From their website, this founding statement: “At FYN, South Africa’s wild freedom is tempered by the rigours of contemporary cuisine to create a restaurant at the edge.” I think cultural commentators could have some fun “unpacking” this colourful sentence, but I’ll leave it serving as their own notice of intent.
I’ve now visited Fyn twice. It’s a knockout space, and a wonderful reinvention of a downtown square that is off most peoples’ radar, unless you work in parliament – but then you are likely to be someone that most people want off their radar. The glass box concept is contemporary and also comfortable, and the ceiling installation is impressive – feeling, as a lunch companion noted, much like an overhead kelp forest that houses the seafood-leaning items on the menu.
This is certainly a luxury space, with a commensurately luxe wine list – yet with a culinary approach that is pretty novel to South African dining, taking the form of kaiseki*. I do not think kaiseki falls into most people’s idea of “contemporary cuisine” (per their intro); and here the kaiseki concept has been modulated, albeit softly, towards local flavours and ingredients.
Notwithstanding these local modulations, many people seem to share my puzzlement over the disjunct between the deep localism suggested by the name of the restaurant and the internationalism of the majority of the menu. “Fyn” does of course simply mean “fine” (possibly as in fine dining, or the finer things) but putting it in Afrikaans made me, and others, hope that there would be a whole lot more reference to and interaction with local cuisine. Instead what you get are “luxury” ingredients, mostly taking an elite and international form. Prawns from Hawaii, crab from Alaska, scallop from Europe, Mauritian sea bass. We were even offered a bespoke gin from Japan. These are delicious foods, but I can’t help thinking this is a short-cut to what is commercially agreed as being “fine”. It’s a safe way to impress most comers. But in the light of the current zeitgeist – which I dearly hope is not just a fad, toward the use of foods with a more local provenance, I found this (ironically, given the space) somewhat old-fashioned.
The kitchen technique and presentation, however, are superb. The succession of plates and trays is a masterclass in method and beauty – which is what kaiseki sets out to show the diner. And while it draws most consistently from the Japanese cookbook, there were, as mentioned, a few innovations that introduced the local; such as a guineafowl yakitori with Malay spices and African steamed bread, dombolo, with bone marrow. The main course (fillet, with a green bean “risotto” and sweetbreads) and the desserts were again firmly Eurocentric in an “international” style. Desserts are very impressive indeed.
The beauty of this approach to cooking is that the menu can be tweaked and ingredients substituted with ease as they go along. My hope is that this does happen and, as time goes by, it will mean more and more towards a local focus – so that what many take as Fyn’s promise of South African cuisine reinterpreted through a Japanese idiom, can be realised.
* From Wikipedia: “… a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. The term also refers to the collection of skills and techniques that allow the preparation of such meals and is analogous to Western haute cuisine.”
5th Floor, Speakers Corner, 37 Parliament Str, Cape Town
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