally minutes of ordering. To me it felt a bit confused - I’m okay with knowing when a place isn’t okay to linger, but when I booked a table they did tell me that there was a table turnaround time of 2 hours (I definitely couldn’t see myself staying for more than 1 hour!)

We had the crab rangoon age-gyoza, electric eel, and Brixton market salad to start. Interesting flavours of sweet & spicy dressing with fresh pineapples and aubergine in the salad, but seemed more like Indonesian/Malaysian rojak to me rather than anything Japanese-inspired. The eel didn’t taste anything more than smoked eel, and again couldn’t detect any Japanese influence (nor the sansho as advertised). The crab gyoza was the best of the starters, though the skins were a bit thicker than I would have liked. Great punchy yuzu dipping sauce.

For mains we had the Dead Ringer Chanpon and Mentaiko Pasta. The chanpon is a ramen dish with heavy Chinese influences, thick eggy noodles in a chicken & prawn broth with heaps of seafood and onsen tamago. The broth was really thick and quite salty, but tasty. Together with all the toppings, though, I think it was a bit too overwhelming, but maybe I just prefer simpler noodle dishes. The pasta was great, essentially spaghetti carbonara with mentaiko stirred through and topped with a lovely proper onsen tamago with wobbly whites that barely held together. It was also Very Rich and I couldn’t finish the massive portion - it really needed something sharp to cut through it.

The two of us were stuffed after that, and we’d probably return to try the rest of the menu (most likely the ramen), but still can’t shake off the feeling that I’d overhyped this restaurant a little too much!

Our service was pretty rushed as well (I think we were probably there the same day as you), but maybe that’s just inexperience. I got the impression that it was a few of the staff’s first time working in a restaurant and our waitress was saying they had been running a barebones crew during the week, so that Friday was one of the first full services.

On reflection I guess our experience at Tonkotsu has never been lingering apart from the added bar time queuing for a table. I suppose these days it’s a bonus that you can book at Nanban.

As to the stock paprikaboy, I haven’t been to Bone Daddies for a couple of years so the memory isn’t fresh enough for a fair comparison, but this was seriously rich.

Thanks for this. I too have been waiting for Tim to open a restaurant. He’s my favourite ever Masterchef winner, everything he cooked looked so amazing. Will try Nanban. I have the cookbook, but many of the recipes, unsurprisingly, are quite complicated!

Was at Nanban for lunch on Saturday. Was nice to see Tim go permanent after his previous stint at the Market House down the road.

We really enjoyed it. In contrast to the previous reports, the service we experienced was friendly and accurate. The food also hit the spot, with one or two nods to its Brixton location such as the saltfish and Acki fritters or a scotch bonnet dipping sauce in place of a more traditional Japanese one.Look forward to exploring more of the menu - and the beer and sake options in future.

I wouldn’t go there to “dine” but it bills itself as an “izekawa” and it hits that spot very well: informal stop-by place for a post-shopping lunch or before (or after) a few drinks. I could very well see a routine developing chez nous of 2 or 3 “loosener” cocktails at the excellent “Shrub and Shutter” down the road, followed by a “cheeky Nanbans” !

Finally managed to go for lunch last week. I went for the Kumamoto Ramen. The broth was certainly very rich and creamy but lacked oomph flavour wise and the black garlic oil and overwhelmed the broth somewhat. The noodles were also packed in a very tight ball and were difficult to disentangle. This made slurping of noodles very difficult.

On a positive note the pork was sweet and fatty. The egg was really good, soft yolk and a lovely fragrance ( shansho pepper I think). The wheat/IPA cross they have in conjunction with Pressure Drop Brewery was a really good beer.

It’s a nice space and I will no doubt give it another go.

Namban

I’ve been to Namban twice now and have liked it both times. There’s nothing that I didn’t like, though some things that weren’t hugely exciting. They seem to change their menu relatively often, and I’ve not been enough to figure out their reasoning. Still they do seem to have some items on the menu all the time.

The top line here is: get the Chicken Karaage and the Sasebo Burger if you’re even vaguely inclined to like those things, for my money they’re some of the best in London. As for the ramen, I’ve had 4 dishes and nothing that wasn’t good. Indeed, 2 were great and 2 were good. However, there’s some stiff competition for noodle soup in this town…

1st Visit

We ordered a selection of “Smalls” the first time including (I can’t remember everything from the “Small” section of the menu):

Karashi Renkon Chips (v)
“Crispy fried lotus root with miso mustard dip”
These are good, crispy nibbles to start that go well with a beer. They’re exactly as you expect: crisps made from lotus rood.

