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Outside of Japan, it is difficult to find authentic Japanese cuisine that lives up to the quality and diversity of the original. But for foodies with a genuine taste for Japanese, if you do find such a place, you hold on to it and visit it near-religiously.
One such place can be found tucked away by Baker Street Station in the heart of London. Getting off the Underground, you turn right and cross the street — don’t let the obvious restaurants and fast food outlets get you on the way — and soon you will spot a modest wooden placard directing you into the complex, away from the busy street.
“Nambu is a region in Japan, where my husband is from,” explains the restaurant’s hostess, Yasuko. “Tei means a little place.” They have been in business for 11 years. “I have been in the UK for more than 35 years now. When we retire, we plan to go back. We visit Japan, but not as much as we would like to.”
The owners’ attachment to their roots is evident as soon as you step into the restaurant — it is like stepping into a different part of the world. Plenty of wood and Japanese decor ensures a pleasant and fitting environment for the culinary treats you’re about to experience.
Nambu-tei serves traditional Japanese food, from sushi and sashimi, to tempura, teriyaki and even hot pot dishes, which few restaurants do because of the amount of work required. Their lunch menu includes a wide variety of set lunches that cater to all tastes and are equally gentle on your wallet.
The possibilities for lunch are in fact so vast that it can be difficult to choose which combination you would prefer. Toonari Post recommend the Unaju Box, featuring barbecued eel on rice, the Ton-katsu Lunch or the Foodie’s Lunch Box, a beautiful three-storied box including sashimi and fried salmon. Be sure to wash it down with hot green tea.
For dinner, the prices go up as one might expect, but so does sophistication. Japanese cuisine is not just rice, tuna and teriyaki sauce. The combination of flavor and texture is unique and for true fans, highly enjoyable. Have a shot at the Sunomono (a seafood salad with rice vinegar dressing) or treat yourself to Nasu Dengaku, a grilled aubergine sweetened with miso.
Toonari Post also highly recommend the grilled eel. Some of the Chef’s recommended dishes can sound slightly intimidating: fermented octopus, seasoned jelly fish, or how about some assorted seaweed? The casual eater might not want to risk ordering something they won’t be able to eat, but often the best food experiences are the surprises you stumble upon. If you don’t try it, how can you say you’ve really lived?
The dinner menu also includes set dinners and impressive hot pots – some of which have a two-person minimum. Prices range between £28-£38 but if you do indulge, rest assure you won’t be walking away hungry. A Nambu Dinner Special for one cost £36 but you get a sushi platter, a special soup in a teapot and assorted tempura before the main course of two well-sized seafood skewers, rice and miso soup arrives.
In addition to a well prepared and beautifully presented meal, try a glass plum wine if you haven’t already. It’s a sweet and fruity alcoholic drink which you drink slowly. There are many different types and strengths; Some home-brewed ones are not for the faint hearted, but the house brand at Nambu-tei is delightful. Finish off, if you can, with a scoop of ice cream – pick from chestnut, sweet red beans or green tea.
Beyond the dining area, Nambu-tei also has rooms downstairs in the authentic style of floor seating. Parties of four to eight can gain the full experience, sitting on specially made chairs and placing their feet in the floor. Yasuko explains that their busiest days are Thursdays and Fridays and that they are frequented by office workers and people looking for a place to eat near the Tube station.
What may attract people is a welcome break from the local food chains and the generic menus. Nambu-tei is a truly original experience in the British capital. Being run by Yasuko and her husband, who is the head chef, they have been careful to keep the spirit of their home country, from the menu to the interior and to the friendly staff who all but one speak Japanese.
To learn more about the location and their menu, please visit the Nambu-tei website. They are open for lunch Monday-Friday from 12PM-2.30PM and dinner Monday-Saturday from 6PM -10.15PM (last order).