Riverine Rabbit: Inventive Fine Dining with an Environmental Conscience (and a Spring Menu to LIVE for!)

With an emphasis on eco-conscious dining, Riverine Rabbit delivers a gastronomical experience that is both kind to the environment and its fauna and flora and, in equal measure, absolutely unforgettable to the diner. This is the chronicle of my epic 10-course spring menu tasting at this lauded Cape Town restaurant!

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The Riverine Rabbit is a critically endangered animal found in the Western Cape, below the Nuweveld Mountains in the semi-arid Central Karoo of South Africa. In fact, it is one of the most endangered mammals in the world with a living adult population estimated at well below 1,000 individuals. In other words: it is a rabbit in trouble.

Riverine-rabbit-Endangered-Wildlife-Trust-min

This sounds a bit off, doesn’t it? After all, don’t rabbits bonk like, well, rabbits? Even if their habitat is being mercilessly destroyed and food is scarce, don’t females give birth to a dozen or more kits before the males get right back on that horse…or should I say lady rabbit? Yes and yes, to the last two questions but the Riverine Rabbit is rather special because females only produce one offspring per year. Rather than ruthlessly over-populating an area, as most rabbits are wont to do, Riverine Rabbits are rather chaste in their approach to multiplying. And, unfortunately, in the face of relentless agricultural development, they simply don’t stand a chance.

There’s an important metaphor in all this and one that sisters Head Chef Ash Heeger and Sommelier/General Manager Mandy van der Berg have employed as the powerful philosophy behind their eco-conscious, fine dining restaurant in Cape Town, Riverine Rabbit.

And, no, there’s no rabbit on the menu.

Eco-conscious fine dining

Farming in the Karoo has left much of the Riverine Rabbit’s natural habitat completely overgrazed and decimated, which has positioned them on the very brink of extinction. Thankfully, more and more of Cape Town’s eateries are shifting their dining philosophies to be more eco-conscious, environmentally friendly, and humane. Riverine Rabbit embodies that shift because Chef Ash Heeger prioritizes hyper-local, freshly caught or harvested, and sustainable ingredients.

“We are a family owned restaurant and strive to promote and encourage the sustainable use of our natural resources.”

With an emphasis on eco-conscious dining, Riverine Rabbit delivers a gastronomical experience that is both kind to the environment and its fauna and flora and, in equal measure, absolutely unforgettable to the diner. I should know because, last week, I was treated to a meal at the Chef’s Table!

Meet Ash, culinary boss babe

Riverine Rabbit Ash Heeger

Chef Ash Heeger has established a Herculean name for herself on the international restaurant scene. Having graduated from the Silwood School of Cookery, she cut her teeth (and probably several fingers) under the tutelage of Chef Luke Dale Roberts at La Colombe and then at The Test Kitchen, both top 10 restaurants in South Africa and, for various years, top 50 restaurants in the world. In other words: holy shit that’s impressive! 

Chef Ash then set sail for foreign shores to expand her repertoire and skillset, working with Brett Graham at The Ledbury in Notting Hill (London) followed by two years at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Both are Michelin 2 Star kitchens and, again, holy shit that’s impressive! Then, in 2018, she competed on The Final Table, Netflix’s version of Master Chef, except that the participants are all vastly accomplished chefs from all over the world. 

Today, Chef Ash Heeger has become somewhat of a household name and if you aren’t suitably impressed by the above biography then you might as well eat at McDonalds because you are beyond redemption.

Meet Mandy, manager and sommelier extraordinaire

I never got to meet Mandy but after tasting the wines she selected for each course of our expansive meal, I am utterly convinced that I’d love the heck out of her. With an astute business background in marketing and events planning, Mandy runs all aspects of the front of house at Riverine Rabbit with a focus on training, curating the incredible wine list, and general administration. Somebody’s got to do it. She also has her WSET Level 3 in wines, which is not only an extraordinary feat of pronouncing virtually unpronounceable French and German wine growing regions but also of palate perceptivity, smell memory, and covet-worthy intelligence.

Together, Ash and Mandy are a formidable team and their restaurant, Riverine Rabbit, is a testament to the spectrum of stratospheric skill they bring to the table. And now that you have met the talent behind the restaurant and the exigent philosophies behind the name, let’s delve into the dining experience!

