Review: FYN Restaurant

The Proposition

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.

The Experience

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 Verdict

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.”

FYN Restaurant

5th Floor, Speakers Corner, 37 Parliament Str, Cape Town

Reservations: + 27 (0)21 286 2733

info@fynrestaurant.com

Pinch of Salt: To beef or not to beef

By Pete Goffe-Wood.

Legend has it that Kobe cattle from Japan, in their final months before slaughter, are massaged daily by maidens and fed a diet mainly of dark beer. Now I don’t know about you, but there are far worst ways to meet your maker – we’re all going to die sometime but not many can say that their last days were spent in such a state of bliss.

So what is it about this fabled beef that’s so damn impressive and expensive?

(All images courtesy of Pete Goffe-Wood)
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Story of a Plate: Rabbit and Truffle at The Shortmarket Club

(Images courtesy of Andy Lund)

On the menu: Rabbit terrine, fig leaf baked ricotta, wild honey, lemon and porcini velouté.

Jean-Pierre recently enjoyed this starter dish as one highlight of an overall excellent meal at The Shortmarket Club. We chat to chef Wesley Randles about what may seem like an unusual combination to local diners in Cape Town.

Welsey Randles: It might seem unusual, but if you break down the flavours, it’s actually the perfect northern Italian plate, incorporating everything important to that palate. For example if you start with gnocchi, and then add rabbit and truffle, that would be completely normal in that region. This is exactly that, just broken down into slightly different components.

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Can a restaurant keep its charm in a mall?

From our February 2019 newsletter:

There’s a well-known pizza restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, called Roberta’s. Opened in an old warehouse in 2008 by two friends who bought equipment from a shuttered pizzeria in Italy, it has “a D.I.Y. feel, like a Bushwick loft, The ceilings are high, with beams exposed, and the floor is poured concrete”. And evidently very good pizzas. (It’s also also home to the many excellent food and/or drink-related podcasts recorded by Heritage Radio Network, which is housed in an old shipping container in Roberta’s backyard.) It is, in short, the perfect – authentic! – embodiment of the “Global Brooklyn” trend that seems to be sweeping the world with bare brick walls and naked filament lightbulbs, and the “hipster” crowds that such spaces draw.

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2018: A Year in Review by JP Rossouw

The restaurant reviews and Story of a Plate features on this website continue to take on more and more of an indigenous angle as it is my belief that we need to celebrate and thereby develop South African cuisine in all its forms. So this year’s writings have been slanted to those chefs and establishments that carry the flag for cuisine that is expressly rooted in our country. These are the establishments and dishes that in-bound food lovers would not find elsewhere – for is this not what we all want to find and explore when we travel to new places? And for the local food lover, should we not be expecting our best chefs to be diving deeper into our food history and culture? It’s high time South African chefs and diners look inward for inspiration, and not only adopt imported food trends.  Continue reading “2018: A Year in Review by JP Rossouw”

Review: Wolfgat

The Proposition

Look at this picture.

Don’t you instantly wish you were there? There’s a mesmerising quality to natural spaces like this, and Wolfgat perfectly captures the essential nature of this part of the Cape’s West Coast by being housed in a historic fisherman’s cottage (luckily) with wind-protected views – and then having the sensitivity to minimise all else so that you experience, simply, being here. It’s quite remarkable.

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Pinch of Salt: Books for Cooks

By Pete Goffe-Wood.

I’ve always been wary of chefs who say they don’t read cookbooks. How do you continue to educate yourself without reading; how do you expand your own consciousness and repertoire if not through reading?

I don’t mean that chefs should just thumb through pages and hi-jack ideas – well-written cookbooks can be inspirational, informative, hilarious and bloody helpful at times. You don’t have to follow the recipes religiously nor keep strictly to the ingredients listed – these are merely guidelines. Let your own creative juices run riot!

