On Monday I was hosted for lunch by the Twelve Apostles Hotel, invited to try its new Sushi Menu, which was launched at the beginning of this month. With Chef Sarawut Sukkowplong, previously with Nobu at the One & Only at the helm, I knew that it would be a good experience. Continue reading →
* Locals as well as tourists may find it interesting to explore Cape Town underground as opposed to looking at its beautiful oceans and mountains! Tours of Cape Town’s underground water canals are offered for small groups of up to fifteen persons, commencing at the Castle of Good Hope, with a one hour tour of the Castle, and another one hour section of the tour showing one the fresh running water coming from Table Mountain and running into the sea. The canals were built by the Dutch in the 17th century, and were called ‘Little Amsterdam‘ at one stage.
* After ten years of participating in his Kitchen Nightmare TV series, Chef Gordon Ramsay has closed the door to this popular program which advised struggling restaurant owners in the UK and USA in how to save their businesses. More than 120 episodes were filmed over 12 seasons, and were sold to 150 countries, to have been seen by tens of millions of viewers.
* Actor Sean Penn was seen having lunch at Truth on Buitenkant Street yesterday, being in pre-production for his new movie ‘The Last Face’, which will star Charlize Theron.
* 2011 MasterChef Australia contestant Hayden Quinn, and cook, writer, and presenter, is coming to South Africa to film ‘Hayden Quinn South Africa‘, a 13-episode series which will be broadcast on Continue reading →
I had been to Nobu just after it opened two years ago, and was not very impressed by it, due to a service issue, but a return visit on Saturday evening, at the invitation of the One&Only Cape Town and its PR Consultant Ian Manley, was a delight, with a noticeable menu and service evolution in the past two years, with unique Japanese, Peruvian and even South African elements in it. Nobu serves the largest sushi and sashimi selection in South Africa, I was told, and with the most unusual ingredients, such as abalone, scallop, lobster and langoustine.
Hostess Delphine welcomed us, and said that she had left after the opening training, but had returned again, and did the traditional Nobu greeting of Irashamase, which is echoed by all her staff, meaning ‘welcome to our house’. We were well looked after by waitress Nonte and sommelier Keith, and especially by manager Sebastian, who was most knowledgeable and sought information from the chef when he could not answer a question. He has been at Nobu since its opening. I asked Sebastian why he and the staff were not wearing a name badge, and he told me that all the staff are part of the team, and no individual stands out.
The restaurant, like Reuben’s, is downstairs, with a very high ceiling which contains lighting that looks like Japanese paper lamps. We asked about the circles which run along the walls, but could not find an explanation for them, as they are unique to Nobu. Sebastian found out that American Adam D. Tihany was the interior designer. Tables have black lacquer tops, and chairs are dark stained. In general, the lighting is low.
Owner Nobuyuki Matsuhisa worked in Peru after he trained in Japan, and then opened a restaurant in Alaska. It burnt down two months after opening. He then opened Matuhisa in Los Angeles, and in 1992 he opened Nobu in New York, with actor Robert de Niro as a major backer. There are now 28 Nobus around the world. Sebastian told me which dishes are the classic trademark ones, which one is likely to find at any Nobu (we can attest to that, as a group of Americans sat next to us, and they immediately discussed these as well, clearly knowing them from past experience at another Nobu):
* Yellowtail sashimi and jalapeno (R115)
* New style sashimi, lightly seared (R75 – R210)
* Tiradito (sashimi and chilli) (R105 – R210)
* Tuna sashimi salad (R110)
* Black Cod Den Miso is the best known dish of all, the cod being marinated in the Den Miso sauce for 3 days (R395)
* Prawn Tempura in rock shrimp style, fried in cotton seed oil, and served with ponzu, creamy spicy and jalapeno sauces (R125)
* Omakase, the chef’s recommendation, in which the chef prepares a 7-course meal based on what the patron likes to eat, consisting of two cold appetisers, a salad, one hot fish dish, one hot beef dish, soup and sushi (served after the main courses in Japanese style), and a dessert, at R 550.