Chicken Karaage
Deep-fried marinated chicken thighs
These are excellent. Some of the best fried chicken I’ve had. The outside is wonderfully crunchy and they marinade the chicken before frying which makes it far tastier. In addition, it is very nice soft boneless meat. A must get.

We had some other small things like Gyoza, that I can’t remember much of from this visit. That probably tells you what you need to know though, especially since they’re not on the menu any more.

Dead Ringer Chanpon
Fujian noodles in pork-chicken-seafood broth with stir-fried shellfish and vegetables and seafood sawdust
Miyazaki Ramen
Thick noodles in chicken-soy sauce broth with chicken thigh, tea-pickled egg, nira, and yuzu-koshö schmaltz
I didn’t order either of these ramen myself. However, I did have a taste. I thought they were good, but considering that there are other very good ramen places in London (Sasuke in Soho is my favourite), they wouldn’t make me return just for them.

Sasebo Burger with a Fried Egg
200g beef mince with burnt garlic mayo, gochujang burger sauce, pork belly, American cheese, pickled red onion, lettuce, and tomato, served with chips & a fried egg
At the very enthusiastic recommendation of our waitress I had the burger, which felt a little odd in a Japanese joint… However, the waitress was right. The burger is great. It’s is now my second favourite burger in London (after the Kimchee burger at Hawksmoor Covent Garden). This is a must order if you are remotely partial to burgers and fries. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised considering the Chef did win Masterchef with a burger.

2nd Visit.

Chicken Karaage
Deep-fried marinated chicken thighs
Just as good as the first time — except that the waiter forgot to bring the lime or mayonnaise that they brought before. Still, we got some mayo that was not the same but good. Also missing was the “FuckYuzu Hot Sauce” that was on the tables the first time. This is a collaboration between Anderson and The Rib Man. If you see it and you like hot sauce, buy it. It’s really good – the citric Yuzu flavour works great in a hot sauce.

Electric Eel
Deep-fried smoked eel with ginger-vinegar sauce, sanshō, onions, and red peppers
This was another highlight. Beautifully smokey and light, a very clean texture and the sauce and vegetables compliment it nicely but the star of the show is very much the smokey eel.

The Leopard Tsukemen
Very rich chilli-sesame pork broth dipping ramen with burnt garlic oil, pork belly, Scotch bonnet-pickled bamboo shoots, fried garlic, parmesan, and tea-pickled egg.
Back to the Ramen and this one was very good. The broth was rich but not overpoweringly so (like Bone Daddies tends to be) - in particular it wasn’t oily and fatty, just a rich strong umami hit. The Scotch bonnet pickled bamboo shoots are fantastic and add an element of fusion along with the parmesan which at first almost put me off ordering the dish, but actually, what do you know… the parmesan is great. It’s not much, just enough to give you another extra creamy umami punch. The tea picked eggs are some of the best in town. Worth getting an extra one on the side if you like these kind of eggs at all.

Venison Tan Tan Men
Thin noodles in chilli-sesame broth with Szechuan-spiced venison mince, roast venison loin, red onion, Chinese leaf, and parmesan
More very good ramen. The venison was very nice with a good sweet fragrant Szechuan pepper hit. Again, the parmesan seems weird but it actually works. I’d definitely order this again.

For desert we had Nambanana which was really good. It’s a Japanese influenced take on Bananas Foster/Caramel Banana. Hot banana with ice cream and a rich caramel like cause (there’s miso in there if I remember correctly). There is a great crunch texture from thinly sliced walnuts and slightly salty noodles. Another definite thing to try if you’re here and like puddings…

To drink we had:
Brew By Numbers 01|14
Saison with matcha, honey, and lemon
6% ABV, 750ml
This was actually probably the most disappointing thing I’ve had at Namban. It’s a collaboration between the restaurant and Brew By Numbers and while it’s interesting, it’s not that exciting. Surprising as that may seem, it tastes like beer with Macha tea in it. And it’s expensive.

Namban is a very good place to eat. But I think it’s is wrong to think about it in terms of fine dining or fusion or anything like that. Despite any hype or background from Masterchef, Namban is not trying to win 3 Michelin stars. Anderson styles it as Japanese Soul Food — which is a pretty good description. It’s informal, easy going, and not too expensive. What I really want to do is go back and have their fried chicken, a burger and a beer. Which I’d happily do any time.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold