Origami and sashimi in Brighton's coolest restaurant, Oki-Nami
Has Lulu Larkin's favourite Oriental haunt survived a switch to the trendiest part of Brighton? I really think so, she reports from her table amid the sashimi, seaweed and sushi at Oki-Nami...
DANIEL and I had been given a special mission: to determine whether Oki-Nami, one of the best Japanese restaurants in Sussex, had survived the journey from its long-established home in Hove to the North Laines area of Brighton with its sizzling reputation intact. I certainly hoped so. It had been a favourite haunt of ours since the days when you kept wooden chopsticks as souvenirs. And yes, I've still got them.
So we left Eastbourne with its tinkling teacups, fancy cakes and genteel hotels and took the next train bound for Brighton. In half an hour, we'd been transported, Dr Who-style, into another world where the sights, sounds and smells were more reminiscent of a bustling bazaar in Hong Kong. Whatever your gastronomic persuasion, you need never go hungry here. Oki-Nami moved in May to Brighton's uber-trendy pedestrianised area next to the Theatre Royal, opposite the Dome and overlooking the Pavilion Gardens. With its boutiques, pavement cafes, street theatre, musical improvisations, dance and mime, it's all very Covent Garden. We could have chosen to eat outside on the leafy terrace but opted for the traditional wooden table and chairs of the light, airy dining room inside.
Behind the enormous glass windows, the d�cor is minimalist chic but with warm touches such as the Japanese pastel scrolls on the walls and ivory lanterns carved in Japanese with the names of the Kings and Queens of England. A wrought iron spiral staircase in the centre leads to an upstairs otsunami (Japanese tapas) bar with window seats all round - all the better to watch the passing show below.Masao Mitsuishi, the chef and proprietor fondly known as Mike Dodd, came over to welcome us and introduced us to his charming restaurant manager, Joe, who took us through the menu and patiently translated anything we didn't understand. There were so many wonderful dishes to choose from so Joe brought an imported Kirin Ichiban Shibori beer for me (wonderfully refreshing and a steal at �1.75). Daniel had a San Pellegrino while we decided. They still have wooden chopsticks but this time they're wrapped in pretty paper from which you can make origami animals. What fun! My rabbit was so successful that the waitress took it away thinking I'd screwed it up into a ball. Daniel had more luck: he made a Stealth bomber out of a tiger, much to the delight of some nearby children, who were far better behaved.
To the food
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Thankfully our first course arrived and curbed Daniel's antics. It was the freshest sashimi you could wish for: raw salmon, tuna and squid with wasabi and a neat pile of shredded daikon (horseradish). We also had some maki: rice rolls wrapped in nori seaweed and filled with prawns and avocado, then inari - two golden pillows of tofu tied with a ribbon of seaweed and filled with rice, which we dipped in the assortment of wonderful homemade sauces. So far, so delicious.For our main course we shared chargilled free-range yakitori chicken with teriyaki sauce and a kaisen tempura black lacquer bento box, which was placed on the table like a treasure chest - which it was. Lifting the lid, there was a selection of goodies inside including miso soup, rice, salad, pickled plums and aubergine and, of course the tempura. The chef's art is to make the batter as light as possible and these were the wispiest, airiest, fairiest tempura we'd ever tasted. If you'd tied one of them to a balloon it would have floated off on the Brighton breeze up over the Pavilion and towards France. After this feast, we had no room for even the most tempting of desserts but Mike offered us a drink as his guest. Well, how could we refuse? Daniel chose ocha, green tea, while I had a glass of iced umeshu (plum wine), which was more delicate and lighter than a liqueur and actually tasted of plums. Do try it if you go - it's wonderful. For anyone who's daunted by the idea of Japanese food, I would recommend Oki-Nami. Everything is fresh beautifully presented and the service is impeccable. It's also healthy: low in fat and calories, high in protein, vitamins, minerals and, well, simply as delicious a meal as you could ever want. And not expensive, either - we paid �45 for two. We thanked Mike and Joe for their hospitality and they bowed their special Japanese bow, which we English feel a bit awkward about. We shook hands instead and said: "Arigato gozaimasu, soredewa mata!" Thank you - we'll see you again soon! I'm sure we will. And meanwhile, I shall practice my bow. Turning Japanese? I really think so ...3 other Oriental jewelsTY83 Carlisle Road, Eastbourne,East Sussex BN21 4BTtel: 01323 728843The latest entry to the ever-growing list of pan-Asian restaurants in Eastbourne lies half way between the seafront and the theatres. Enjoy a Chinese, Thai or Japanese meal before the show (they open at 5.30pm every day except Monday) or have supper afterwards (unless you're going to see Ken Dodd, in which case book for lunch the next day.)The chef/owner Vincent prides himself on all the ingredients being fresh and delivered daily and while he adheres mostly to traditional Oriental recipes, he likes to give them his own special twists. He finds cooking an adventure and believes his customers should share in it. A set meal for one (�12) could include caviar prawns, steak in fruity sauce or chargrilled sea bass with rice or noodles. I'm not sure why it's called TY8 and whether there was ever a TY1 but I'll give it eight out of ten!
Nava Thai at the Hamilton ArmsSchool Lane, Stedham, near Midhurst GU29 ONZtel: 01730 812555www.thehamiltonarms.co.ukAn unusual combination of a Thai restaurant at the back of a bustling West Sussex country pub but the excellent food here has earned it a mention in this year's Michelin Good Food Guide. Both the d�cor and the food are authentic Thai with wickers chairs, lanterns and portraits of Thai royalty adorning the walls. Expect to pay �20 a head (without drinks) but enjoy the colourful, fragrant and flavoursome cooking. Booking advisable and 10 per cent discount if you do so online.
The China Palace 67 High Street, Arundel, West Sussex BN18 9AJtel: 01903 883702 www.arundel.tv for video and further detailsThe China Palace and Far East: 43/45 Chapel Road, Worthing, West Sussex BN11 1EG tel: 01903 218182I thought that one China Palace was the same as the next and was about to recommend the exquisite restaurant in Arundel, which specialises in Peking and Sze-Chuan cooking. Peek into their website and you'll see how beautiful it is. Then I discovered that this was only part of Victor Heng's amazing Chinese dynasty. Visit his China Palace in Worthing and you could be in Chinatown. Victor told me that his dad opened the first Chinese takeaway in Worthing 30 years ago and it was his dream to own a restaurant like this. Climb the black marble staircase and eat all you can for �14.80.
Oki-Nami6 New Road, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1UF Tel: 01273 773 777Oki-Nami shop and delicatessen 12 York Place, Brighton BN1 4GUwww.okinami.com