Centuries ago, while the West was tucking into one dimensional meals served by stiff-lipped butlers – or ravenously tearing at boar’s legs – the Japanese had perfected an elegant and refined style of dining engineered to engage all of the five senses: taste, touch, aroma, sight, and sound. No single element of a dish’s presentation and flavour is frivolous or out of place. Every ingredient is honoured and exists in harmony with each other, while the environment is carefully curated to enhance the meal, from the table dressings to the window views of the lush gardens. This is Kaiseki dining and it’s the experience Chef de Patron Peter Tempelhoff, Chef Ashley Moss (formerly of Greenhouse), and general manager Jennifer Hugé (formerly of La Colombe), have successfully recreated in the brand-new restaurant, FYN.
A sultry organic palette
Five floors up in the sky, FYN overlooks the historic Church Square on Parliament Street and, beyond that, our proud and beautiful city sentries, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. Inside FYN, the décor is dark, sultry, and organic with a natural palette of dark woods, olive green leather upholstery, and stone work features. Above the diners, a stunning art installation of cascading wooden beads softens the otherwise industrial ceiling, making it feel as though you’ve wandered into a thickly wooded forest. Hats off to interior design Tristan du Plessis of Studio A.
All of these warm, earthy tones are juxtaposed by the stainless steel of the kitchen, which is a literal part of the dining room. It’s a treat to behold the chefs at work, seamlessly interacting with each other, and briskly and expertly conjuring up FYN’s innovative dishes. It’s also fabulous entertainment without being imposing and guaranteed to keep you thrilled even if your date is boring the socks off you.
Japanese, if you please
The name may be South African-inspired – with “fyn” meaning fine in Afrikaans and being the “better half of the word ‘fynbos’” – but in practice, FYN’s menu is an ode to Japanese cuisine, tradition, and food theatre. From the positioning of the plates and utensils on the table to the harmonious interplay of ingredients, the afore-mentioned Kaiseki style dining pays careful consideration to every element that plays a role during the meal, providing diners with a multi-sensory pleasure experience.
And on that note, here’s what’s on the menu…
Kaiseki food experience
At FYN, guests are served a series of courses, each of which arrives upon the table like a gentle tide, bringing with it savoured bites of exquisite flavours, aromas, and presentation. Then, between each course, there are decent breaks to savour the paired wines, the atmosphere, and to watch the chefs at work in the kitchen.
The first course was a tray of Bento-style canapés: spiced chicken, coconut yoghurt, spring onion, and wakame (a type of edible seaweed); a tiny prawn samosa served with a creamy, peppery Thai dipping sauce; a crispy chewy nugget of rice with kingklip sushi, dashi aioli, wasabi furikake (a dry Japanese seasoning), and aged soy sauce; and daikon maki with smoked mayonnaise and cherry blossom prepared three ways: fresh, braised, and three-year pickled and salted.
Each bite-sized canapé was a study in harmonious balance in flavour and pleasantly contrasted textures that seduced us into sitting back in our seats to chew slowly with our eyes closed. This was brilliantly paired with the fresh and fruity Saurwein “Chi” Riesling 2018 from Elandskloof.
Bread from fire
Next, was an interlude of bone marrow butter rolled in black onion ash, which was served with a mini-baguette so fresh out the fire that it was almost too hot to touch, emitting a blast of steam as it was cracked open. The “butter” was served on a rather interesting contraption that resembled one of those oil burners so popularly owned by angst-ridden teenagers and astrology obsessed aunts. As the candle slowly flickered away, the butter with its black coating of onion ash melted and we dipped our fresh bread into the sublime smoky mixture.
The first tide: Kaiseki tray
The main meal was a Kaiseki tray featuring squid ramen (ramen noodles made from squiggly cuts of squid meat) cooked in a rich buttery sauce; quail served with tea-aged pear, parsnip, and glazed eel; a palate cleansing cucumber pickled in koji fungus and decorated with shiso leaves (a herb in the mint family); and yellowfin tuna with tomato ponzu (citrus-based sauce), tofu cream, and thin, dried slivers of salty kelp biltong. Again, Chef Peter Tempelhoff continued the theme of serving small, perfectly balanced dishes that addressed even the most nuanced flavour bases, leaving the palate incredibly satisfied.
For this larger, more varied course, we were presented with two different wines: the delightfully named Niel Ellis “Op sy moer”, a Palomino, Grenache Blanc, and Chenin Blanc blend that’s matured on the lees, giving it a heady, whole-mouth feel; and the “Twyfeling” Bush Vine Cinsault 2017 from Bosman Family Vineyards; a bright and fruity light-style red. Again, we were struck at the intelligence of the wine pairing and the delicious accents the wine lended to the meal.
The second tide: palate cleanser and guinea fowl
The palate cleanser, served between the two tides of the main course, was a delightful, interactive experience served at our table by Chef Peter himself. Into a small bowl filled with edible flower petals and herbs, he poured a small measure of liquid nitrogen from a stainless-steel vessel. Now, nitrogen can only exist as a liquid at very low temperatures and so, at room temperature, it bubbled, fizzed, and evaporated right before our eyes, leaving the petals and herbs frozen solid. We were instructed to take a little pestle and pound the contents of the bowl, which, after the nitrogen had evaporated, left them pulverized and powdered. He then placed a dollop of celery sorbet into the remains and voila! A palate cleanser that successfully engaged the eyes, nose, hands, and mouth!
The second tide of the main course was roast guinea fowl breast and leg meat served with poached leeks, miso cream, wood-ear mushroom, and a rich sherry jus. The wine pairing was the exquisite, the complex, the seductive, and velvety Morgenster “Lourens River Valley” 2003 Bordeaux style blend, which was bottled about the same time as I graduated from high school.
Dessert: Sweet Kaiseki
The final course consisted of green tea and white chocolate pudding with lime compressed strawberries; Madagascan chocolate chips, salted Japanese plums, and fennel; and blueberries with yuzu (a type of citrus fruit) and coconut, paired with a dessert glass of the honey sweet Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2014.
Our meal at FYN was, truthfully, one of the best food experiences we’ve had this year (and probably every year before that). Every bite was new, interesting, and delicious and no corner of the palate wanted for seasoning or texture. With flawless service and a brilliant wine selection that was carefully curated to amplify and enhance the meal, we were left utterly bowled over. Chef Peter Tempelhoff, Chef Ashley Moss, and manager Jennifer Hugé have built something spectacular and it’s now clear to me why FYN has become the talk of the Cape Town foodie scene.
Reservations via: www.fynrestaurant.com
Tuesday – Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday)
Lunch 12pm – 2pm
Dinner: 6pm – 8.30pm
Side note: New Year’s Eve: ‘The Experience’ launches on New Year’s Eve – Tempelhoff and Moss’ bold new approach to the classic tasting menu. Booking essential.