The menu had a cardboard cover, with replaceable pages inside, allowing for regular menu changes. Blanched soya beans sprinkled with sea salt were brought to the table while we were discussing the menu, and they became more-ish as I got the hang of eating them out of the pod. If I eat Asian foods in Cape Town, I have gone to Haiku in the past, and therefore I tried more Haiku-like dishes to start, to serve as a comparison. I started with abalone (R16) and lobster (R28) sushi, its presentation very different to my past experience of what I can now call more ‘commercialised’ sushi. The lobster sushi was soft and almost jelly-like, and it was explained that it was because it had not been cooked. I could not recognise it from the lobster I know. The abalone had some tough sections to it, and I know that abalone generally needs a good beating and cooking in a pressure cooker because it is so tough. After posting the photograph of this dish, there was some criticism of the serving of abalone, but Sebastian assured me that the restaurant has a licence to obtain and serve it. The avocado (R18 for two slices), asparagus (R25 for two), and shitake mushroom (R20 for two) tempura was delicious, with a very light crispy batter. The highlight however was a new dish recently created by chef Hideki Maeda, which he has included in his 7-course Chef’s Special Omakase tasting menu (R850), being a 100g portion of Wagyu beef imported from Australia, served with foie gras, fig jam, fig tempura and a balsamic reduction (R395) – it was heavenly, a perfect main course size, given the preceding starters and the dessert to follow! What made it even better was the beautiful slim and elegant Elia cutlery that I ate it with, having used chopsticks for the starters.
For dessert I ordered Suntory whisky cappuccino, a delicious cappuccino look-alike served in a coffee cup, with four layers inside, and one is encouraged to scoop deep inside the cup to have a taste of all four the layers of coffee brûlée, cocoa crumble (adding a wonderful crunch), milk ice cream and the Suntory infused froth on top – an absolute treat. I was surprised to see a selection of desserts, all costing around R60 – R75, that were largely ‘Westernised’, including a local malva pudding. The winter menu special is a 5-course meal with one appetiser, the Rock shrimp tempura, Beef Toban Yaki, soup and sushi, and a dessert, at R299, and is a good way to try some of the classic international Nobu dishes.
The winelist has a brown leather cover, and contained a selection of cocktails and Sake (R150 – R590 for 150 ml), as well as of mainly local and some French wines. It is not as extensive as that at Reuben’s by any means. Sommelier Keith is Let’s Sell Lobster trained, and worked at The Round House after his training. It showed in that the wines-by-the-glass we ordered were brought to the table poured and untasted by ourselves, Keith saying that this is how he had been taught. He did oblige by pouring the subsequent wines at the table, and allowing us to taste them. Wines served by the glass include Pommery Brut Royale (R175/R850), Billecart Salmon Brut Reserve (R200/R975), Billecart Brut Rosé (R295/R1550), Graham Beck Brut (R49/R240), Villiera Tradition Brut (R44/R210), and Graham Beck Brut Rosé (R98/475). White wines range from R34 for 150 ml of Ken Forrester Sauvignon Blanc to R74 for Rustenberg Chardonnay. Red wines start at R54 for 150 ml of Springfield Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon to R118 for Bouchard Finlayson Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2009. About five options are offered per variety, and the Shiraz selection started at R 280 for La Motte 2008, up to R560 for Luddite 2005.
Nobu has something and more for everyone that appreciates excellent Asian style cuisine, and Haiku won’t be seeing me in a great hurry again, as there is much more variety, friendlier service, and no star order minimum at Nobu. The professional service by Sebastian was a large part of the enjoyment of our dinner at Nobu.
Nobu, One&Only Cape Town, V&A Waterfront. Tel (021) 431-5888. www.oneandonlycapetown.com. (The hotel website contains a page for Nobu, with a menu and winelist, but the photographs are in a general Image Gallery, unmarked, and mixed with those of Reuben’s and the Vista Bar). Monday – Sunday, dinner only.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
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
It is a strange feeling to enter the newly opened Asian Leaf Restaurant and Bar in what was the location of two favourite restaurants – The Showroom and Portofino – in that the restaurant interior is exactly as it was when Cormac Keane closed Portofino in April, with a few changes – grass green serviettes on the side plates, brand new staff wearing green Leaf-branded T-shirts, and a massive ghetto-blaster out on the deck, with too-loud music. The hardest thing about going to Leaf will be to choose what to eat, its choice of dishes being so vast. In general, the prices are very reasonable, and the portions generous, offering excellent value for money. Anyone looking for the two previous restaurants and their cuisine should stay away.
