Contrary to misguided beliefs, the best sushi in Cape Town is not to be found in the mall at the harbour’s edge. Kyoto Gardens Sushi is aptly described as ‘the shrine of Japanese cuisine’ where both American owner Scott Wood and Chef Koshi are fastidious about presenting the most refined, authentic experience, always with an element of surprise.

As Zen as the gardens after which it is named, this elegant establishment celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Although modest, Wood tells me that the intention is not to present kaiseki-style haute cuisine but the chef and his small team certainly impress by creating an incredible balance of taste, texture and presentation in each dish.

The charismatic Wood had no plans to open a Japanese restaurant or to stay when he flew into Cape Town in the late 90s with the intention of buying a Land Rover and exploring southern Africa. Like so many visitors, however, he returned to the city, captivated by its beauty, opportunity and “a house up in Tamboerskloof with its ‘Mulholland Drive’ views”.

He is a true global citizen who has lived all over the world and when prompted has many colourful stories and insights. His first introduction to sushi was in the mid-70s when he went on a date to Little Tokyo in downtown LA. “There was nothing in Malibu or Santa Monica. It was only in the 80s when Nobuyuki ‘Nobu’ Matsuhisa opened his first restaurant Matsuhisa in West Hollywood that Japanese cuisine became fashionable.” At 11 Lower Kloofnek Road he designed himself a “peaceful and quiet” space, which although looking every bit the part, “was not meant to look Japanese”.

It is challenging in SA to specialise in single-dish-dining as they do in Japan, but expect only the most masterfully prepared tempura, sushi, soups, udon or ramen. Only the best ingredients will do and this does of course come at a premium. As much as possible is source locally. “We are very close to Antartica so the line fish is amazing here. Yellowtail, Kabeljou, Cape Salmon,” says Wood. Oysters are from Saldana and Lüderitz and one of the best squids in the world comes from Port Elizabeth. “The mussels are also from Saldana and are amazing. Scallops have to come from New England and Canada. There is always something new like the delicious Blue Angle Prawns. Lovely and sweet. Langoustines are from Mozambique, which we serve raw.”

Welcome news is their winter prix fixe, three-course menu at R220, which also includes an edamame snack and a glass of wine. Hashi elegantly aligned — “they’re not called chopsticks” — you start by selecting the tuna tartare or lightest veg tempura for course one. Ideal for close friends or couples, the menu is great for sharing, giving you an opportunity to sample the many wonderful layers of flavour in the udon with duck or the very more-ish rice with special fish for round two. Black sesame seed or cherry blossom ice cream and a cup of roasted rice tea round off a perfect event.  

From the bar, the signature Dirty Ninja Saketini is the perfect aperitif but be prepared for some expensive exploration when you discover the best Japanese whisky collection in SA. Besides whiskies, the very knowledgeable Wood also introduced me to the first artisanal gin from Japan, Ki No Bi Kyoto Dry Gin, smooth Kikusakari sake and Hakutsuru sparkling sake.

Monday to Saturday 5.30pm-11pm
11 Lower Kloofnek Road, Cape Town
Bookings +27 21 422 2001
kyotogardensushict.com

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