E-Kagen, Brighton, England
By Jeremy – February 14th, 2006
I like Japanese food. Let me qualify that: I like good Japanese food. There’s nothing more depressing than lacklustre noodles or mediocre sushi. So when I found an establishment that serves superb sushi and delectable noodles, I kept going back for more.
E-Kagen — formerly the Yum-Yum Noodle Bar — bills itself as a restaurant, but it has more of a café feel to it. It’s a hidden gem, tucked away at the end of Brighton’s funky North Laine, above an oriental food shop. From the outside, it doesn’t seem that enticing. A single doorway leads down a dim corridor and up a flight of stairs to the café proper. There, you’ll find plain tables and some minimalist Japanese decor (very practically, there’s shelves of manga and racks of kimonos for you to peruse at your leisure).
If you were to judge purely on outside appearances, you’d probably give E-Kagen a miss. But that would be a mistake. You’d be missing some of the finest Japanese food around.
Try the gyoza to start with. They’re freshly made: you can watch the chef prepare them, thanks to the café’s open plan layout. Once you’ve tasted these pork gyoza, it’s clear that this is a chef who knows what he’s doing.
Depending on the mood you’re in, you might want some sushi or you might want some noodles. Either way, you’re in for a treat.
When it comes to sushi, I’m a big fan of nigiri. The combination of fish and rice, when done right, is divine. All the usual fare is on offer at E-Kagen: tuna, salmon, sea bass, etc. Sadly, one of my personal favourites, mackerel, doesn’t make an appearance. But the fantastic eel more than makes up for it. You can also get the eel as a main course with rice as una-don.
As good as the sushi is, what really keeps me coming back to E-Kagen is the noodles. Specifically, the soba noodles in broth.
You can get yaki-soba if you prefer your noodles fried, and you can get udon noodles if you fancy something thicker, but you’ll be missing out on the crowning glory of E-Kagen. I don’t know what it is, but the combination of the buckwheat soba noodles with the very delicately balanced broth is just perfect.
Try the tempura soba. It may seem like a weird idea to take the nice crisp tempura vegetables and prawns and dunk them into a bowl of broth and noodles, but the result is a surprisingly good texture. The tempura batter, by the way, is wonderful. You can even get a soba dish with pieces of batter: tanuki soba.
There’s a lot more on offer from the menu at E-Kagen, but I must admit that I keep returning to my tried and trusted favourites. I have yet to eat there in the evening, when a slightly more expanded menu is on offer. For a lunch-time treat, however, I can recommend it whole-heartedly.
Whenever I come across a treasure like this place, I’m always torn between telling everybody I know about it and keeping it to myself. On the one hand, I don’t want it to get too popular. At the same time, I want to spread the good word. In the case of E-Kagen, I definitely think it deserves a wider audience. Wagamama opened up a branch just down the road from E-Kagen a while back. I have nothing against Wagamama — the food is perfectly adequate — but E-Kegan is far superior. I certainly hope that the higher profile of Wagamama doesn’t result in reduced custom for E-Kagen.
Despite its unassuming appearance, E-Kagen serves up some of the finest Japanese food I’ve ever had.
E-Kagen, 22/23 Sydney Street, Brighton BN1 4EN, England, +44 (0) 1273 687 068