Restaurant: Nan Chuu Japanese Izakaya 南廚
Last visited: January 3, 2012
Location: Richmond, BC (Richmond Central)
Address: 1160-8391 Alexandra Rd
Train: Lansdowne Station Northbound
Price Range: $10-20+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- Gyoza King Group
- Japanese chefs
- Traditional menu
- Very casual
- Good for sharing
- Ramen available
- Reasonably priced
- Reservations recommended
- Mon-Sat 5:30pm – 1am (often later)
- Sunday 5:30pm-11:30pm
- Closed Wednesday
**Recommendations: Negi Chashu, Salmon Nanban, Saba Shioyaki, Gyoza, Tori Karaage, Deep Fried Oysters
Nan Chuu is part of the Gyoza King Group which also owns Gyo-O in Richmond and Chicco Cafe and Gyoza King in downtown Vancouver, BC. They used to own G-Men Ramen in Richmond too, but due to rent issues they recently closed shop. It was quite a shocker since G-Men Ramen was always busy with line ups, but the ramen menu is now being served at Nan Chuu.
I think the owners of Gyoza King are actually Chinese, but the food at all their restaurants are prepared authentically by Japanese chefs. Each of their restaurants are very different, and not like how each Guu or Hapa Izakaya is different. Each Gyoza King Group restaurant specializes in a specific category of Japanese cuisine like ramen (G-Men), seafood/sashimi (Gyo-O), Japanese desserts (Chicco Cafe), traditional izakaya (Nan Chuu) and fusion izakaya (Gyoza King). I’ve tried all of their restaurants and generally I do like them. Of course I can’t clump them all together, but so far I haven’t had a bad experience.
Located on Richmond’s famous “eating street”, Alexandra Road, is Nan Chuu Japanese Izakaya. I’ve been waiting ages to try this place and after several unsuccessful attempts and unforeseen closures it is finally reopen. It was closed the whole summer for apparent renovations, but I’m not sure what has really changed besides the signage.
The restaurant is really long and narrow with a small bar, some tight booths and group dining in the back. At first glace it really took on that traditional Japanese izakaya feel, but it wasn’t until later that it felt a bit enclosed. The on again and off again quirky jazz music alternating with the at times working silence just didn’t seem as lively or ideal for this style of dining.
Izakayas are Japanese pubs, so they’re supposed to be casual and fun watering holes for people to drink and eat tapas until wee hours. In the context of Vancouver they’re usually quite glorified and pricey, but it wasn’t the case here. The menu makes it one of the more traditional izakayas I’ve been to so far with reasonable prices and portions.
The food isn’t fancy or creative, so it might not be as exciting or interesting, but it is simple and authentic. Guu with Garlic is also great, but the menu items are more fusion and modern. If I forget about authenticity and focus on what I like, I personally like Suika, but overall izakaya is one of my favourite styles of dining and I like a lot of them. There are way more than the few I mentioned and generally the izakaya scene is solid in Metro Vancouver.
On the table:
- A good izakaya place should have an extensive and affordable drink list featuring beer, cocktails and sake.
- I’m not a beer drinker, but you should drink beer with izakaya. It’s like having champagne on New Years.
- Izakaya food is more or less catered for it.
- Spinach salad in sesame sauce $3.50
- I almost always order goma-ae. This one is considered cheap (in price).
- The spinach was very watery and that affected the sesame sauce and made it runny, so overall it was too wet.
- The sesame sauce was house made with freshly toasted sesame seeds, but it was on the salty side and I have a high tolerance for salt already.
- I prefer a bit more sweet salty balance and more sesame seeds and flavour.
- Shoyu dressing $11.95
- This was a huge salad and it was enough for 4.
- The romaine leaves were cut in huge pieces so it was really messy to eat. I would have preferred the standard mixed greens, but this was fine.
- It came with a good amount of ahi tuna, salmon sashimi, a few pieces of scallop sashimi, and 6 wedges of avocado sprinkled with tobiko.
