Willoughby & Co, a classic at the V&A Waterfront, is a must-do experience when anyone visits Cape Town and an old favourite for locals. If you thought that fine seafood dining couldn’t be done right at a shopping mall, you thought wrong.
What has been the secret for the success of Willoughby’s? For the past two decades this eatery in the V&A has been turning out great quality meals and has become an institution during this time. The restaurant took a while to get the rep it holds so proudly these days, and a lot of hard work was done by the hands of owner Jens. Starting in Johannesburg, where Jens initially only wanted a deli, the first Willoughby was born. It all began when a few customers entered the store and asked for a fresh meal to eat – to whom Jens made an exception. Eventually, customers starting lining up outside of the deli, just to grab some of Jens’ delicious food, and now he’s been serving some of the finest seafood to Cape Town and overseas visitors for over the past two decades. Nowadays the near-constant queue outside Willoughby’s door is a clear indication of the quality that keeps the customers coming back.
After Jens was asked (more than once) to open up shop in the shopping mall 21 years ago, he moved down to the Mother City and began what is now one of the most successful and legendary eateries the Mother City has to offer. We were just lucky enough to enjoy one of the restaurants signature dishes, with dessert too, and an afternoon of Japanese indulgence.
Head Asian Chef Sam works the kitchen as his stage and his creativity never ends. A genuine master of his trade, Sam guides his team through serving exceptional dishes at Willoughby every time, and exceptional is definitely what we got.
Lunch for us was the Salmon Saikyo Miso Yaki, a signature hot dish at the seafood establishment. Marinated and blackened in the salamander, with special (and incredibly tasty) miso sauce and vegetable yakitori, takes up any blank space that might have been available on the serving plate. We tucked into what was arguably one of the richest, creamiest and most delicious pieces of cooked salmon we’d ever eaten, perfectly accompanied by the salty and slightly sweet taste of the miso sauce and sesame seeds that blanketed the fish.
But what is a seafood dining experience without sushi? Jens had us try some of the restaurants’ signature “crispy rice” sushi. A roll of sushi rice combined with a ton of flavours such as mayo and spices, grilled along the outside like a toasted marshmallow. We tried both the salmon and prawn variations of this dish, and were blown away at how the combination of the cool, smooth fish against the warm crisp of the rice made for a pretty amazing taste experience.
Up next was dessert. We know what you’re thinking – dessert served in a seafood restaurant? Just trust us.
The Halva Ice Cream… and the Mille Feulle (calories don’t count on a Wednesday) were not just some of the best-tasting desserts you could expect from a seafood restaurant, they were some of the best-tasting desserts we’d tasted from well, anywhere.
First up was the Halva Ice Cream, a home-made vanilla ice-cream infused with pistachio nut halva, a Middle Eastern classic. Creamy, nutty and a little bit of honey, the Halva Ice Cream is a more simplistic, but definitely sweet enough to hit-the-spot kind of dessert.
Next, the Mille Feuille. Jens’ learnt how to make this dessert all the way in France, and the French pastry perfection shines through. The decadent treat is the restaurant’s house speciality, and consists of layers of phyllo pastry and home-made custard topped with almond flakes. The crunchy and soft textures create a heavenly combination of pastry vs. cream in the mouth and will send you to cloud nine.
After a delicious afternoon of amazing Asian cuisine and both French and Middle Eastern desserts at Willoughby & Co, we were stuffed and ready for a nap, but knew we’d be back to try another guaranteed exceptional meal.
When Willoughby & Co is open Monday to Sunday, 12 – 10:30pm.
Where Shop 6132, V&A Waterfront
Cost R45 – R950
Contact +27 21 418 6115
Photography Samantha Pinto / Highbury Media