Nara opened its doors in Southsea four months ago. Their motto – it’s not just sushi – is a truism as many of us believe that the Japanese just eat daintily-packaged rice rounds or mounds covered with bright red salmon or other fish.
But their culinary aptitude is richly diverse, from tempura, noodles, teriyaki and curries to soups, sashimi, gohan rice dishes and Keiseki, the highest type of cooking to be found in Japan.
What I love about the country’s food is its presentation, intensity of flavours, remarkable balance of ingredients, healthy style of cooking and its sharing culture.
Nara’s sushi (of course there is sushi!) whizzes around on an oblong conveyor belt in the middle of the long restaurant. Either sit facing the conveyor belt or at one of the double banks of banquettes. Japanese pop music plays unobtrusively.
The decor is one of simple lines and primary colours. It’s not hard to imagine a whole troupe of well-behaved Japanese primary school children sitting down to do their homework without distraction.
Your homework at Nara will be trying to decipher what is passing by on the belt (it all looks rather unfathomable to the non-initiated) and why the plates are in six colours. It turns out the plates indicate price.
You can have edamame, those verdant soya beans, at £1.70 alongside a salad or mixed Japanese pickles. Move up to dashi tofu, vegetable or chicken dumplings; crispy fried chicken; squid rings and tempura, all at £2.90.
Then there’s salmon teriyaki at £4 plus sashimi of shrimp, scallops, or tuna and salmon at £5. Rice dishes are individually priced from £5.80 and beautiful bento boxes with around six – eight different dishes cost from £12.80. Hot dishes are ordered. They don’t whizz around the belt.
I had a bowl of miso soup and sake to warm me on a cold, damp night. But what to choose from the revolving plates? Kimchi, fermented spiced cabbage with a spicy sauce was first, a little going a long way so better as a sharing dish. Two hot dishes, prawn tempura (£4) and salmon teriyaki don with rice (£7.50) were ordered. The tempura batter was a little on the heavy, greasy, side but the prawns were excellent, as were the flat, shiny salmon slices on top of round rice, with its teriyaki sauce of mirin, soya and sugar.
Novices can get a fuller picture of Japanese food by ordering a bento box housing many of the components which make up classic dishes and vegetarians will be spoilt for choice.
Run by young women with flawless manners and service, this newcomer is now one of two Japanese restaurants in Southsea and a welcome addition.
Fast, hip, food meets charisma. My bill came to just over £17 for four dishes and the sake, not including service.
Nara, 178-180 Albert Road, Southsea, PO4 OJT (023) 9283 7315.
Open: Monday – Thursday 12–2.30 pm and 5.30–11 pm. Friday – Saturday 12–11 pm. Closed Sundays.
Food: Four (out of five)
Disabled access: Fine
How to get there: How to get there: The restaurant is in Albert Road, after the junction with Waverley Road. On-street parking.