Having just opened in March 2019 at the four-star Onyx Hotel on Cape Town’s Foreshore, YU Restaurant has barely opened its eyes to the Cape Town dining scene and yet it’s already become the talk of the town. This 100-seater restaurant and swanky lounge and sake bar offers guests an intimate, moody, and rather sexy setting in which to enjoy an Asian tapas-style dining experience that is a seamless blend of tradition and modernity…or so we’re told. And it was at this week’s official launch that we put the marketing verbiage to the test!
Location, location, location!
YU Restaurant is conveniently located right in the beating heart of Cape Town, within short walking distance of the city’s cultural, artistic, commercial, and historic hubs, making it the perfect spot to decompress after a day in the office, at conference, or being a relentless tourist. The warm, stylish, and sultry design aesthetic also makes it a great place for romantic dates, for schmoozing the latest potential client, or for kicking off an evening on the town, perhaps with some cocktails and shared tapas plates before heading off to the theatre or the club.
Whatever your agenda, if there is impressing to be done, YU Restaurant is centrally and accessibly located to get the job done!
Ambiance and first impressions
Bare brick walls painted charcoal, warm wood textures, creative light fixtures that bring to mind cats’ eyes, eclectic Japanese Matchbox art, and an impossible-to-ignore Octopus wall mural dance together to create an impression of romance, intrigue, and sophistication. Designed by Yaniv Chen and Leigh Fink from Master Studio, YU Restaurant’s aesthetic is inspired by the kinds of places in which the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) would have conducted their clandestine meetings in early 1950s.
“These spaces were unassuming and the interiors often derelict, but they were warmed up from the dim lighting, rich dark velvets, and warm timbers. We wanted to recreate the juxtaposition between imperfection and luxury,” says Rory Jossel, experienced restaurateur and owner of YU.
Rory Jossel has dabbled in Asian cuisine for the past two decades, starting out as a waiter in his cousin’s restaurant. But he shinnied on up that proverbial ladder like a squirrel and ended up partnering on a collection of Asian contemporary restaurants across the country and even as far afield as Dubai. Today, he adds owner and manager of the World Luxury Restaurants Awards 2020 nominated YU Restaurant to his impressive list of achievements.
The proof is in the pudding
YU restaurant is a beautiful space and its atmosphere entirely lends itself to a thoroughly good time. But what about the food?
“The key to any successful restaurant is simple – amazing food, amazing service, and a warm, relaxed atmosphere where you can drink with friends,” says Rory. “Our menu lends itself to a sharing experience, it’s fine dining, but without the stiff three course meal.”
YU’s launch party showcased this philosophy with a steady stream of signature dishes from the kitchen. For two hours we grazed our way through Asian-influenced tapas plates that included soft-shelled crab with sesame mayo; sticky ribs marinated in soya, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorn; seared tuna slices with tofu, wakame (an edible marine plant with a subtly sweet, but distinctive flavour and texture), mizuna (Japanese mustard greens), and goma (sesame) dressing; marinated seared salmon with burnt spicy mayo and “crispy bits”; prawn and butternut dim sum; and beef short rib bao with chilli, garlic, and oyster sauce.
These are just to name a few. The variety of dishes we tried was truly staggering and, quite honestly, all of them were absolutely delicious: richly flavoured, pleasantly varied in texture, and attractively presented. The only possible negative comment one could make about the launch dinner experience is that, after courses in the double digits, we were too satiated to enjoy some of the latter dishes. But who complains about a thing like that? Besides, me being a piglet is certainly not their fault.
I was equally impressed with their wine selection: the versatile Rhone-style Alchemy 2017 from Hartenberg Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, a red blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedré, and the crisp, clean Secateurs Chenin Blanc from Badenhorst Family Wines in the Swartland. We were also handed a glass of G.H. Mumm Brut Champagne upon arrival, which didn’t hurt one bit.
For the more adventurous of spirit, YU Restaurant offers a selection of Sake, Japanese craft beers, and unique cocktails laced with exotic flavours like yuzu and ginger.
Dodging the traffic (and other reasons to visit YU)
The convenient location, ambiance, food, service, wine selection, and (I’m told) cocktails are a compelling suite of reasons to visit the new darling of the Cape Town foodie scene. Impressing a date, client, or the in-laws, quelling a craving for delicious Asian food, sitting down to pre-drinks and a light supper, or even just dodging the traffic after work are even more reasons. The name YU, which clearly derives from the Japanese language, embodies the spirit of this restaurant, which is one of excellence, superiority, and boldness delivered with gentleness and poetry, a philosophy that is well represented by the experience of eating and enjoying an evening here.
YU Restaurant is open Mondays to Saturdays 12:00 to 23:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 (0) 21 111 0453.
57 Heerengracht Street, The Onyx Hotel, Cape Town