Featured Restaurant: Inso Pan

3rd November 2017

8 The Broadway • Northwood Hills • 01923 518737

Reviewed by Alan Cox

There seems to be a penchant for noodle bars at the moment: they seem to be springing up in different guises on almost every high street. Wagamama may be the big daddy of this style of casual eating, but size isn’t always important as compact and bijou Inso Pan cleverly demonstrates…

Simplicity rules in this very informal and friendly eatery. Wooden tables are set with just a paper napkin and chopsticks, and seats that I can only describe as padded cubes are the only furnishings. Vibrant pillar box red walls adorned with Asian silhouettes are the only nod to the Orient. The music, surprisingly, is from the charts.

But enough about the ambience (or perhaps lack of) – here it’s all about the food. The menu is vast, with Street Snacks, Teasers and Tapas, Salads, Sushi and Sashimi, together with the more hearty Asian Curries and Stir Fries. Where to start?

With some advice from our pleasant and knowledgeable waitress, we start by sharing Japanese Gyoza (dumplings filled with chicken served with a sesame soy dipping sauce), Duck Crystal Rolls (rice paper filled crispy duck, cucumber, wafu salad and hoi sin sauce), and Spicy Tuna Temaki (a large cone-shaped hand roll of seaweed stuffed with rice and chopped yellow fin tuna and spring onion with chilli paste).

All three are delicious, each in their own individual way. The chicken dumplings are light and moreish; with a paper-thin shell, these little nuggets literally burst with fragrant flavours. Our Crystal Rolls are a sushi twist on the ubiquitous Chinese crispy duck pancake, but lighter. Be warned, the accompanying wasabi is some of the most powerful I’ve encountered. The Temaki is a little more difficult to share, or indeed eat with chopsticks, so it’s a knife to cut, and fingers to devour. I love the chilled taste of this, which contrasts with the kick from the spices – a real tingle on the taste buds.

‘You must try the Dragon Roll’ we’re told. Who are we to refuse? And ‘wow’ – this looks and tastes amazing. It is, by far, the star of the evening. Described as Tempura Tiger Prawn, it has cucumber and mayonnaise on the inside, slices of eel and avocado on the outside, and is dressed with a sweet BBQ eel sauce, mayonnaise, orange and wasabi flying fish roe. A generous size, it’s neatly cut into slices and drizzled with a teriyaki-type sticky sauce. Every element feels fresh, with beautifully balanced flavours throughout. I can see why this dish is so popular – it’s a triumph.

The decision to wait until after our starters to order our main courses proves the right one, as our taste buds are now in overdrive. We can’t resist Phad Thai (rice noodles, seasonal mixed vegetables, with egg and peanuts and tossed in a sweet tamarind sauce), paired with Japanese ‘Ka Re’ with Ebi Fry (Panko-crumbed prawns in a thick curry sauce) and a bowl of jasmine rice. The breaded prawns are three enormous monsters, piping hot and coated in a crispy golden shell and sitting in a lake of peppery curry sauce – almost too much sauce if I’m honest. It’s a simple partnering that’s flavoursome, if a little lacking in interest and texture. But scattered with a generous assortment of fresh and firm vegetables, our favourite Phad Thai is certainly on point. In fact, we’ve not had better.

Inso Pan’s setting may be a little more Hillingdon than Hirosaki, but the tastes are undeniably and unmistakably Asian – and you can’t argue with that.

STARTERS: £2.85-£8.95 • MAINS: £6.96-£12.95
DESSERTS: £3.45-£4.25 • HOUSE WINE: £17.50

Find Your Local