#21DaysofTrends: Kaiseki-Inspired Fine Dining
Two new Cape Town fine-dining restaurants are inspired by the venerable Japanese tradition of kaiseki.
Asian food has been popular around the world for decades. And these days, South Africa is no different: sushi is available in a variety of guises, there are dedicated ramen restaurants, the specialist ingredients required for Thai cookery are available at many mainstream supermarkets, and Chinese-style takeout remains a firm favourite.
For the most part though, when we think of Asian food, we think of casual dining, but of course there, is a more sophisticated side to these cuisines. We just didn't have much exposure to these, but now that is changing. It probably bears repeating that fine Asian cuisine is not new. At the launch of her cookbook Just Add Rice (Quivertree), activist and food blogger Ming-Cheau Lin said that every country has fine dining and casual dining – we just often fall into the trap of assuming that gourmet cuisine is part of some food traditions and not others.
ALSO READ: Book Review: Just Add Rice
Which is why it's hugely exciting to report that slowly, more South African eateries are venturing into Asian-style fine dining. That means we get to experience a whole new side of these popular cuisines, and enjoy more diverse and interesting menus. Two eateries that are embracing this trend fully are Tjing Tjing Momiji and Fyn in Cape Town, both of whom are taking their cues from the ancient Japanese fine-dining tradition of kaiseki.
Tjing Tjing Momiji
Tjing Tjing has been an institution in Cape Town for several years now. It has always served Asian-inspired cuisine and cocktails, but in 2018, took things to the next level by opening Tjing Tjing Momiji. This is one of the very first fine-dining Japanese restaurants in Cape Town, and has gone out of its way to make eating there a unique experience. Taking its cue from its adjacent sisters (Tjing Tjing Torii is on the ground floor and Tjing Tjing's rooftop bar is above) Tjing Tjing Momiji has cool Japanese-inspired decor.
The kaiseki dinners happen on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and only 16 people can be seated at a time. For these dinners, Momiji offers its interpretation of traditional kaiseki, which is Japan’s precursor to the modern degustation menu.
You're in for a multi-course meal that features meticulously prepared dishes, with the entire menu being inspired by principles of simplicity, balance and harmony. Momiji also uses local and seasonal ingredients, making for a creative and ever-changing menu. Expect dishes including sashimi, fish broth and kamaboko as well as mottainai (wagyu tongue). You can also experience a drinks pairing with the menu if you would like, and this features a selection of local and Japanese spirits.
The latest venture from innovative chef Peter Tempelhoff also looked to Japan for inspiration. Fyn offers a multi-course fine dining experience that packs in a multitude of small dishes for you to enjoy. Inspired by the kaiseki style of dining, Fyn offers its starters and desserts on small oak trays, with three or four dishes served at a time. This way you get the full multi-sensory experience that Tempelhoff aims to provide.
A highlight of the meal on the evening we ate at Fyn late last year was the palate cleanser before the main course: it consisted of a scoop of carefully flavoured salted celery sorbet that was served alongside a dish of beautiful edible flowers and herbs – and a wooden pestle. The server pours liquid nitrogen over the flowers and herbs, which instantly dry-freezes them, after which each diner crushes them to a powder with the pestle. The sorbet is then added to the bowl and becomes coated with the scented herbal ‘detritus’. It was delicious as well as forming a charming ‘DIY’ element of the meal – take a look at the picture sequence below to see what we experienced.