Riverine Rabbit Restaurant

Spring has sprung!

Indeed, spring has arrived in the Cape and with the warmer weather comes the need for reinvention. Being seasonally inspired by locally available ingredients, Riverine Rabbit’s menu is implicit in this transition, and it was our task – three media folk – to play guinea pigs for Chef Ash’s spring menu, which is due to launch mid-October. What a life, I tell you!

Riverine Rabbit chefs table

We were seated at the luxurious chef’s table, a little nook adjacent to the open plan kitchen, and from where we (and the whole restaurant really) could see Chef Ash and her team at work. What a thing this is to witness! Whisper quiet, the kitchen operates like a well-oiled machine with each and every team member knowing exactly what is required of him or her. Barely a conversation was necessary. Then began the procession of Riverine Rabbit favourites and spring-inspired dishes paired with truly sumptuous wines from all over the Cape winelands….

The opening act

Our epic ten-course meal kicked off with some freshly baked focaccia and a trio of “snacks”: pani puri with chickpea curry and lime yoghurt; “cheese on toast” with burnt onion mayo and truffle; and Riverine Rabbit eggs benedict, all served with a flute of crisp yet biscuity Colmant Cap Classique Brut Reserve NV from Franschhoek. Chef Ash literally invents these titbits daily. 

Then, I smacked my lips through the beef dish, featuring tender pink slices of beef with honey, anchovy, rich egg yolk, aged Balsamic vinegar, garlic, potato, and locally foraged mushrooms. This absolutely exceptional dish was paired with the floral fragranced Paul Cluver Riesling 2017. Finally, we were served the soba noodles from Riverine Rabbit’s autumn menu, a savoury, umami-laced noodle and broth dish featuring chilli, kimchi, seasonal vegetables, and dashi, all served cool and paired with the uber sexy Saronsberg Viognier 2017.

Riverine Rabbit sobu noodles
Sobu noodles

The main event

Four courses down, we relinquished ourselves to a further deluge of sumptuous, imaginative dishes: leeks smothered in vegan béarnaise with breadcrumbs, hazelnuts, and herbs (paired with the exquisite Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2018); mushroom and potato with blue cheese, egg yolk, onion, and herbs (paired with the Lismore Chardonnay 2016); and sustainably caught Red Roman linefish with cucumber, fennel, leeks, dill, and hyper local “sea vegetables”, such as West Coast sea lettuce (paired with the Diemersdal Wild Horseshoe Sauvignon Blanc).

Our meal reached a crescendo with the duck served with turnip, cashew nut, citrus, and mustard and paired with my favourite wine for the evening: the Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir. If Ash had served us nothing but this dish and Mandy conceived of nothing other than this wine and food pairing, I would have gone to bed equally as satisfied. I’m certainly not complaining that we were treated to nine other wine paired plates of foods, although my liver had a little something to say about it the morning after.

Riverine Rabbit duck dish

Sweet finale

Finally, after a blackberry, buttermilk, yoghurt, and black pepper palate cleanser, complete with liquid nitrogen sending great blankets of vapour cascading all over our table, we faced off with dessert. Having recently returned from a trip from New Zealand, Chef Ash was inspired to put together this absolutely delicious Hāngi steamed pudding of potato, caramel, honey, crème fraîche, and vanilla, paired with the saccharine Noble Late Harvest from Diemersdal Wine Estate in Durbanville.

An epic experience with an important message

Riverine Rabbit delivers experimental gastronomy that is inventive, beautiful to behold, brave, and – importantly – absolutely delicious. Most importantly, however, is the subliminal, yet pervasive messaging that the Cape is home to a cornucopia of fresh, sustainable ingredients that if harvested in an eco-conscious manner could prevent the loss of precious flora and fauna, like the Riverine Rabbit. I found the experience to be an education, a visual feast, and a hedonistic indulgence (you’d better skip lunch) with intelligent wine pairings in a cosy, unpretentious atmosphere. And I believe Chef Ash to be a true artist and master of her craft. Mandy, your choice of wines and pairings are testament to your enviable skill as a sommelier and wine lover!

I may have rolled out of Riverine Rabbit but I’ll certainly be back again for more, more, and more of all of the above!

Riverine Rabbit

For more information or to make reservations, please contact Riverine Rabbit on info@riverinerabbit.com or +27 (0) 21 424 7204.

