If one walks past Genki in the courtyard of the De Wet Centre in Stellenbosch, one could be likely to dismiss it, from its exterior, given that there are a number of other restaurants that spill out onto the courtyard, and may look more attractive options. It was seeing Jenny Kavarana, a food lover, eating there recently, and receiving a recommendation from Mike Ratcliffe of Warwick via Twitter, that I had to go and try it last week. When I saw Chef Christoph Dehosse sitting at the counter for lunch last Saturday, and he told me that Genki is his favourite restaurant (other than his Restaurant Christophe of course), I knew it was a special place.
The focus at Genki is purely on the food, and first prize is to have the ‘master’, Arata Koga, prepare the food when going to Genki. Chef Arata was the master sushi chef at Tank, when it was in its heyday, and he left Tank about eighteen months ago to open his own restaurant. There are no tablecloths, no material serviettes, nor cutlery. Only a cheap paper serviette, cheap chopsticks, and two bottles of Kikkoman soya (one regular, one “Less Sodium”) are on the table. Tables are white, and the collection of mixed red, white and black chairs around the tables adds a touch of colour outside, and shade is provided by umbrellas and the trees in the courtyard. Inside, the tables and chairs are black, and can only seat three couples at the three tables, but one can sit at the counter to see Chef Arata prepare the food, and to chat to him in his broken English. The ceiling is covered with Japanese lanterns. I was told that “Genki” means energy, or vibe.
The menu and beverage list has a wooden cover, and is a functional presentation of information about and prices of the Japanese Tapas, Sushi and beverages on offer. A number of Japanese Tapas options range from R28 (for Edamame – steamed soy beans – and salmon cakes), to R78 for Crispy soft shell crab. I had the most wonderful deep-fried calamari legs, with a crispy batter and served with a spicy sauce and a ginger soy sauce, both delicious accompaniments, only costing R35 for a generous plateful. Two Yakitori chicken skewers served with a rich sticky teriyaki sauce cost R 32, which my son enjoyed. He also ordered Tempura Shitaki, and the batter was very light, allowing the mushroom texture to come through (R28).
In the ‘Salads and Miso Soup’ section one can order Sashimi salad, Seared Tuna and avacado salad, both costing R58, and deep-fried calamari leg salad, at R45. Miso soup costs R45.
I ordered a prawn and avocado handroll (R38), one of my favourite sushi choices, and previously that served by Fu.shi in Plettenberg Bay was my favourite. Now that Fu.shi has closed down, and I have discovered Genki, I will only be eating sushi at Genki. Master Arata’s rice is light, not stodgy, and as Chef Christophe said, Genki sets the benchmark for sushi. Sushi will never taste the same again. The handroll was crunchy, and was filled with prawns, the thinnest cucumber strips and avocado, as well as mayonnaise. I was allowed to eat it with cutlery. California rolls cost R42 for eight pieces, and R32 for a handroll. Two Oceans roll, which is a mix of tuna and salmon, and containing avocado, costs R48/R38; Spicy Tuna Roll costs R45/R35; Rainbow Roll, being California Roll inside and having tuna or salmon on top, costs R68; a scary sounding Dragon Roll, with eel, cucumber and avocado, costs R62; a Genki Crunch Roll consists of salmon, tuna, linefish, cream cheese and avocado tempura, and costs R60 for 6 pieces; and a Spider Roll, consisting of soft shell crab, cucumber, avocado and ponzu (a citrus sauce), costs R65. “Fashion sandwiches” and Maki rolls are also available. Ngiri sushi mixed platters range in price from R85 – R123 for about 12 pieces. One can also order two pieces of sushi, e.g. Torro, being the fatty part of tuna, and costs R38; eel costs R36; prawn R24, just to mention a few of the options. I ended off my meal with Tempura prawns, covered with the most delicious thick batter I have ever tasted (R48). Only one dessert is offered – Green Tea ice cream at R32.
“Master” Arata also runs the Genki Academy, at which one can be taught how to make sushi. One may eat one’s creations after the lesson, and the charge is the cost of the item on the menu.
The winelist is very restricted, with only four brands or fewer per variety. Simonsig sparkling wine costs R38/R152, and L’Avenir R162. Warwick Professor Black Sauvignon Blanc costs R162, and Ernst & Co’s an affordable R105. Only Spier’s Signature is offered for Shiraz, at R97.
I will be back at Genki when I next go to Stellenbosch. The service from waiter Rudi, who previously worked at Tank, was professional and friendly, and he willingly went to “Master” Arata to ask him my questions, “Master” Arata and I having a “Lost in Translation” handicap. The prices are very reasonable.
Genki Sushi and Japanese Tapas Bar, De Wet Centre Courtyard, Church Street, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 887-5699. No website. Monday – Saturday 11h00 – 15h00, and 17h00 – 22h00.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage