If you live in Cape Town and are looking for cheap and cheerful sushi you can throw a rock and you’ll find it. If you’re after the real deal, something authentic, crazy delicious and accompanied by a host of incredible delicacies, there’s only one place to go and that’s Kyoto Garden Sushi in Lower Kloofnek road. My God, their food is good!
The owner, Scott, is a terrible spoiler and I’ll never forget a night that I popped in with my bestie Karisa and we raved about his scallops. They were, quite simply, the best we’d ever eaten and he went mental, sending about three different versions of the dish to our table. Since that night, he’s pretty much ruined me for life because now I’m scallop crazy but only have eyes for his.
Knowing what I’d be in for, I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes, please!’ when given the chance to review the restaurant’s new tasting menu. A six course tour de force for R1 400 per couple, it works out to be really good value when you consider that Kyoto Garden, if you’re ordering a la carte and go wild for their more interesting options, isn’t always wallet-friendly. (It would, however, be worth it.)
Naturally, I was delighted by dish number one – ‘Shallow Seas’ – as it consisted of a double serving of Scott’s incredibly lustable scallops (yes!) as well as eel and sea urchin nigiri. As always, the buttery scallops melted in your mouth and the sushi was delish. Back in the day I used to be kind of freaked out by eel but after I discovered that it tastes a bit like a poached kipper I became a fan. As for the sea urchin, I’d never tried that before and was a little hesitant. I had no clue what to expect but it had a lovely flavor due to whatever it had been marinated in. In a way, it reminded me of a tuna tartar in a sweet-spicy marinade. A word about their fabulously fresh wasabi – you only need a dash as it’s Potent with a capital P!
Dish number two was also a winner, ‘Deep Ika’ AKA baby soft grilled squid in ink. Again, this allowed me to experience another first as I’d never had squid ink before and it’s the most interesting flavor that could best be described as briny.
The third dish, ‘Rising Sun’ – oyster and what I think was basil leaf tempura – was also fabulous but I expected as much, having tried and enjoyed them a few years ago. Like I said, I love oysters, but back then I never thought I’d appreciate them cooked. If you’re going to fry or bake them, you might as well just eat mussels, I thought. Thing is, cooked oysters are lovely and have a certain sweetness to them, something you don’t pick up on when they’re raw. Kyoto Garden’s tempura oysters, however, are light, crispy, golden perfection!
The fourth dish, ‘Into the Cold’, a bowl of noodles served in zingy lime-infused ice water, didn’t really float my boat. It certainly didn’t taste bad. I’m just a girl who likes her noodles hot.
The fifth dish, however, ‘Ocean Blue’ was the one that made us squeal ‘ooooh!’ Simple and sublime, it was a baby lobster, which was a more generous portion than I was expecting, served with hot brown butter! I’d had brown butter before on pancakes (it’s just a matter of boiling butter until it browns) and had never thought to put it on shellfish before but now I’m a big fan. It really brings out the sweetness of the lobster meat and that is all you need – two very decadent items that are just as good on their own but utterly magical together.
I’d really been looking forward to the last course, ‘Kori Cream’, as I know Kyoto Garden’s creamy, dreamy ice cream is awesome and this night it was no different. A trio of scoops, you’re looking at matcha, miso and black sesame seed. My ‘date’, Heather, hoovered up the miso and sesame seed, which had a butterscotch-y and nutty taste respectively and were both really good. She thought the slightly bitter, ‘green’ tasting matcha was absolutely vile and yet it was my favourite which is a lesson in different strokes for different strokes. (I’m quite accustomed to green tea flavoured treats as you’ll find them everywhere in my beloved Thailand. Green tea Kit Kat… green tea milk shake… green tea Cornetto… you name it, they’ve got it in green tea flavour and, having spent so much time in good ole Thai Thai, it’s something that’s totally grown on me.)
Later, Scott the spoiler broke out a few Japanese gins for us to try. (For the record, Kyoto Garden’s has a huuuuge selection of Japanese whiskey, everything from Nikka From The Barrel to multi award-winning Hibiki 30 Year Old for an eye watering R3K per glass.) Everything we tasted was lovely but, for me, my absolute fave was The Kyoto Distillery Ki No Tea Kyoto Dry Gin, a slightly citrusy, green tea-a-licious delight. (I’ve read up on it since and see it’s also got notes of white chocolate. Yum! I liked it so much I’ve made plans for a globetrotting friend to get her hands on a bottle for me.)
If you’re wanting a taste of real Japanese cuisine, head on over to Kyoto Garden Sushi. You’ll be in for a treat.