The opening of the restaurant was delayed due to a problem in getting the credit card machine installed. The restaurant had opened just more than a week before I visited it, and I went back on the following day, as I did not have much time on my first visit. I sat outside on the deck for my Saturday lunch, and almost choked on my calamari when I saw the massive ghetto-blaster, which had been set up on the deck, on a table with a table cloth. I asked if they were going to have a party, but it was meant to create atmosphere outside, to attract a younger crowd, said the Manager Ambrose. Fortunately the music was switched off when I sat outside, it being unbearably loud. The deck looks fuller in having more chairs and tables than in the past, and each outside chair has a red blanket, a clash with the green theme. A hand-written blackboard welcomes one on arrival, advertising a most amazing sushi special offer – 51 % (no, not a typing error) off all a la carte sushi from 11h00 – 19h00 daily, and all-day on Sundays.
Owner James Ye (Chinese for ‘leaf’) bought the restaurant from Keane, and took over all fixtures and fittings. Manager Ambrose, with ‘cheffing skills’, he said, when he prepared my calamari for the first lunch, worked at the Cape Town Fish Market for the past twelve years, leaving as Executive Head Chef responsible for menu development and costing. Ye came from China to be a sushi chef at the V&A Waterfront branch of the Cape Town Fish Market, and left to open The Empire on Main Road in Sea Point, and also opened Saki in the Sable Centre in Montague Gardens. He is also a frozen seafood supplier. A number of staff at Leaf have worked at the Waterfront branch of the Cape Town Fish Market, and this made me nervous about my first meal there. I was pleasantly surprised when my calamari was served – a massive plate with a very large portion of Patagonian calamari tubes, egg rice, tartar sauce made with Japanese mayonnaise, and the most wonderful steamed carrots and beans, an absolute steal at R79. I was the only guest in the restaurant on this first visit.
I returned for Sunday lunch, now sitting inside, and having two more tables for company. The ghetto-blaster had been moved under the outside table, but the table cloth which was meant to hide it was not long enough to do so. The table cloths and serviettes look badly ironed, if at all, and we questioned the side-plates being on the right – Ambrose said he wants Leaf to be different! Some knives had their serrated edges to the outside, rather than facing inside the setting, little signs of how new the staff are. Staff stretch in front of one when clearing items away, or in bringing additional cutlery, a pet hate. Any ex-regular would cringe if they saw the rose patterned cushions that are placed over the definitive ghost chairs of the restaurant. We were served a very tasty onion focaccia bread with a crispy cheese crust, with a milk jug each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. It is clear that things are less pretty and more functional at Leaf, and I missed a woman’s hand in the management.
We were offered a complimentary cocktail, and I chose the ‘virgin’ “Peach Tree Mosquito”, a refreshing mix of fresh mint, lime juice, cane sugar, peach juice, soda and crushed ice. Two champagnes are on the winelist, Veuve Cliquot and Pommery Brut Royale, at R999 and R1100, respectively. MCC sparkling wines offered are Simonsig (R29/R175), Beyerskloof Brut Rose (R24/R145) and Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose (R265). An innovative touch is the choice one has of ordering wine by the glass in 175 ml and 250 ml quantities, as well as by the bottle, allowing one to have different wines with each course or dish one eats. The Sauvignon Blancs, for example, start at R 19 (175ml), R27 (250ml) and R79 (bottle) for the Du Toits Kloof brand, Zevenwacht 360 being the most expensive (R40/R60/R170). For Shiraz lovers the entry level is Robertson (R20/R29/R87), and Diemersdal (R14/R62/R185) the most expensive. A good selection of wines is offered per varietal.
