On a particularly rainy June day in Brighton, it was a joy to be welcomed into the sunny interior of Nanima in Kemptown. With plants hanging from the brightly coloured walls, locals happily sharing a late lunch and a glowing array of exciting food, drink and cakes, you can’t really pass Nanima by on a day like this?
Nanima is the vision and life work of wife and husband team Nicky and Lonnie, whose passion is celebrating Asia’s diverse culinary traditions, from Punjabi Malaysian and Singaporean specialties, to favourites from the culinary traditions of Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and China, Japan and Korea, as well as food from across the Indian sub-continent like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Its wide range of dishes offers customers food made with flair, knowledge and love, whether that’s a spicy curry, a steaming noodle soup, samosas, chicken wings, sushi, or one of their myriad sweet treats – the aim is to excite and comfort diners, whether vegan, veggie or otherwise.
Besides the food itself, it’s the carefully cultivated ethos behind Nanima that keeps customers coming back. For a start, there’s no menu – chef Nicky and her sister Bea decide what to cook each morning for Nanima’s lunch, fresh and from scratch, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. If you walk into Nanima mid-morning, the air smelling fragrantly of steamed coconut rice, you’ll see Nicky and Bea cooking in front of you. You can ask about the food, about your dietary requirements, and chat to the chef herself. It’s all part of the community atmosphere that Nicky and Lonnie feel is central to Nanima’s origins. Lonnie tells me that the name ‘Nanima’ means ‘maternal grandmother’ in Punjabi, Hindi and other languages from the Indian subcontinent and celebrates a major influence on their kitchen: Nicky’s mother, who taught Nicky everything. Nanima still lives in Kuala Lumpur, regularly cooking for up to 500 people a day in the Sikh temple, where food is served for free to everyone regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity, and enjoyed sitting down together.
That community aspect drove Nicky and Lonnie to call Nanima a kitchen, rather than a café or restaurant. For them, customers are welcome any time. Whether you want to stop with your laptop for a coffee, have lunch with friends, a beer after work, pick up a sweet treat or grab a deliciously fresh dinner to take away with you, Nanima has it covered.
On the day of our visit we were greeted with a delicious Vietnamese coffee ‘Teh Tarik’, which was without a doubt the smoothest coffee I’ve ever had. Teh Tarik is served black with a drop of sweetened milk at the bottom, that you can either stir in or enjoy as a ‘desert’ at the end of the coffee. It’s a firm favourite with customers, alongside their Union coffee range, full Tea Pigs selection and the fresh batch of Indian spiced chai brewed up every morning. There’s also Bubble Tea, vegan Lassi and milkshakes in every flavour – from salted butter caramel or lime & lemongrass to the less conventional pineapple, coconut and mekhong whisky or Chinese custard cream.
It being late lunch we decided to tuck in to a generous portion of spiced mushroom soup, wonderfully hearty and served with a bright dash of paprika. Nanima have a particular knack for soups, whether that’s their Asian speciality soup Thai Tom Kha or Southern Indian Dahl & Raita, their Indonesian Spicy Tomato & Coriander or Vietnamese Chicken Broth. They’re all warming, originally seasoned and bursting with flavour. As for main meals, Nanima always offer two main non-vegetarian dishes, like Malaysian Chilli Lamb, Chinese Roast Duck or Keralan Fish & Coconut Curry. On the vegetarian side, diners might be greeted with anything from an Indonesian Sambal Grilled Aubergine to a Northern Indian Yellow Dahl with Carrots and Lemon, and most meals can be made vegan.
Anyone with a sweet tooth (and I count myself) will also be immediately drawn to the jaw dropping selection of cakes and pastries, original and classic – from indulgent chocolate cakes to Persian Love Loaf to delicious speciality Asian-style treats. We were drawn to the ‘cronut’ – a gorgeous raspberry topped ‘half donut, half croissant’ – and best of all, a couple of perfect Japanese mochis, filled with peanut butter. If you’re ever strolling through Kemptown, don’t leave without at least one (three is better!)
Nicky and Lonnie also have a passion for sustainability. Their plastic free cutlery is made of corn starch and their retail section, which sells lunch boxes, reusable food-ware, bamboo coffee keep-cups, glass containers with charcoal filters and bamboo straws, encourages an ethical approach to consumption.
What all Nanima’s special qualities add up to is an atmosphere of craft, care and warmth. Whether you’re a foodie excited to try some truly authentic, exciting cooking; seeking out a calm spot to try some truly great coffee or share a joyful lunch with friends – you’ll walk away feeling like you’ve just enjoyed something a little bit different, and very special.