New Seafood Tasting Menu at Kyoto Garden: An Inspired Journey of Japanese Cuisine

Words: Julie Velosa | Photography: Claire Gunn

Kyoto Garden is one of those small, unassuming restaurants that is loved by locals in the know. Part of that unassuming charm, I believe, is due to its owner, Scott Wood, an American who has lived in Cape Town for 12 years and has owned Kyoto for 11 years.

We recently visited Kyoto to be the first to try their new Seafood Tasting Menu, so new in fact that it there wasn’t even a printed menu available yet. This was actually quite a refreshing experience as it turned out because it meant that we could focus completely on the food. Also, we had personal service from Scott, peppered with little interesting nuggets of information along the way.

Kyoto Garden-Seafood-Menu

A little Background to Kyoto

During the course of the meal, I asked Scott how he came to open a Japanese restaurant and what made him fall in love with this style of cuisine. In his extremely soft-spoken, West Coast accent he told us a charming story of his first experience with sushi back in 1974 – before sushi was even a thing.

A night spent in a club on the Sunset Strip resulted in him getting a number from a leggy blonde; when he called her the next day and asked if he could take her for dinner, her answer was yes.

He arrived the next day to fetch her, dressed to the nines in his Gucci suit, only to be told by the barefoot blonde that dinner would be on her terms and that they’d be heading down to Little Tokyo (which at the time consisted of 6 restaurants) for sushi. Not wanting to seem ignorant he simply went along with the plan, and that was the beginning of the love affair… with sushi and Japanese cuisine that is.

Seafood Tasting Menu at Kyoto Garden

Shallow Seas

The seafood at Kyoto has always been a specialty and this tasting menu highlights some of the best. After a palate cleanser of a small square of seaweed from the Northern islands of Hokkaido, we started with the first dish of sushi-style starters – eel and scallop from Japan and sea urchin from Spain. Sea Urchin was a first for my dining partner and I; the meat was reminiscent of a very delicate oyster, with a unique sea freshness. The smoked eel with a hit of wasabi was delicious and the scallop was so clean in flavour, unadulterated and just perfect in its natural state.

Into the Cold

The next dish was also a completely new experience. As Scott told us, Japan has serious extremes in terms of temperature, going from bitterly cold to scorchingly hot. When the temperatures hit the highs, the commonly eaten bowl of steaming noodles loses its appeal. Hence the advent of the ice cold noodle bowl. This was a complete conundrum for the palate but in the best way possible.

Fat udon noodles are served in an ice cold broth that packed so much incredible flavour that it elicited a wondrous shake of the head.

My immediate thought would be that the broth, because served cold, would have a fatty residue but this was not the case at all, it was perfectly clear, rammed with flavour, icy cold and a joy to eat.

Rising Sun

Tempura almost never disappoints and this next course of the menu was no different. Baby spinach leaves and oysters are lightly battered and deep fried to give that signature perfect crispy crunch. With tempura I always want more but the richness of this dish made the portion size just right. The dipping sauce is to-die-for and we ate every last morsel.

Deep Ika

It feels like a seafood tasting menu would not be complete without squid and duly this was the next course – a generous tube of grilled squid, sliced and served with squid ink. It seems like the courses are never going to end but the lightness and freshness mean that you can simply keep on enjoying.

Ocean Blue

The last savoury course of the seafood tasting menu is an absolute spoil – lobster served with brown butter. I’m brown butter’s biggest champion and as soon as it hit the table that unmistakable nutty and rich aroma filled the air. I might have nearly wept with joy. Very little is done to the lobster, it is steamed and served in the shell, already cracked for ease, with the brown butter as a dipping sauce. It is perfection in its simplicity.

Kori Cream

To finish are three ice creams, which are just what is needed to round off the experience. Kyoto’s signature black sesame ice cream and matcha green tea ice cream are served, and with those, a new addition of miso ice cream, which was just sublime. Almost like a very elevated salted caramel. We just loved.

Kyoto Garden-Seafood-Menu

Kyoto really is about simplicity, clean flavours and precision and all of these pillars are present in the seafood tasting menu. The hands-on service at Kyoto from Scott and his team is personal and yet unobtrusive. The whole experience makes for the ideal way to spend an evening in the company of someone special and really is something that everyone should experience.

The Seafood Tasting Menu at Kyoto Garden starts March 1st 2018 and is priced at R700 per person, which includes a bottle of Silverthorn MCC. | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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