81 Church Street, Cape Town, www.riverinerabbit.com

Wander Woman Thea is for sale (but in a totally legal and classy way)

If you like what you see and fancy a talented, witty, and ridiculously verbose writer for your website project, blog, or marketing materials, don’t hesitate to get in touch at thea@wanderwomanthea.com.

Live Your Pizza Fantasy with 95 at Parks’ REAL Italian Pizza Menu

Let’s talk about pizza crust.

Pizza crust is by far the most forgotten, most neglected part of the pizza. In fact, many people go so far as to discard it entirely, eating the soft cheesy interior and leaving behind sad semi moons of pizza perimeter.

I am guilty of this crime against pizza. Stomach real estate is a precious commodity when you’re facing off against an entire large pizza and so you can’t afford to stuff your belly with bland, bready crust.

The sausage crammed or cheese-filled crust was some pizza houses answer to this global tendency towards crust wastage. At 95 at Parks in Constantia, Cape Town, Milanese Chef-proprietor Giorgio Nava’s answer is to craft pizzas that are – crust to cheesy centre – so absolutely delicious that not even a crumb is left behind on that plate.

How does he do this?

Quality pizza = quality ingredients

95-at-Parks-Italian-Pizza-5

The not-so-secret is the freshness and fine artisanal quality of the ingredients. Forget processed mozzarella cheese, tinned tomato sauce, and mass, factory-produced dough. Within the kitchen at 95 at Parks, pizza is made the Italian way: with fresh, quality ingredients and components, sauces, and stocks that are lovingly and patiently hand-made.

“Our pizzas have been leavened with a mother yeast and beer and then left for 48 hours,” says Chef Giorgio, who has received nothing but praise for the 95 at Parks pizza menu from his Italian friends. “Resting the dough for two days, makes the pizzas much easier to digest and will never leave you feeling bloated.”

Pizza menu of Italian classics

Starting with these flavoursome and crisp foundations, Chef Giorgio layers lashings of rich tomato sauce made from pomodoro san Marzano (plum tomatoes), extra-virgin olive oil, and fior di latte cheese, a traditional semi-soft and creamy Southern Italian mozzarella.

From here, it can go one of six ways:

It can be crowned with a bushel of basil for the simple, yet trusted Pizza Margherita; scattered with olives, grilled broccoli, spinach, and mushrooms for the Pizza Orto (vegetarian); dressed with olives, anchovies, and capers for the Pizza Siciliana; swathed with prosciutto crudo di Parma (Italian dry-cured ham) and rocket for the Pizza Prosciutto Crudo; layered with prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), basil leaves, and Grana Padano cheese for the Pizza Prosciutto Cotto; or prepared with mortadella sausage, basil, and grana Padano for the Pizza con Mortadella.

Nea-poli-tan Mon-tanaa-raaa

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The crowning glory of Chef Giorgio’s small but authentic Italian pizza menu is the Neapolitan Montanara. Say it slowly: Nea-poli-tan Mon-tanaa-raaa. The very words sound edible, right?

This is, essentially, a Margherita pizza but instead of getting baked in the oven as is usually the case, the pizza dough is quickly deep-fried and then layered with that wonderful plum tomato sauce, creamy fior di latte cheese, fresh basil, and Grana Padano shavings. The result is a pizza that is, from crust to cheesy centre, eye-closingly delicious and satisfying.

The crust of Chef Giorgio’s Neapolitan Montanara can be likened to vetkoek: savoury, flavourful, and crisp on the outside, yet soft and steamy on the inside. And if that’s not enough to convince you to polish off the entire thing, you can always drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar on your plate and eat the crust with that!

Pizza for lunch

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Truth be told, our lunch at 95 at Parks was the first time I’d ever heard of the Neapolitan Montanara pizza and yet, it is apparently a culinary creation of legendary proportions. After browsing my way through one with a glass of the Terra Del Capo Sangiovese (when in Italy, right?) I can fully understand why it has achieved this status.

The Neapolitan Montanara is sensational.

But just to make sure that Chef Giorgio Nava’s other pizzas are as authentically Italian and, ergo, delicious as promised, my plus one and I shared a Pizza Orto and Prosciutto Crudo over a bottle of the Muratie Melck’s Blended Red 2015. I’m proud to say that while we didn’t finish everything on the plate, all leftovers were bagged and enjoyed later for dinner. The wine, however, didn’t stand a chance.

