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/

Tokara Wine and Olive Farm: All in a Day’s Easy Itinerary

Tokara Olive and Wine Farm, Stellenbosch, South Africa It’s all too easy to spend a full day in the Cape Winelands. With hundreds of wine estates, restaurants, and activities to explore within a fairly short distance of each other, spending a full day hopping and skipping from one wine estate to the next is a pleasure for any wine, food, and nature lover. On the other hand, Stellenbosch’s exquisite Tokara Wine and Olive Farm demands and deserves a full day’s exploration on its own.

Here’s why…

Olive Oil Tastings

Extra virgin olive oil, Tokara
Fresh off the press, unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. The most beautiful aromas of fresh, zingy cut grass here in Tokara Olive Shed

Tokara’s Olive Shed upholds the traditional union that is a vineyard and olive grove, and, every year, produces tens of thousands of litres of premium extra virgin olive oil. The fertile soils here support three different olive varieties – mission, leccino, and fantoio – and it’s from the fruits of these groves that Tokara produces five lusciously creamy and zesty olive oils. These are available for tasting at Tokara’s Delicatessen, which affords visitors absolutely beautiful views of the vineyards, olive groves, and Simonsberg Mountain.

Tokara Delicatessen

Tokara wine and olive farm, Stellenbosch

And while you’re sampling Tokara’s exquisite selection of olive oils, you might consider pairing the experience with a crisp glass of the estate’s Elgin Sauvignon Blanc 2017 and perhaps a nibble from the Deli. Tokara’s Delicatessen serves up a handsome variety of breakfasts, lunches, light meals, and snacks in a gorgeous indoor and outdoor setting, making it a lovely destination for all seasons.

If, however, you’ve decided to save your appetite for Tokara’s restaurant, you can enjoy your olive oil tasting, a glass of wine, a small snack, and a quick perusal of the Deli Shop’s offerings of olive pastes, pesto’s, and oils, as well as whole olives, handmade Belgian chocolate truffles, South African cheeses, real Canadian maple syrup, freshly baked bread, and local and imported cold meats.

Tel: 021 808 5950
E-mail: deli@tokara.com

A Walk in the Olive Groves

With appetites whet and a little purchase under your arm, the next stop on your Tokara itinerary has got to be a leisurely walk through the farm’s shady olive groves. Follow the pathway as it winds through the groves, ultimately (and conveniently) leading you to Tokara’s main restaurant, which is housed in a separate building on the other side of the grove. Make sure you keep a look out for the handsome peacocks and peahens that like to hang out in the dappled sunlight beneath the trees.

Lunch at Tokara Restaurant

Saving the best for last, which is saying a lot considering the incredible calibre delivered by all aspects of Tokara Wine and Olive Farm, you simply have to pay Tokara’s restaurant a visit. Considered one of South Africa’s very best fine dining restaurants, Tokara delivers the farm’s outstanding repertoire of wines and a dynamic, seasonal menu crafted by super talented chef, Carolize Coetzee. The venue itself is beautiful, adeptly reflecting the Cape’s natural heritage, and offers spectacular views over False Bay and the Stellenbosch wine growing region.

Tokara wine & olive farm, restaurant

Tokara Restaurant Contact: 021 885 2550, reservations@tokara.com

A full day out at Tokara Wine and Olive Farm should make an appearance on your itinerary soon. It’s a full day of delight, and welcomes the entire family!

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine: www.southernvines.co.za/2017/09/28/tokara-wine-olive-farm-days-easy-itinerary-one-capes-beautiful-gifted-wine-estates/

Tokara wine and olive farm, Stellenbosch

Brains on Toast at La Tête Restaurant

Yes, brains on toast.

It’s the very first thing that catches your eye as you peruse La Tête Restaurant’s menu and it’s absolutely no joke. Chef Giles Edwards doesn’t just stray off the proverbial beaten path at La Tête, he turns around and gives it the finger with his unorthodox menu.

Brains La Tete Restaurant, Cape Town
Lambs brains on toast

The nose-to-tail dining revolution

The concept is simple and, moreover, a desperately needed paradigm shift in the way society views food. It’s called “nose-to-tail” dining and it means that the entire animal, literally from nose to tail, makes it to our plate; not just the popular cuts of meat we’ve become comfortable and familiar with. To illustrate, La Tête’s menu features such intriguing dishes as brains on toast, crispy pig’s tails, baked trotter (pig’s feet), and grilled ox heart.

Chef Giles La Tete Restaurant
Chef Giles (left) in his natural habitat (picture from La Tete’s Instagram account)

Aside from the fact that these meats – organs – bear serious merit as food (and are exquisitely prepared at La Tête), the philosophy underlining nose-to-tail dining is that nothing goes to waste. It’s an environmentally conscious philosophy and one that Chef Giles aims to drive home with his unconventional menu.

Let’s face it: popular media and societal influences have convinced us that nobody eats brains, perhaps with the exception of zombies. And you’d have to be barbaric to eat an animal’s heart. Even liver is, to many people, “totally gross”. Yet we heartily tuck into beef steak, lamb chops, pork belly, and chicken breasts, legs, and wings.

La Tete Restaurant, Cape Town
Probably the most “normal” thing we ate that evening: roast quail and chips

It’s environmentally unconscious to waste meat that is more than just edible but actually delicious and healthy. I for one think that the heart is a beautiful meat and boasts a flavour that few other cuts of meat can rival. Among my favourite snacks of all time is lightly seasoned, barbecued chicken hearts, which we used to order on skewers from the food carts that stationed themselves outside of our regular watering holes in Thailand. How I miss Thailand.

Having said all of this, La Tête Restaurant’s menu isn’t only an ode to entrails; it also features a plethora of other, slightly less controversial dishes, such as fish soup, roast quail, crispy pig cheek, and gurnard, as well as dishes even the fussiest of eaters would happily order, including hake, roast lamb rack, and several delectable vegetarian options.

Holding hands with local farmers and the Harvest of Hope

Harvest of Hope sustainable farming Cape Town
Harvest of Hope (image from website)

La Tête’s menu changes every single day depending on what local ingredients are available and in season. Chef Giles maintains fantastic relationships with local farmers and fishermen who will personally call him up should they, for example, have a fresh batch of brains, a catch of gurnard, or a harvest of celeriac. Using whatever’s fresh and available, Chef Giles concocts delicious dishes to add to that evening’s menu.

La Tête also supports an agricultural initiative called the Harvest of Hope, a community garden located in the Cape Flats. This initiative aims to facilitate the direct and personal delivery of fresh, locally grown produce to Cape Town’s restaurants, which, in so many ways, is better than ordering expensive ingredients from overseas. Why buy from foreign farms when we have such a bounty of local agricultural projects and farms that could use our support?

Blazing new trails

I’ve never tried brains before and, truth be told, even I suffered from a serious spell of prejudice-driven doubt prior to tucking into La Tête’s signature dish of lamb’s brains on toast. However, I found it tender and tasty, along with all the other oddities we tried that night. La Tête, without a doubt, offers diners an incredible experience and a totally fresh, much-needed perspective on food. All praise goes to Chef Giles Edwards and his team for having the guts, balls, and brains to blaze this new trail in Cape Town’s culinary scene and for having made such a roaring success of it!

La Tête Phone: 021 418 1299
Address: 17 Bree Street, Cape Town
Website: www.latete.co.za

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2017/10/03/brains-toast-la-tete-restaurant