When I first started working in London, Dan Evans, my head chef at the time, asked me a question that ultimately changed how I viewed my craft. He simply asked, “Who are you reading?”. Upon finding out that I wasn’t “reading” anyone in particular, he issued me a long look of scorn followed by an even longer list of writers and told me that would get me started. Continue reading “Pinch of Salt: Books for Cooks”

Platter’s 2019 reveals its Five Star wines and more

Platter’s by Diners Club South African Wine Guide 2019 was launched at Cape Town’s Table Bay Hotel earlier this week and a total of 90 wines achieved the coveted Five Star status this year.

All wines that scored 93 points or higher in the primary assessment went into a second round of tasting, conducted blind (without sight of the label) by small panels including experienced palates from outside the team. The stringency of this model means that Platter’s Five Star wines show consistent brilliance.

This edition, the ultimate Platter’s accolade, Winery of the Year, has expanded to become a trio of pinnacle awards, each saluting excellence in South African wine-making. The Newcomer Winery of the Year recognises the winery that records the best results as a first-time participant in the guide. This honour goes to Erika Obermeyer Wines, with two Five Stars on debut. The Top Performing Winery of the Year award goes to Mullineux, who are no strangers to Platter’s accolades, having twice previously been Winery of the Year. In the new guide they achieve a remarkable four Five Stars plus a Wine of the Year. Finally, the Editors Award for 2019 goes to Newton Johnson Vineyards, as editor Philip van Zyl’s personal commendation of this family venture’s consistently superb quality over a range of styles of wine.

In a further innovation, the number of Wines of the Year has also been increased, and the expanded line-up now reflects the highest-scoring Five Star wines in their category (or, in instances where wines were tied with the highest scores, the judging panels’ preferred wine). The list of these 25 remarkable wines follows after the break below.

To order your copy, please visit the online store. The books will be available in retail later this month. You can also subscribe online today for full access to the new information, or get the Platter’s app for iOS or Android (requires subscription).

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Story of a Plate: Octopus Casserole at Saint

(Images courtesy of David Higgs)

On the menu: Octopus casserole, chorizo, bean, kale, garlic

We chat to chef David Higgs at Saint, the new “twisted” Italian restaurant he opened a few months ago with business partner Gary Kyriacou in Sandton, where Jean-Pierre recently enjoyed the bean casserole with wood-fired octopus.

David Higgs: I think the Italian inspiration behind the dish is mostly the bean casserole, which is such a typical Mediterranean dish, almost Spanish and Portuguese as well. So that’s why we call ourselves crazy or “twisted” Italian rather than just Italian, because these are basically flavours that I’ve been inspired by on my travels. Octopus on the fire has always been one of my favourites. And  bean stews are so flavoursome, with lots of cumin, and coriander – almost Moroccan, so it really represents that whole Mediterranean region, whether on the European or African continent. Sometimes you just get something in your head, and you want to go with it…. Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Octopus Casserole at Saint”

Story of a Plate: Driftwood Canapés at The Chefs’ Table

(Photographs courtesy of Sebastian Nico)

On the menu: Served as an amuse bouche, this is not listed on any current menus, but Executive Head Chef Kayla-Ann Osborn agreed that Jean-Pierre’s description of “Driftwood Canapés” has a nice ring to it.

Even if you didn’t have an official name for it, clearly a lot of thought went into both the ingredients and presentation of this elegant plate. 

Kayla: Yes! The story behind it is that although we live on the coast, we’ve ironically always battled with getting fresh seafood (especially shellfish), both in KwaZulu Natal and in the country as a whole. But after working with (and pushing) local suppliers, we started getting a little bit of fresh seafood here and there, and suddenly we had this major influx of local seafood (which even the Cape doesn’t have), all sustainably caught, and from within a 20km radius of our waters.

Then I started thinking about how to put that together as a course, but I didn’t want to have five or six seafood elements on a plate and call it a dish, because that would just look messy, with too much going on. So we decided to use it as an amuse, and when I started thinking about what to serve it on, driftwood came up as a fun option. I contacted a couple of guys who do woodwork, and they said they would love to work on driftwood because they don’t often get to do it, and about a week later we had about 6 or 7 of these driftwood platters. So the thought process was really about finding a way to showcase all this great local seafood.  Continue reading “Story of a Plate: Driftwood Canapés at The Chefs’ Table”