95-at-Parks-Muratie-Wine

Tip: if you ask for fresh chilli or garlic with your pizza at 95 at Parks, they will chop it fresh for you in the kitchen and then serve it to you swimming in extra virgin olive oil. Bellissimo!

By the way, 95 at Parks also offers a regular à la carte menu so if your partner is on some boring diet, you can still indulge your pizza fantasy.

Highly recommended

95-at-Parks-Pizza

Since 2017, 95 at Parks has been the Southern Suburb’s go-to authentic Italian eatery and now they are placing a renewed focus on that most famous of Italian dishes: the pizza and in particular the Neapolitan Montanara. So if you love your pizza – and would like, for a change, to enjoy your pizza crust – I can ardently recommend that you pay 95 at Parks a visit.

Priced from R100 to R140, 95 at Parks’ pizzas are available for dinner, Mondays to Saturdays (18:00 to 22:00), and for lunch on Thursdays and Fridays (12:00 to 15:00). For bookings and enquiries, call +27 (0) 21 761 0247 or email parks@95keerom.com.

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/18/live-your-pizza-fantasy-with-95-at-parks-real-italian-pizza-menu/

Blockhouse Kitchen serves “try-not-to-lick-your-plate” delicious food

If you’ve had your ear tuned in to the Cape Town foodie / culinary airwaves, you’ll likely have heard about the recent opening of Blockhouse Kitchen at the arrestingly beautiful Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate. It has generated quite a bit of noise. Situated in the oldest wine-producing region in South Africa and, in fact, the Southern Hemisphere, Blockhouse Kitchen is headed by Executive Chef Brad Ball, who returns to the estate after 12 years at the helm of the previous restaurant, River Café (and who completed a five-year stint at nearby Steenberg Farm’s Bistro Sixteen82). Curious to see whether the restaurant is worthy of the hype, we paid it a visit on a blustery winter’s evening.

The look, the feel

Blockhouse-Kitchen-Constantia-Uitsig-696x522

The weather actually couldn’t have been better suited to our purposes. On a cold evening, there’s nothing quite as inviting as a rustic, country-style restaurant in an historical building older than the Titanic and whose various dining rooms are warmed by raging fires. The main area of this 250-seater restaurant exudes a country-chic, contemporary feel while the two smaller ancillary rooms are simpler, barer, and more rustic in appeal. Ceramic pitchers and bowls of fresh produce like lemons, pears, mushrooms, and chilli peppers function as farm-style “décor” and enormous tapestries with textured prints adorn the walls.

The kitchen is separated from the main dining room by countertops and a glass wall (so you can watch the magic in action) and a combination of the tantalising aromas wafting from its stovetops and the wine cellar, which is visible through a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, heightens the anticipation of the food and wine experience to come!

Blockhouse-Kitchen-1 Constantia Uitsig

Food, glorious food (and wine)

Blockhouse Kitchen offers an all-day dining experience that is both healthy and eco-conscious. Here, nose-to-tail and root-to-leaf philosophies are applied to every dish, which not only constitutes a more sustainable approach to dining but also means that dishes are generous in portion and pricing. The menu is varied, packed with local and seasonal ingredients and dishes, and is guaranteed to please both foodies and those with more conventional palates.

For starters, we shared two small plates, one off the menu and one off the specials board: the crunchy, deep-fried squid fritto miso with courgette, fresh lemon, and garlic, and a divine harissa-spiced aioli; and the earthy, wild mushroom ragu with pistachio pesto and polenta porridge. These, we paired with a glass of the Uitsig Chardonnay Reserve 2016, an elegant, well-structured and balanced wooded Chardonnay with earthy and citrus aromas of lime and orange.

Squid-fritto-miso-blockhouse
Squid Fritto Miso
Wild-mushroom-ragu-blockhouseWild Mushroom Ragu

On a side note, while the restaurant does maintain an impressive and varied selection of local and international wines, I most ardently recommend that you pair your food with Constantia Uitsig’s spectacular repertoire of wines. “When in Rome”, as they say!

