The great thing about a Winter special is that it gives you the chance to try places which you've perhaps never got round to. For me, one of those is Kyoto Garden Sushi - everyone has raved about it but I've never made it there until last week when I was invited to try the Winter special.
KGS is perched on the slopes of Kloofnek, just round the corner from Rafikis and it couldn't be more different. It's all about refined, elegant food, beautifully-served in an almost-reverent manner. The night we went was one of the last nights of business at Rafiki's and it was party central on the street, but inside KGS, all was calm, pale, green and relaxing. The place is relatively small and split over two rooms with spacious tables and lamps giving a soft glow.
If you're a quantity over quality person, KGS might not be for you because the portions are not big and there is little in the way of bulky starch or filling veg. We were there for the Winter special which is a helluva steal at R170 for 3 courses plus a glass of wine - and the great price means you can afford to add on a couple of extra items if you are particularly hungry. But however much you eat, the freshness and quality of the ingredients will knock you sideways. We had a couple of extra courses including an incredible ceviche of yellowtail which lingered on the palate. The dishes on the Winter special are all on the normal menu and portions are slightly smaller than they would be if you ordered a la carte.
I started with seared scallops - fat chunks of perfectly-cooked, sweet shellfish drizzled with a light dressing. Onto mains, which brought me a bowl of huge, fat, juicy mussels - only orange ones I was pleased to see - packed with flavour and in a delicate broth. Other mains on the special include the aptly-named Special Fish which was seared then finished with a light creamy sauce on a bed of rice and you could also choose prawns and fresh noodles.
If you are a bigger eater, add on some tempura veg (you can also get it with prawns and scallops) and make sure you have first pick so you can have the divine tempura basil leaf - fresh and crispy and a great match with the flavoursome dipping sauce.
I don't know much about Japanese cuisine but I don't think they're very big on desserts and there were only 3 on offer so we had them all. I have seen people raving about the black sesame ice cream - to be honest, I'd rave more about the cherry blossom one with chocolate or the green tea version which accompanied a green tea pancake. But all the desserts are in keeping with the tenor of the whole meal - light, delicate, fragrant and pure.
KGS has a good list of some interesting wines and almost all the whites are available by the glass. I found the glasses very difficult - the wines are served in quite fat tumblers and maybe my hands are small, but I simply couldn't pick them up with one hand. It feels a bit inelegant and out of keeping with the rest of the meal to have to lift the glass with two hands and I ended up cupping my hand underneath as I drank which doesn't do the wine much good temperature-wise.
The glasses, however, are perfect for the star of the drinks menu which is the huge range of Japanese whiskies. If you are into whisky, Scott, the owner, is an enthusiast of note and has a range of amazing bottles including one which is literally priceless - you can look, but not taste. Far more creative and imaginative than Scottish or Irish whisky bottles, these were a joy to see and taste.
Is lightning-quick with every course following the other rapidly although you don't feel rushed at any stage and it is great to always have something new and delicious appearing in front of you. I have to give a shout-out to our waiter who was perfect with our 10 year old, recommending dishes, finding a fork when rice proved a bit tricky for chopsticks and patiently waiting as he stumbled over exactly which sushi he wanted. I think Asian food of all kinds is ideal for kids and it was great to see a top-end restaurant able to accommodate them without any fuss whatsoever.
As I said before, Kyoto Garden Sushi is all about quality - quality ingredients, quality surroundings, quality service and that is never going to be cheap and nor should it be. Which makes the Winter special even more of a bargain and a fantastic way to try this level of food. Take advantage whilst you can and indulge in dishes which are definitely a cut above the norm for Asian food in this town.
*Food24 was a guest of the restaurant.
- Cathy Marston