Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.
I’d love to say those are my words but in fact I’ve stolen them someone far wiser when it comes to food than me – the late, great Anthony Bourdain.
They apply to food in general, but when it comes to sushi they pretty much sum it up. You can’t get much simpler than taking top quality, fresh fish, preparing it and serving it up without putting it anywhere near any kind of heat.
Of course, on my trip to Tokyo earlier this year, it became clear that Japanese food is about far more than sushi. Nana’s Japanese in Leamington Spa reflects this with its menu. Owner Nana grew up in Japan and decided to serve up food that she ate in her own home, from ramen to udon and tempura to Tsukemono (Japanese pickles to you and I).
Nana’s ambition is to bring Japanese home cooking to the UK. She wants to recreate her mum’s cooking so the rest of us can try it. She also wants to introduce us to the wider concept of Japanese eating culture and the idea of a set menu ‘teishoku style’, where a main, soup, rice and pickles are served together as a set, as well as Donburi – a hearty bowl of rice topped with meat or vegetables. Part of her mission is also authenticity – from ingredients to flavours, cooking methods and presentation.
In short, Nana’s Japanese is more than just a restaurant – it’s an extension of Nana’s home, packed with her childhood memories and oozing with pride in her own culture and its cuisine, all of which she wants to share with us.
While the menu extends beyond sushi, my first visit was on one of Nana’s regular sushi nights. A simple selection of nigiri, sashimi, hosomaki (thin rolls), Uramaki (inside-out rolls) and Temaki hand rolls – all with varying fish and vegetable fillings. On top of that you can dive into nibbles like seaweed salad, edamame beans and takoyaki – octopus balls.
I won’t wax lyrical too much. The beauty of sushi is in its simplicity, and if you haven’t ever tried a slab of quality fish, prepared right and served up raw, then I’m not sure you’ll get what I’m talking about.
Both salmon and tuna sashimi were a joy and washed down with traditional miso soup, with edamame beans to munch on as we decided which other parts of the menu to foray into.
Takoyaki – octopus balls – are something I first tried in Yo! Sushi and then again at Shin in Coventry. They’re a winner for me every time. Spheres of batter filled with diced octopus and cooked in a special moulded pan (I think there’s an episode of Netflix Street Food that will have you mesmerised watching the process).
They’re a great dish if you’re a lover of condiments like me, adorned with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise plus bonito flakes. If you’re a fan of fast food, this will appeal to you and if you haven’t eaten much Japanese food you’ll feel like this is a pretty authentic yet accessible entrance to the cuisine.
We tried tuna and avocado Uramaki or inside-out rolls. Another first for me and probably my new favourite rice-based sushi dish. Despite the option of fillings including pepper, cucumber, Shibazuke and avocado, we couldn’t help but make sure there was at least one fish element in every dish. Why wouldn’t you, when it’s clearly been treated with the love and care it deserves?
Thin rolls were also a treat – slightly more manageable than their larger equivalents yet still with all the discrete flavours from the ingredients inside.
As if that wasn’t enough, we felt the need to try Nana’s Okonomiyaki – a dish I fell in love with on my trip to Tokyo. If you visit the post I wrote about that you’ll see it’s a kind of savoury pancake made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat and topped with okonomiyaki sauce and mayo as well as bonito flakes.
Here, they came on individual sticks slightly differently to how I’d had them before but were just as tasty. I’d show you but I was so busy shovelling them down my neck that my picture is terrible. Slightly better is the one I managed to snap of the seaweed salad which provided much needed freshness after the fried elements of dinner. Salty yet not overwhelmingly so with plenty of umami that runs through Japanese food, yet contrasting in both flavour and texture.
You’ve got the gist. Sushi night at Nana’s is representative of everything her food – and Japanese food more widely – stands for. A showcase of some of everyone’s sushi fond favourites with a vein of authenticity running right through the middle.
We met Nana on the night and her passion for what she does is clear to see. Her restaurant oozes that passion too – from the carefully-selected crockery that makes you feel like you really are in her home being cooked for by family to the laid-back atmosphere and friendly service.
And on top of all that, Nana’s Japanese has that ingredient that is as important to the rest of us as it was to Bourdain. Simplicity.
We paid in full at Nana’s Japanese.