For mains, I had the slow-braised lamb shoulder, which was so tender and soft I didn’t know whether to eat it or use it as a pillow to sleep on. This was smothered in a rich, red wine jus, whole baby carrots, winter caponata (a Sicilian eggplant dish), and Parmesan polenta. My plus one chose the winter Bolognese casarecce: twisted tubes of homemade pasta served in a rich, savoury Bolognese sauce made from slow-cooked, grass-fed beef and dusted generously with Parmesan cheese.

Braised-Lamb-shoulder-blockhouse
Braised Lamb Shoulder

For this course, I chose a glass of the Constantia Uitsig Red Horizon, the only red wine the estate makes, and a delicious, light, and elegant blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc. The wine had a lively nose of bright, red cherries with lingering tobacco and ripe plum notes and lovely soft tannins, which paired beautifully with the lamb.

Bellies happily filled, we opted to forego dessert in favour of a glass of the Constantia Uitsig Muscat D’Alexandrie, a rich and soft dessert wine bursting with ripe peach and flower fragrances. The Constantia valley is historically and internationally acclaimed for its Muscat or Muskadel (to use the South African term) or Moscato (if you prefer Italian) – are you keeping up here? So, naturally, Uitsig’s expression of this sweet wine could quite aptly be compared to the ambrosia of the Gods.

Blockhouse-Kitchen-Dessert-Wine

Blockhouse Kitchen confirms the rumours

The rumours abound were that Blockhouse Kitchen serves a mighty good supper and that the food is unpretentious but absolutely delicious. I can confirm that these rumours are indeed true. Chef Brad Ball and his team create environmentally conscious dishes that are take-home-in-a-doggy-box tasty; swat-your-partner’s-hand-for-trying-to-sneak-a-bite flavoursome; and have-to-make-a-concerted-effort-not-to-lick-your-plate delicious. So, if you count yourself as someone who loves a good “foodie” spoil but isn’t comfortable with the expense and measly portion sizes of other fine dining establishments, Blockhouse Kitchen is a must-visit restaurant to add to your culinary bucket list!

Blockhouse Kitchen is open for breakfast and lunch from Monday to Sunday, 09:00 – 11:30 | 12:00 to 22:00 and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@bhkitchen.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 794 3010. 

www.blockhousekitchen.co.za

Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate, Spaanschemat River Road, Fir Grove, Constantia

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/07/01/blockhouse-kitchen-serves-try-not-to-lick-your-plate-delicious-food/

Unwind, wine, and dine at The Alphen Boutique Hotel’s brand-new Incognito Bar

We know how important that after-work unwind spot is: you only have one opportunity to cleanse the palate of the day’s stresses and if the establishment you choose doesn’t help you forget the high-pitched whine of your colleague’s voice or the smell of cheap coffee, your only hope is at least three episodes of your favourite Netflix series, which means yet another late night. So, your after-work spot is an important decision.

It should have a calming ambiance, a little style and pizzazz, interesting and delicious cocktails, a wine list that is a compliment to the South African wine industry, and, because it is vrek cold at the moment, a sexy fireplace that radiates heat. It should be run by happy people who are so well versed in the menu that they make menu and wine suggestions that are actually very good (some, better than your own choices – true story) and they should have a tapas menu stacked with both indulgent and healthy bites. A view of Constantia’s verdant, clipped lawns, towering winter naked oak trees, and heritage buildings doesn’t hurt, either.

What a coincidence because Incognito Bar at the Alphen Boutique Hotel has all of the above!

incognito bar

Anytime good time

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Incognito is a relatively new space at the Alphen Boutique Hotel. Past a gaily-painted rhinoceros, you’ll find this bar tucked behind the hotel and it offers guests with all manner of agendas an intimate place for, as previously stated, after work drinks and small bites. It’s also the perfect venue from which to launch a grand evening, whether it’s a dinner at Alphen’s flagship restaurant, Blanko or a jol in town.

Basically, if there’s a glass of wine or a signature cocktail to be enjoyed and an appetite to be whet with friends, family, or a date, Incognito is a devilishly seductive place to do it. It’s open until midnight on most nights and, on Fridays and Saturdays, they have a DJ providing the perfect sound track to get you in the mood for whatever mischief is on your mind.