- It was pretty standard with some shredded daikon and a few julienne red bell peppers.
- The shoyu dressing was sweet, salty and tangy, but it tasted like shoyu-ponzu (citrus) dressing.
- The other dressing was a sweet Japanese mayo, but it wasn’t that tangy and usually that sauce would taste like Thousand Island dressing.
- I prefer the sashimi salad at Guu with Garlic or even better at Hapa Izakaya with the deep fried prawn heads (see here).
- BBQ pork slice, and thin cut green onion $7.50
- It was simple, but still something I wouldn’t be able to make at home.
- It was almost like a BBQ pork salad that was served room temperature. It was my kind of salad.
- The pork was the BBQ pork used for their ramen and it was incredibly tender and flavourful and not too salty.
- The pork was on the leaner side and it wasn’t juicy, but not dry or chewy either.
- The fatty parts of the pork were all chopped up, not gelatinous and practically unnoticeable. They came across as creamy bits mixed with BBQ pork slices.
- The spicy raw green onions helped cut the grease, but it wasn’t even greasy. It just lightened up the dish.
- It was all lightly dressed in a sweet soy sauce (shoyu?) mixed with sesame oil, which was really strong and aromatic.
- I just wish this had crispy garlic bits on top for more texture, but at least there was a refreshing crunch of onions.
- Grilled octopus balls 4 pcs $3.75, 8 pcs $7
- These were a bit smaller than normal and about the size of golf balls.
- They were generously sauced with sweet Japanese mayo and sweet and tangy Takoyaki sauce.
- It was topped with bonito flakes which is standard.
- These are rich one biters and basically lightly grilled balls of creamy fluffy Japanese pancake batter.
- They were melt in your mouth, pillowy and creamy, but not potatoey or floury.
- Each one is stuffed with a little piece of octopus tentacle.
- Authentically there should be some flavour of pickled ginger or green onion, but this one had none and I missed that.
- They are lighter than croquettes and great as hot snacks.
- Nan Chuu’s sister restaurant Gyo-O Japanese Restaurant (also in Richmond) used to make a stellar takoyaki, but I haven’t had them in a while.
- Grilled mackerel $6.75
- I always get Black Cod/Sablefish, but it wasn’t on the menu, however it’s not in season anyways.
- For mackerel, it actually didn’t taste that fishy and I really enjoyed this. I do like mackerel though.
- This was a very traditional version of a saba shioyaki and it was very good, but I was hoping for more robata (grill) aromatics/flavour.
- The skin was crispy, but I prefer it a bit more charred.
- It was marinated in sake and soy sauce, but it wasn’t too salty at all.
- The meat was incredibly juicy, moist and tender and it was almost flaking like cod.
- The juices were leaking onto the plate and it was likely one of the juiciest mackerel I’ve had.
- It was traditionally served with grated radish and lemon and overall this was very good.
- I prefer the Grilled “Saba” Mackerel from Guu with Garlic (see here), but that version is fusion.
- The gyoza is signature to the restaurant brand, so it’s almost a must try.
- As a gyoza, it was better than most gyoza, but it was still just a gyoza.
- They were house made and fried pretty perfectly with nice crispy bottoms. However I think they sat a bit before serving because they weren’t as crispy as they looked.
- The skins were nice and thin and not too chewy or doughy and they were stuffed with a good quality pork mixture and big pieces of chives.
- The pork was lightly seasoned with soy, tender and moist, but not super juicy either.
- It wasn’t strong with sesame oil or ginger and they tasted a bit better than normal, but I wouldn’t guess it was their signature.
- They have more varieties of gyoza at their downtown restaurant Gyoza King – see here.
- 6 pcs Deep fried fresh tiger prawns dipped in mayo sauce $6.50
- This is one of the favourites here, but unfortunately I didn’t get it.
- They came out quite soggy and the batter was really thick and doughy.
- They were heavily sauced with sweet Japanese mayo and I missed a chili kick and spice.
