Okan, a restaurant inspired by the street food of Osaka in Japan, has recently opened its’ second Brixton venture on Coldharbour Lane. The original is nestled inside Brixton Village and focusses on popular Japanese street food dish okonomiyaki – a savoury pancake which comes with a huge variety of ingredients and toppings.
Owner Moto describes Osaka as “an industrial, chaotic and colourful city filled with amazing food and tiny shops” and she is clearly passionate about bringing a feeling of authenticity and humbleness from her hometown to Brixton. Rather cutely, her restaurants are named after the slang word for mother.
Moto’s second restaurant, Okan Ramen, focusses on a different Japanese favourite – the warming, comforting noodle soup we’ve grown to love in the UK. Both shops have a back-street vibe to them with lots of paper lanterns, nicknacks and rough-finishes, which only serve to add to their charm. The vibe is super-relaxed and comfortable and I can imagine it being a great place for a solo-lunch, duo-dinner-date or group-hang-out with your pals.
From the outside, you’d be forgiven for missing Okan. In substitute of a name, just its’ three-dot-logo protrudes above the doorway accompanied by an A4 sign in the window to comfort those scrunched-up faces peering in, unsure if they’ve got the right place.
Drinks-wise there are Japanese beers Asahi and Sapporo by the bottle and Kirin on draft. Plus there are a couple of Japanese craft beers, but at £7.50 each we wimped out. The menu also lists a wine of each colour.
I was delighted to see fried chicken on the nibbles menu and of course went straight in with an order of that to tame my mid-week, post-work hunger. A generous portion arrived on top of a simple bed of cabbage and drizzled with a soy-vinegar dressing. This was – and I’m not exaggerating – bloody marvellous! The meat itself was so juicy and pulled apart with ease, whilst the batter was dreamily crispy with lots of chunky nodules to crunch your molars down on.
We also tried some of the pork gyoza which unfortunately didn’t quite live up to the chicken, or rival competitor Mama Lan’s offering, but were still pretty good. I also think they got lost on the order as they arrived very late on.
The main menu is split into two sections – ramen and soba. Of course, we had to try one from each and so went for the prawn and vegetable tempura soba and the spicy tonkotsu ramen.
The soba dish comprised of well-made buckwheat (and therefore gluten free, if you’re that way inclined) noodles in a dark and fishy broth. Unlike most ramens I’ve had recently, this one was quite light and didn’t have that same level of depth and density I’ve become used to. Though it was really tasty, it seemed more like a lunchtime ramen.
Unfortunately it was let down by the totally submerged prawn and vegetable tempura which had taken on too much water, and lost all crispiness. But the additions of minced ginger and what I think was sweet potato batons were a great idea and raised the bar on this homely soup.
As is traditional, the tonkotsu pork bone broth was silkier and creamier than other ramens and packed full of delicious melted pork fat. The noodles were plentiful and soaked up some of the intense, rich flavour and the sliced pork itself was tender and soft to eat. The multiple garnishes included seaweed, spring onion, kikurage (wood ear) mushrooms and chilli threads. And to top it off was a perfectly soft boiled nitamago egg (meaning it has been marinated for a day in a concentrated broth). This gorgeous ramen was by far my favourite and the only thing that was missing was the spice. The small spoon of chilli oil soon disappeared once stirred into the broth – just a little more of that next time, please!
The prices at Okan, though higher I’m sure than the streets of Japan, are fair and at around £10 for a noodle soup, are comparable to most others in London.
The really great news is that Moto isn’t ready to stop at just two Brixton outlets. It’s her plan to continue bringing us delicious specialties from her home country of Japan, of which there are so many to choose from. It’s a nation of top-notch food, from which it would be hard to pick a favourite. Although if I really had to, I’d love to see a robata barbecue open up nearby.