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

Wine, cocktails, and tapas

Arriving at Incognito, we were graciously led to our fire-side table, where we wasted little time getting comfortable, admiring the view, and appraising the wine list. Being a bar – and being there to appreciate its full offering – we accepted the offer of a signature cocktail, even though wine is and always will be my first choice. I’m glad we did, though because the passion fruit whisky sours was all kinds of creamy, sweet, deliciousness and, in the absence of any sweet dishes on the tapas menu, would have made a fabulous “dessert”.

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

incognito bar

I then wavered over the wine list and it was here that our server, the dashing Kudakwashe, stepped in and suggested the Glen Carlou Grand Classique. He even went so far as to bring us a taste of the Classique and the wine I had almost settled on; and would you know it, the Glen Carlou was the superior choice. Kudos to Kuda! With a smooth, supple, and dark chocolatey glass of red wine in hand, we were now ready to launch our assault on Incognito’s tapas menu.

We started with the fried, stuffed olives with garlic and Parmesan and the arancini – breaded and fried balls of risotto rice and mozzarella that are crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. We followed this rich and indulgent “first course” with the Caprese stack (fresh tomato, basil leaves, and fior di

It should have a calming ambiance, a little style and pizzazz, interesting and delicious cocktails, a wine list that is a compliment to the South African wine industry, and, because it is vrek cold at the moment, a sexy fireplace that radiates heat. It should be run by happy people who are so well versed in the menu that they make menu and wine suggestions that are actually very good (some, better than your own choices – true story) and they should have a tapas menu stacked with both indulgent and healthy bites. A view of Constantia’s verdant, clipped lawns, towering winter naked oak trees, and heritage buildings doesn’t hurt, either.

What a coincidence because Incognito Bar at the Alphen Boutique Hotel has all of the above!

latte mozzarella cheese), the grilled sirloin tapas plate, medium rare and served sliced with a walnut salsa verde, and the tomato bruschetta (toasted bread) with basil, garlic, olive oil, black pepper, and sea salt because sometimes it’s the simple pleasures in life that are the best. We also had the smoked salmon bruschetta.

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

Our final wave of tapas probably extended one big toe into the realm of over-indulgence but when it comes to pizza, there’s always space for more. We ordered the asparagus pizzette, a 30 cm pizza dressed with swaths of prosciutto ham, pecorino cheese, fresh asparagus, and olive oil. I’ve never thought of tapas as substantial food – more like what you eat before you eat – but, as it turns out, if you order enough of it you can walk out of a restaurant or bar feeling blissfully full and more than ready for a bit of shut-eye. This is particularly true when paired with beautiful Cape wines and inventive cocktails.

Yet another seamless offering from the Alphen

incognito-bar-4 alphen hotel

We were superlatively impressed by Incognito Bar. It has a warm, uber appealing ambiance with truly beguiling views of manicured, centuries old gardens. There are quality beverages to unfurl even the most clenched of nerves and really, really good tapas! The Alphen Boutique Hotel and its constellation of eateries have established a rather formidable reputation as luxury hospitality and foodie destinations and, I’m happy to say, the Incognito Bar fits in perfectly seamlessly with this offering.

Incognito Bar is open Monday to Friday, 16:00 to 00:00 | Saturdays 12:00 to 00:00 and Sunday and public holidays, 12:00 to 21:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email info@incognitobar.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 795 6300.

www.incognitobar.co.za

Alphen Boutique Hotel, Alphen Drive, Constantia

This article was originally written for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/07/09/alphen-boutique-hotels-incognito-bar/

For an Education in Authentic Japanese Cuisine, Head to Kyoto Garden Sushi This Winter

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

In Cape Town, where rain is enthusiastically welcomed, winter is no excuse for staying indoors. In fact, most restaurants in the Mother City celebrate the wet season with fabulous winter specials and Kyoto Garden Sushi is no different. And so, on a crisp winter’s Friday evening, we found ourselves in the tranquil embrace of this small, intimate, and incredibly unique restaurant to experience its five-course tasting menu.