- As a non spicy ebi mayo, usually the mayo would still have a bit of a tang to it, but this one had no tang either.
- It was just super intense with mayo and the prawn was crunchy, but hidden by the heavy batter.
- I prefer the ones at Hapa Izakaya – see here.
- It was what it was, but they did a great job with them!
- I’m not keen on cooked oysters, but I’ll eat them.
- These were medium sized, plump, and juicy and perfect as is or for a Po Boy Sandwich.
- They were crunchy and panko crusted and fried until golden brown.
- They weren’t even that oily for being deep fried and the white paper they sat on wasn’t clear at the end.
- The dipping sauces were sweet Japanese mayo and Tonkatsu sauce (Japanese style BBQ sauce with Worcestershire kick).
- A squeeze of lemon and dip of each sauce was the best way to enjoy these.
- They kind of reminded me of the deep fried oysters from Rodney’s Oyster Bar in Yaletown, and I remember liking those too.
- Deep fried salmon marinated in “nanban” vinaigrette with onions and carrots $4.50
- This was likely my favourite dish of the night.
- It was a big portion for the price and it was the daily special.
- It was about 7-8 pieces of boneless salmon and they had a soggy skin due to the sauce.
- I wish they removed the skins and deep fried them separately and sprinkled them on top.
- The salmon pieces were slightly dry, but after you dip them in the delicious vinaigrette it was easily forgotten.
- The Nanban sauce was amazing enough to forgive the slight dryness.
- Nanban sauce is made with rice wine vinegar, mirin, soy, sugar, Worcestershire, boiled radish/konbu seaweed and a bit of chili so it has depth and it’s not just regular vinaigrette. This one didn’t taste spicy though.
- It was super citrusy, tangy and salty and intense with lots of flavour and it just made the dish pop and come alive. I was drinking it alone! (Dying of thirst after)
- It was a juicy dish and the crunch of raw spicy onions was refreshing and made it like a salad.
- The Chicken Nanban at Miku Restaurant is my favourite “Nanban” dish, but this is a serious competitor!
- Fresh tuna tataki, salmon & scallop sashimi $12.50
- This isn’t a place for sashimi so the selection is very limited, but I needed a break from the fried stuff.
- For not specializing in sashimi it was a bit more pricey, but the quality was actually okay.
- They tell you what you get in the menu description so there were no surprises and it was what it was.
- The salmon was surprisingly buttery and good, although the quality didn’t look good.
- The scallops were fresh and sweet and topped with tobiko.
- The tuna tataki (ahi tuna) had a salt and pepper crust, but it wasn’t done that well.
- The tuna was good tuna though, but it seemed more like ahi tuna than tuna tataki.
- My favourite tuna tataki so far is from Suika – see Tuna Tataki or Taka’s Take-Out – see Peppered Tuna Tataki.
- Fresh beef sashimi marinated in yukke sauce topped with quail egg $7.50
- This was best eaten immediately. No surprise there.
- It’s Japanese beef tartar, but it didn’t look appetizing.
- I have no problems with beef sashimi, but the way this one looked was a bit unsettling.
- It actually looked like raw ground beef ready to be made into patties and I thought it would be handcut into mini cubes like traditional French beef tartare.
- Mixed together it was better, but it was all quite slimy and texturally acquired.
- There were a few pine nuts which helped, and the spicy onions broke things up a bit, but that was about it.
- The yukke sauce is a predominantly sweet and syrupy garlic soy sauce with sesame oil and it absorbed into the meat well.
- It should have been served with crostini, prawn crackers, or lotus chips because it was a bit repetitive and excessive alone.
- I’ve tried their Salmon Yukke at the Gyoza King location and Guu does one as well – see Salmon Yuke. If you want to be even more adventurous try the Salmon with 7 Friends from Guu with Otokomae. (That was totally an unintended play on words)
Dessert – There was only ice cream ($3) so I passed. It wasn’t homemade or anything, so I just had dessert at home.