5th Floor - Speakers Corner
37 Parliament St
Cape Town, 8001
BY NEAL MARTIN | SEPTEMBER 29, 2023
Yellowtail nigiri, Kosho
salsa, aged shoyu/Mozambican crab with rice and seaweed salad,
furikake/Lambert’s Bay abalone with truffle kaeshi
custard with Hokkaido milk bun
gamefish, tempura dune spinach and pomelo chirizu
springbok leg, pepperdew, black cardamom mealie pap with Cape Mountain sage
rack seaweed, crayfish espuma and black caviar
fregola, globe artichoke, hazelnut, nasturtium and vegetable jibuni sauce
Cape Wagyu with
kabocha, KZN black truffle and pumpkin hollandaise
chocolate, mascarpone, pumpkin seed/Rice ice cream and shoyu syrup/Burnt
pineapple with yuzu
Saurwein Riesling Chi
|2018 Saurwein Pinot Noir Nom
|2019 Alheit Vineyards Lost
Africa last year, there was a vivid conversation about the hottest ticket in
town… FYN. Note the capitals, and for your information, its pronunciation,
“fain,” inspired by “fynbos,” the wild and wondrous scrubland that plays host
to a wild variety of flora and fauna. This excitement was in the wake of FYN being
voted 37 in the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants”, a big deal for a country whose
culinary excellence is woefully under-appreciated on the global stage.
Unfortunately, I only learned of this accolade upon arriving, and subsequent attempts
to secure a table failed because the waiting list was long. Returning one year later,
I prioritized securing a table in advance to find out for myself what the fuss was
The FYN interior
South African chef
Peter Tempelhoff and Jennifer Hugé, ex-La Colombe in Constantia, are the duo
behind FYN, which opened its doors in 2018. Ashley Moss is the head chef. The restaurant
is housed on the fifth floor of a 19th-century silk factory in central Cape
Town. I must admit that it took a couple of minutes to locate the entrance.
This part of the city is not dangerous, though tourists are best advised just
to catch a taxi. Better to be safe than sorry. Guests take a small lift up to
the restaurant reception, where I receive a typically warm South African
welcome. It is a capacious restaurant with a mezzanine on one side, below which
a drinks bar is installed. The eye-catching ceiling is festooned with what looks
like hundreds of miniature flying saucers. The pastry section is planted right
into the middle of the restaurant, and an open kitchen lies on the far side,
creating a backdrop of action and noise. It looks modern and chic. The décor
instantly conjures the sensation of being at one of South Africa’s top spots.
The menu is
basically Japanese kaiseki meets South African cuisine. To my tastebuds,
that is a marriage made in heaven. The menu also has a strong ethos of
sustainability, sourcing ingredients from sustainable producers and even
training chefs to forage themselves. This resulted in FYN being awarded the Flor
de Caña Sustainable Restaurant Award this year. There is a “reduced” and “full”
Experience Menu, though I cannot imagine many opting out of the full experience
if you’ve made all this effort to get a table. From a tourist’s perspective,
carrying UK currency, at 1,875 Rand for the full tasting menu, that’s about £80
or $100 per person. These days you couldn’t buy a fish finger sandwich for that
in London. Of course, everything is relative, and for this part of the world,
that is top end.
Yellowtail nigiri, Kosho salsa, aged shoyu/Mozambican crab with rice and seaweed salad, furikake/Lambert’s Bay abalone with truffle kaeshi
Certainly, the trio
of starters of yellowtail nigiri with Kosho salsa and aged shoyu, Mozambican
crab with rice and seaweed salad and most of all, the Lambert’s Bay abalone
with truffle kaeshi, are strong starters, evidence of their meticulous
sourcing. Indeed, I am reliably informed that Tempelhoff makes regular trips to
Japan to research its endless culinary scene.
Binchotan seared gamefish, tempura dune spinach and pomelo chirizu
The gamefish sashimi
with tempura dune spinach and pomelo chirizu is fine, though unfairly, I can’t
help comparing it with the sashimi eaten around Japan just a couple of weeks
earlier. Here, I just feel that the pomelo chirizu overpowers the gamefish.
Robata-grilled springbok leg, pepperdew, black cardamom mealie pap with Cape Mountain sage
springbok leg with pepperdew peppers and black cardamom mealie pap with Cape
Mountain sage is delicious. Mealie pap is ostensibly South African porridge
made from oats, and it is a nice touch, incorporating a dish that much of the
population eats for breakfast each morning.
Poached kingklip, rack seaweed, crayfish espuma and black caviar
The poached kingklip
with rack seaweed and a crayfish espuma, ceremoniously poured into the bowl at our
table, comes with a generous blob of black caviar. This is a subtle dish that
works very well, the salinity of caviar driving the dish without overwhelming
the moist, succulent fish. The espuma is so well seasoned and delicious that I
would mop up with a spare bit of bread if there has been one on the table.
Wild mushroom fregola, globe artichoke, hazelnut, nasturtium and vegetable jibuni sauce
The wild mushroom
fregola with globe artichoke, hazelnut, nasturtium and vegetable Jibuni sauce (a
traditional sauce from Kanazawa on Japan’s northern coast) is brilliant, maybe
my favorite, not least because I am a fully paid-up member of the artichoke fan
club. This is perfectly cooked and matches the wild mushroom fregola with
perfection, irresistible autumnal flavors that are all in complete harmony.