You’ll find Kyoto Garden Sushi tucked discretely into an elbow in Kloof Nek road, where the surrounding bars’ clientele bursts out onto the sidewalks on a weekend evening. Leaving the rowdy noise of this popular nightspot behind you, you cross the threshold into a peaceful, low-lit, and superbly romantic oasis.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

A five-course exploration of Japanese cuisine

Kyoto Garden Sushi is a bit of a digression from the standard sushi eateries Cape Town has to offer but because of this, it would seem to deliver a far more authentic experience for adventurous diners. Forget store-bought wasabi in a tube, complex sushi creations featuring biltong and cream cheese, and fashionable photographic artwork of young, smiling westerners. The décor here is minimalist yet beguiling, the menu reflects the ocean delicacies coveted in Japan, from sea urchin to squid (with ink), and the beverage menu is an ode to the country’s booze-making traditions and trends, offering guests a vast selection of Japanese gins, whiskies, cocktails, and sake.

We began our meal with a trio of ocean ingredients – eel, sea urchin or “uni”, and scallop – prepared simply with the natural flavours and textures of the meats taking centre stage. To be perfectly honest, we both anticipated this first course with much trepidation but, bite after bite, we were both astounded by how delicious these exotic delicacies were. The eel was rich, fatty and perfectly complimented by a sweet barbeque-type marinade, the scallop was tender, soft, and sweet, and the sea urchin a pure blast of fresh ocean… like being smacked in the face by an Atlantic Ocean wave.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

Actually, to describe the latter, a new paragraph is necessary. Sea urchin outside of its pretty green shell is not the most attractive meat: “orange and gooey” accurately describes it. Its flavour, however, is one of pure nostalgia for anyone who has grown up next to the ocean, bringing to mind childhood memories of playing in the tidal rock pools alongside Fish Hoek beach. The flavour was neither salty nor fishy, but if ever there were a flavour analogy for the ocean – the living, breathing ocean – sea urchin would be it. What a treat.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

We accompanied our first course with chilled sake, a traditional sweet Japanese beverage made from fermented rice.

Next up was a whole squid from Port Elizabeth, sliced and served on a bed of rich, salty squid ink followed by spinach leaves and oysters served tempura style with a delicious ginger sauce. Three courses in – and with sake glasses drained of their delicious contents – we decided to explore Kyoto Garden Sushi’s fabulous Japanese inspired cocktail menu. With names like Japanese Apple Tree, Dirty Ninja Saketini, Geisha, and Green Tea Destiny, how could we resist?

Our fourth course was a refreshing, palate-cleansing bowl of chilled broth laced with lime and served with thick noodles and chopped spring onions. Then there was the Maine lobster with brown butter; a meat so rich and naturally sweet that I actually preferred it without the butter (but that’s just a matter of personal taste – my plus one looked like he’d won the lottery when I told him he could have it all to himself).

Finally, dessert: three dollops of dense, creamy ice cream, each of which incorporated different, unorthodox (for us here in South Africa) flavours: salty-sweet miso, refreshing lime, and citrusy yuzu. Our final course was washed down with French Chardonnay because… well, when does one ever need an excuse to drink French Chardonnay?

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

Japanese whisky tasting

With all five courses demolished and cheeks rosy from the sake, cocktails, and wine, we were contemplating our next move when the restaurant proprietor, Scott Wood, approached us with a bottle of Japanese whisky. Apparently, this is something he does quite frequently with guests who show a real interest in the cuisine and the authentic experience. Thus began a most fascinating journey through Japanese whisky of which we tried about four and while I have never been very fond of whisky, the Japanese craft it in a way that I find wholly palatable – sweet, nutty, and smoky.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

Our new go-to sushi spot

We had an extraordinary time at Kyoto Garden Sushi. The whole experience felt authentic, wholesome, and unpretentious. Scott is a very hands-on owner, who is as happy to clear away plates and wipe down tables as he is to take you on a tipsy tour of Japanese booze. The service was top notch, the waitrons a real pleasure to interact with, the food simple, yet spectacular, and the ambiance romantic with a real air of Eastern enchantment.

Japanese cuisine sushi, Kyoto restaurant
Claire Gunn Photography

If you’re looking for a go-to sushi restaurant or just an escape from whatever it is that ails you, try Kyoto Garden Sushi in Cape Town. And if you plan on endearing yourself to the proprietor for a whisky tasting, prepare to Uber home!

Phone: 021 422 2001
Address: 11 Kloof Nek Road, Gardens, Cape Town
Web: www.kyotogardensushict.com

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2018/05/29/for-an-education-in-authentic-japanese-cuisine-head-to-kyoto-garden-sushi-this-winter/