Culinary Artistry – The Kaiseki Menu at Tjing Tjing Momiji
As with many things in Japanese culture, the concept of a Kaiseki menu is intricate and complex. There are a few styles of Kaiseki but there are three principles that guide them all – omotenashi, itadakimasu and shun – respect for the patron, ingredients and season. At Tjing Tjing Momiji, chef Christi Semczyszyn has created a menu that is a perfect marriage of Japanese Kaiseki principles and local South African ingredients. The result is quite special.
The experience at Momiji is zen-like. From the moment we stepped from the lounge into the restaurant we felt a sense of calm; things are ordered and structured. The restaurant interior is minimalist and elegant with small touches, like the fun chopstick rests, that inject a little kawaii into the space.
The subtlety of lemongrass scented the air and our dining experience began with a cleansing of hands with a warm towel. It’s the small details like these that make it feel more ceremonial than your average evening out.
A traditional Kaiseki menu can be up to as many as 14 courses; the Momiji menu is a selection of seven course (with one or two special extras) that create a balanced and clean meal, without leaving you feeling like you’ve overeaten.
I Wrote a Letter
Because of the complexity of the dishes, each course at Momiji is presented with a small info card. This sits on a small easel on your table detailing what you need to know about each dish. There’s a principle behind each course and meticulous detail to each plate, so it’s really helpful to be able to understand what you’re eating.
It also means that servers are not repeating themselves all night long – this helps create a dining experience that feels uncluttered. The removal of the barrage of verbal detail is very welcome.
Utsukushi ̄ sa (beauty)
Kaiseki is also not just about flavour but about presentation, so each dish is as equally beautiful as it is tasty. The tradition is to use elements from nature to tell a story on the plate and this is evident as you go through the menu.
We especially loved the interpretation of Hassun, the second course, which sets the theme for the meal. In this case an Autumn bread board with elements of autumnal foliage and pumpkin shaped bread.
Each and every course of the Momiji Kaiseki menu was meticulous and a joy to eat. The Takiawase course, the Autumn Salad, had so many contrasting flavours and textures that made every mouthful different. We especially loved the surprise of the Tjing Tjing carrot bunny hiding in the leaves.
Yakimono (the flame-grilled course) is called “Mottainai”, which loosely translates to ‘what a waste’, alluding to the fact that the dish heroes cuts that often don’t get used. The dish of wagyu tongue was one of our favourites and was fatty, rich and utterly indulgent.
Without giving everything away, a course we have to mention is Gohan. Simply entitled “rice” on the menu, this course probably best represented the melding of Japanese and South African cultures.
Named Abraham Onigiri, this dish is inspired by chef Christi’s traditional family recipe. Slow cooked lamb rib is turned in a crispy rice ball and is served in a flavoursome broth.
The broth is cleverly coloured with binchotan charcoal to symbolise the cast iron pot that Oom Abraham cooked in.
We loved this story and this course, which immediately transported us to Sunday lunches with family around a big table. How wonderful for a dish to be able to do that.
Good Luck and Good Night
There are so many facets of this meal worth mentioning, too many, but a final one that we just adored was Kittu Katsu, the Momiji version of a Kit Kat. The Kit Kat has risen to cult status in Japan because the name sounds very similar to the translation of good luck, thus it has become an iconic gift when you want to wish someone well.
The Momiji team will present you with their homemade version, which is an absolute delight.
Go, Go, Go!
The really good news is that the Momiji Kaiseki menu is currently available at a reduced winter price. Enjoy this unique 7-course eastern-style degustation meal for R595 pp until the end of August 2019.
The offering is quite unlike any other restaurant in the city –it is a magnificent culinary journey of flavour and artistry that should not be missed.
165 Longmarket St, Cape Town City Centre | Tel: 021 422 4374 / 4920 | Email
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