Leaf has three menus: Sushi, Hot Pot and Dim Sum, and a standard a la carte menu. None of the three menus are integrated design-wise, and some have photographs of some of the dishes, while others do not. The a la carte menu is the most professional looking, and is dominated by leaves on the pages. I started with a Hand roll of avo and prawn from the Sushi menu, which normally has salmon and caviar added, but which I declined – the normal price is R 39, but with the 51 %-off, it only costs R19. I cannot eat a hand roll by hand, so I was brought a steak knife to cut it. I love the prawn and avo hand roll at Fu.shi in Plettenberg Bay, and that is my benchmark. That of Leaf came close, but the end bits were dry, with the mayonnaise too concentrated in the middle. Sushi lovers will delight in the vast variety offered, including Sashimi platters (16 pieces for R138), Salmon platters and Tuna platters (21 pieces for R149), and eight combination choices of R99 Sushi platters. The Sushi menu also offers Crab, Prawn, Vegetable, Seared Tuna and Japenese (sic) Seafood salads, ranging from R30 – R58. Other options are smaller portions of Sashimi, Nigiri, Fashion Sandwich, Maki, Inside Out Roll and Edo Roll, as well as Tempura vegetables and prawns, and a selection of hand rolls.
The Dim Sum menu offers eighteen choices of steamed and pan-fried dumplings, deep fried wontons, and more, with prices ranging from R28 – R48, while the Hot Pot menu offers sixteen choices, ranging from R22 for Tofu to R150 for Crayfish. I did not have anything off this menu, being overwhelmed by the menu options offered across the three menus.
The a la carte menu tries hard to get away from the “Chinese” label the restaurant has already earned prior to its opening, and Manager Ambrose asked me specifically to not refer to it as a Chinese restaurant. The Starters include Oysters (R15 – R20), Harumaki (deep-fried spring rolls), Calamari, Mussels, Tuna Tartare, Tempura, and Dumplings, no item costing more than R59, and Crayfish Cocktail (R99). The Tempura prawn starter had five Indian Tiger Prawns, served as the most wonderful deepfried crispy thick “Japanese style battered morsels of food”, with sweet chilli sauce, at R40. The Chicken springrolls were delicious, with a different crispy batter, costing R25. Soups are Eastern in style, including Tom Yum, at R48. Salads range in price from R48 – R58. Fish and chips cost R40. Three calamari dishes range from R59 – R79. Crayfish is served grilled or steamed, at R249, or Thermidor, at R299 – no weight/size is specified. Seafood platters, served with a choice of two sides, range from R99 for line fish to R499 for the Executive (crayfish, scallops, line fish, prawns, baby squid, calamari and mussels). Steak options are Sirloin (200 g for R79, 300 g for R109), and fillet (250 g for R119), and one can also order lamb shank, lamb chops and oxtail. Three chicken dishes range from R59 – R79, while two Duck options are available, Peking Duck at R149, and Marinated Duck at R119. I chose the latter, and was disappointed with its taste and presentation – it was served on a bed of chopped lettuce, with a very rich dark sweet soy sauce, making the plate look very messy. The duck was nowhere near my duck benchmark, being that of Haiku. Sticky rice and steamed vegetables were well prepared. I was surprised to not see any desserts on the menu, but I am sure that no one could manage to eat any, after the great selection of starters and main courses. Coffee is by LavAzza.
One leaves Leaf confused about whether one likes the restaurant or not, and one tends to think back of wonderful meals and chats one had with Bruce and Cormac, given the familiarity of the furnishings. If one loves Eastern food, and seeks value for money, one can do no better than to eat at Leaf. The staff need time and practice to get their service up to speed, but in general they are friendly and eager to please. Food is served the whole day, and not in lunch and dinner time bands, as is so common, which means that one can pop in at any time if one is feeling peckish. Given time, Leaf can blossom, and bring new life to this restaurant space.
Leaf Restaurant and Bar, Harbour Edge Building, Chiappini Street, Green Point, Cape Town. Tel (021) 418-4500. www.leafrestaurant.co.za (The “webside” is still under construction).
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com