I’m just going to say it: without having any real right to be, I am a sushi snob. Please don’t give me pepperdew and feta California rolls and call it sushi if you don’t want some aggressive eye-rolling directed your way. So when I was offered dinner at Kyoto Garden Sushi in Tamboerskloof, I jumped at it.
A Zen-inspired tranquil escape from the bustle of the city, Kyoto Garden prides itself on sourcing unique ingredients for its menu, including sea urchin, farmed abalone, Mozambican conch, giant Alaskan king crab and fresh wasabi root flown in from Japan. It’s arguably the best spot to get your fix of Japanese cuisine in the Cape.
Not that I was there for sushi. Kyoto Garden has just released its new winter menu, and trust me – you’re going to want to visit and try it before the next raindrop hits the city sidewalk.
Divided into three savoury courses of three options each, the menu is charged at R170 a head, which starts to feel refreshingly underpriced when you taste it.
The first course tempts you with a choice of oysters, scallops in their shell, and tuna tartare. We ordered the latter two and, while the scallops simply melted in your mouth, it was the tuna that won the day. Sashimi is one of the great loves of my culinary life, and this one did me in.
Second course had to include the seafood miso soup, then it was a tough choice between the vegetable tempura and the seared salmon with nori and shitake mushrooms.
Since tempura is another of those dishes you seldom see restaurants getting right, I thought I’d put Kyoto Garden to the test. It didn’t disappoint. The batter was impossibly delicate, like crunchy air lightly kissing the veggies beneath.
Let’s just talk about the accompaniments for a second. The usual tempura dipping sauce was there, with grated daikon (Japenese radish) on the side to add another flavour dimension. Then a third little dish held lemon and some salt. ‘When I first saw this on a recent trip to Japan, I asked them where the tequila was,’ says owner Scott Wood, a US-born sushi devotee since the 70s.
I’m a convert: a squeeze of lemon, a dash of salt and the tempura takes on a new and exciting taste.
For our third course we went with rice with special fish, and sauteéd noodles with prawns, leaving the sautéed West Coast mussels for another day. I won’t even bother waxing lyrical about them – suffice to say the flavour, quality and presentation matched the earlier dishes.
The winter menu is paired with a glass of local Chenin, but make an evening of it and order a cocktail to start. I couldn’t not try the Dirty Ninja Saketini after spotting its name on the menu. They muddle sake with fresh cucumber, finely sliced, dried nori, and a dash of rice wine vinegar, then add it to a mix of Stolichnaya and Tanqueray. It’s heaven.
A selection of Japanese beer and sake rounds out the list of local wine, and just for fun you should try a glass of ume – another new idea from Japan that’s a mixture of shōchū (something like a Japanese vodka) and sake.
Though the winter menu doesn’t include dessert, do yourself a favour and take a look. I’ll be coming back to try the green tea crepes but on the night in question I practically inhaled the toasted tofu served with ginger ice cream, and had more than one spoonful of my companion’s sesame ice cream.
Where 11 Lower Kloof Nek Road, Tamboerskloof
Opening hours Monday to Saturday 5:30 – 11 pm
Cost R170 pp for the winter menu
Contact +27 21 422 2001, kyotogardensushict.com
Photography Claire Gunn