In praise of Japan

I don’t have the most refined palate. Growing up, meals were a rotating conveyor belt of toast, spaghetti, mac and cheese, stew and braai (charred to a crisp, the way my father liked it.) Take-aways like KFC were a weekend treat, and on special occasions, and I mean, really, really special, we went to Spur.

I consider this a blessing. Being raised without a silver spoon in my mouth helped me understand the value of hard work and getting what you pay for. Which is why these days, when I do have a little extra to spend on eating out, I try to get my money’s worth.

This is harder than you’d think. Cape Town is bursting with restaurants which offer some of the best cuisine the country. Unfortunately, many of them place more value on the experience than the actual food. If you’re paying the equivalent of a monthly car installment for a meal, you’d expect it to be the best forkful you’ve ever had, but this is rarely the case.

The restaurant at Cavalli, for example, has one of the most majestic settings a restaurant could ask for, with huge glass windows facing rolling vineyards and the surrounding Helderberg Mountains. The food is exquisitely presented, but when we visited, it didn’t quite live up to its promise.

Of course, my unrefined palate could be to blame, but I doubt it. I had the sirloin main, the equivalent costing half the price at the Diemersdal Farm Eatery thanks to their winter special. The dish was as beautifully presented as the former, and was mouth-wateringly tender and delicious.

Sometimes the hefty price tag is worth it. The Restaurant at Waterkloof is considered the best in the country for good reason. They have a starter called Egg 63, which consists of an egg yolk slow cooked at 63 degrees. It was nothing short of incredible.

The tradition of going to Spur for my birthday is long over, and this year my friends and I celebrated at Foxcroft, the geniuses behind La Colombe. The colours and flavours of the set tasting menu hit all the right notes, but when it comes to tapas-style dining, the ultimate experience is offered by The Pot Luck Club. Not only was the evening light-hearted and fun, but the fish tacos were so delectable I can still remember every bite.

Winter menus are great value for money. Kloof Street House’s current winter special is extremely worth it, and the setting is just magical – an antique jewel box set in its own secret garden (and the arancini is wonderful).

Franschhoek never disappoints as a culinary destination. My budget has taken a severe beating over the years thanks to Ryan’s Kitchen, Reubens and the Greenhouse at Babylonstoren. Interestingly, the most memorable meal I’ve had in Franschhoek was the salmon poke at Dutch East, and I couldn’t help but ask myself why.

I realised it was because it reminded me of my favourite thing in the whole world.

Value for money isn’t the only factor that matters when I eat out. For me, food is supposed to lift the spirits, and if I’m honest, there is only one type of food that does the trick.

I crave sushi above all else. Willoughby & Co at the V&A Waterfront is where my friend Karina and I go to celebrate, commiserate, splurge and rejuvenate. It works like a charm.

And while Cape Town and the Western Cape boasts some pretty epic dining experiences, when it comes to sushi, the options are endless. Like Pacman I can easily munch my way up and down the streets of Cape Town one maki roll at a time.

Harbour House, Takumi (while it was still around), Obi, and Hamachi offer some of the best, but I’ll order sushi anywhere that has it on the menu – Sea Point dives, Mama’s Kitchen, Wang Thai, the sushi counter at Spar, Sushi Box, Beluga – I’ve even eaten it in a tube station in London.

There is something in those melt-in-the-mouth morsels that make all my worries disappear. Perhaps it’s the expert preparation, or the slow appreciation of your meal, taking the time to savour every mouthful, trying to make it last.

So while I may not have the taste for fine dining, at least there is one dish that will never let me down. Sticky rice and expertly sliced salmon, lightly dipped in soy sauce with a hint of fiery wasabi – it’s the only food that really makes my heart sing.

I think my pocket, and most certainly my partner’s wallet, will appreciate if we leave the fine dining to those who will appreciate it more. Until someone opens a gourmet sushi restaurant that is …

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