Cape Wagyu with kabocha, KZN black truffle and pumpkin hollandaise
I would love to rave
about the Cape Wagyu with kabocha, KZN black truffle and pumpkin hollandaise.
The problem is all mine. Just don’t even think about eating Wagyu if you’ve
spent time in Japan, where the Wagyu literally melts on the tongue. You just
cannot find that elsewhere, which is why I never choose Wagyu outside Japan.
But the pumpkin hollandaise is delicious.
Madagascan chocolate, mascarpone, pumpkin seed/Rice ice cream and shoyu syrup/Burnt pineapple with yuzu
The dinner ends as
it began, as a trio: Madagascan chocolate, mascarpone and pumpkin seed, rice
ice cream and shoyu syrup and burnt pineapple with yuzu. They do not possess the
dazzling intricacy that you might find from a top pastry chef, and maybe the
pineapple is superfluous. But the rice ice cream is delicious, and I can devour
another of the Madagascan chocolate and mascarpone.
FYN has a very fine
wine list that naturally cherry-picks some of the Cape’s most coveted labels.
Of course, since South African wines have not succumbed to the price-gouging
that afflicts Bordeaux and Burgundy, there are some real gems. On this occasion,
we had pre-arranged to bring our own bottles, though it is only because my host
is a long-term friend of the owners. I believe that BYO is only permitted in
exceptional circumstances, and frankly, you’d be missing out on what the Cape
has to offer.
We started with two
wines from winemaker Jessica Saurwein. The 2018 Riesling Chi was her
maiden vintage. It is still youthful on the nose with orchard fruit and light
petrol-like scents, not complex but armed with admirable purity. The palate has
a pleasant, slightly oily texture, with notes of lime, grapefruit, and tropical
fruit manifesting towards the finish with pineapple and fresh Anjou pear. Drink
this now if you wish, but it will easily give another decade of drinking
pleasure. The 2018 Pinot Noir Nom is a wine I tasted last year, but I
might have underrated it back then. I was really taken with this wine: less
earthy than before, brighter with vivid red fruit and just the faintest of
peppery notes. The palate still offers a silky-smooth texture, but again, this
bottle was imbued with greater vitality and tension on the finish, reminding me
of a Volnay. Wonderful.
I must admit that
coming to South Africa, I did not anticipate drinking two post-war vintages of
Mouton-Rothschild side-by-side, including one I had never tasted before. In
fact, it is my first time drinking a 1948 First Growth, perhaps because it is a
vintage more known for a cluster of Right Bank legends such as Cheval Blanc and
Vieux-Château-Certan. I must admit to being intrigued by this particular
growing season that was not as disastrous as 1946, but that has always been
overshadowed by vintages on either side.
Mouton-Rothschild acquits itself well in what was a cool summer that begat
tannic, masculine wines. According to Michael Broadbent, it was green in its
youth and required 20 years of bottle age. It remains fresh and well-defined on
the nose with dark berry fruit, cigar smoke and light tertiary aromas. There is
certainly no shortfall of fruit, more a Pauillac that must suffice with
‘rationed’ fruit that year. After all, it was born amid post-war austerity.
What it lacks in substance, it makes up for with impressive balance and no evidence
of greenness. Perchance that has been subsumed into wine over several decades?
You could quibble that this Mouton is a bit conservative and lacks the flair of
other vintages. Yet it has a stately presence, one befitting a First Growth in
all but name. The 1949 Mouton-Rothschild is a better wine than the 1948.
I must admit that though this was a sound bottle, it did not reveal the
spectral beauty of the previous bottle at the Four Seasons five years ago. Yet
it has an entrancing bouquet, quite sensual and generous for a 1949 with those
traits of graphite and delicatessen permeating vestiges of red fruit. The
palate is medium-bodied with fine tannins, extant red fruit that is precocious
and maybe more like a 1947 in personality. A peacock’s tail on the finish leaves
you drinking in awe. Outstanding, even if not the perfection that this Pauillac
can be on its day.
We finished with a
sweet wine. The 2019 Lost & Found from Alheit Vineyards is
Chris Alheit’s straw wine made from 100% Muscat d’Alexandria. There are fig and
quince aromas on the delineated nose. It feels a little more cohesive than when
I first tasted this last year. The palate is beautifully balanced with Seville
orange and tangerine, viscous in texture with a penetrating finish. Fabulous.
I thoroughly enjoyed
FYN. I appreciated the buzz about the place. There were a couple of dishes
where, with background knowledge of Japanese cuisine, I might tweak a couple of
things. Still, overall, this kaiseki-Cape fusion is imaginative and, most
importantly, delicious. As I mentioned before, I was prejudiced by my recent
trip to Japan and an obsessive pursuit of detail that must be impossible to
transfer to a team of chefs, however hard-working. Then again, this is not pure
Japanese gastronomy, so looking back, I should not expect that level of detail
and precision. What I cannot find in Japan are those wonderful ingredients that
you only find in the Cape that give FYN a unique twist. As I said, for anyone
visiting the Cape, it represents outstanding value for money, though be advised
that you must book in advance as demand for a seat is high. Alongside Pot Luck
Club and the aforementioned La Colombe, FYN should be on your must-do places to
dine when visiting Cape Town.
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