Love it or hate it, the name Nippon Inn is without doubt a catchy one, and even though my instincts are telling me to be wary of a place with such a brash play on words as its name, I decide to ignore my instincts and, well, nip on in!
Like Tapas, Sushi lends itself to sharing, and the whole vibe at Nippon Inn is friendly and pleasant, with tables of sociable people enjoying Japanese beer and food.
The interior design however is a different story. I can see the appeal of the two floor-tables by the window, paper wall dividers and hanging Japanese lanterns, but in my view the place could do with a little more work. Nippon Inn is at least on the right track, but it’s most certainly a little shabby. The paper wall hangings have been broken and ripped, the walls could do with an extra lick of black or red paint and my ultra-sticky table could do with a proper wipe down at the very least.
I order a plate of mixed Nigiri at £10 to share with my guest as a starter (average of £1 per piece) and a Mixed Meat Platter at £7.50 for my main. My guest orders the Tempura Soba Noodles in Soup with Battered Prawns and Vegetables for £5.40.
Our food arrives 10 minutes later, and looks completely delicious. Whilst we wait for all our of plates to arrive, we tuck into the little bowl of salted Edamame beans which are a lovely, light and refreshing accompaniment to any Japanese meal.
The plate of mixed Nigiri is for the most part, as delicious as it looks. The pieces of Salmon Sashimi Nigiri are tasty and the fish is sliced at the perfect thickness. The same goes for the tuna, and the rich red, quality fish simply melts in the mouth. Dipped in soy and topped with a thin slither of pickled ginger, the Sashimi pieces are a real delight. The rice is cooked well too and has the perfect consistency that sushi rice should have – sticky so that it moulds perfectly into a bite-sized piece, but fresh with plump, individual pieces of rice slightly sweetened with the taste of Mirin (Japanese rice wine) and sugar.
The pieces of Unagi (roasted eel in Teriyaki marinade) are by far my favourite; the delicious cuts of eel are delectably tasty and the Teriyaki marinade is enough to add a punch of salty, sweet flavour but not too much to overpower the soft, beautiful fish. Tomago (omelette) is usually my least favourite type of Nigiri but these ones are utterly delightful. There’s something about the soft texture and subtle taste of egg that is a lovely addition to the other stronger flavours on the plate. However, the pieces of Tuna Mayo Nigiri let the whole thing down. Nothing appeals to me about flakes of tinned tuna and mayonnaise with diced onion, unless they’re sandwiched inside two slices of soft white bread and I’ve got nothing else in the larder.
The Mixed Platter consists of skewered chicken, skewered meatballs and skewered, breaded pork, but I notice the whole thing has gone up £2.50 from the online menu price of £5.00. The platter is fine, but not as unusual and scrumptious as the Sushi selection. The chicken has a sweet marinade and wouldn’t offend anyone but similarly, I wouldn’t write home about it either. The meatballs taste of pork and spring onion, they’re fresh, light and a tasty addition. The breaded pork is extra tough, but relatively tasty and the breadcrumbs are perfectly crisp. The whole thing is drizzled with a sweet and tasty dressing but served with what looks like day-old pickled vegetables.
For once though, I’m not jealous of my guest’s dish, which is a bowl of Tempura Prawns and Vegetables with Soba (Buckwheat) Noodle Soup. The Soba noodles are fine and tasty and the thin, watery soup is light and refreshing but what completely ruins the dish are the tempura-battered additions. Tempura batter is notoriously thin, light and extra crispy, so quite why it’s piled on top of a bowl of steaming hot liquid completely confuses me. It’s now drenched with liquid and the sight of sloppy batter falling off the vegetables is not an appetizing one. There are bits of soggy, unsavoury aubergine and one huge chunk of flavourless butternut squash and to top it all off, there’s only one prawn.
In all, my experiences at Nippon Inn are mixed; the place can definitely make good Sushi, but I’ve yet to find another dish on the menu that’s worth having. As long as I try hard not to focus on the slightly shabby interior and sticky tables, I’d probably come back to try the other Sushi toppings for sure.