Cape Town Can Wait

So much for the season.  Kyoto Garden, finest sushi restaurant in Cape Town by ten knots, next door to the Power and the Gory pub on Kloofnek, remained closed from November to January.  Proprietor Scott Wood (below, right) had gone home to Los Angeles and then took a holiday in Japan but never made it to Hokkaido as the temperature was twenty C below in January.  But he did pick up some fine wooden, almost tweezer like, hashi (Japanese chopsticks, otemoto) “which fit the new décor.”

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Scott runs his life on a three-s principle.  Seafood is the most important and sleep comes third.  In the seafood stakes, “s” also rules, with scallops, supreme.  The best come from Alaska and are “the size of hockey pucks” (“when I lived in LA, the steering wheel of my 1959 Austin-Healey reeked of scallops as I’d eat them shashimi-style before I got home”) but on Saturday night we had to make do with some dainty jobs from Peru and some giant Canucks.

Scott learnt the scallop trade while fishing for sockeye salmon in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Sibera.  A three month sentence of sleep deprivation and danger that nets young surfers up to $30k a season.

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To drink, a range of Japanese whiskies shown above: two unpeated, two peated, a pure malt voted best whisky in the world for six years in a row by wonks who do this kind of thing and a 21 year old blend called Hibiki made from 30% malt and 70% corn whisky that would taste like Johnnie Black if Diageo ever went Japanese.

Where they spell whisky like the Scots do – without an “e” – although Mr. Min may beg to differ and spell the Scottish stuff the Irish way in the pages of Sawubona.  But then, as with most things, Mr. Min gets it wrong so badly, it becomes hilarious.  Like the Scots, the Nipponese age their malted spirit in Bourbon barrels and to be fancy, may also throw in a Sherry cask or Port pipe or two.

The two main players in the Japanese whisky club are Suntory and Nikka, founded by Japanese distiller Masataka Taketsuru who learnt his craft in Scotland a century ago, even marrying a wee lassie (below) for maximum authenticity.

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After tasting Scott’s six spirits plus a few hidden gems unearthed during the course of a long evening, the overwhelming impression is of Scotland, with no rising sun terroir evident.  The most interesting for me was a Nikka 12 year old in a 500ml bottle – the most humble and most honest – while the 21 year old Taketsuru Pure Malt was a fine drop, to be sure.

Whether it is the best Scotch in the world is essentially irrelevant as the labels are all in Japanese calligraphy and if Scott hadn’t vouchsafed the pedigree, I would have remained blissfully ignorant.  But then I’m not a label drinker (with the exception of the Noh drop below that stole my heart), nor any longer a Platter taster.  Five years with the sighted bluffers was enough to realize it’s all a massive con although one that seems to have worked as rumour insists the guide has been sold to a major credit card company who were previously famous for a winemaker of the year competition which was scrupulously judged blind.

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While the Japanese juice was fine with Alaskan crab claw salad, it really came into its own with Scott’s latest culinary diversion: paper thin, rare, free-range ostrich breast fillet and tenderloin from Woolworths, flash grilled with a delicate soya and shallot dressing by a sous chef from Hiroshima.  Fillet for wagu texture and tenderloin for flavour – a cross-cultural masterpiece.

KWV brandy’s big-bottle, Peadar Hegarty, (papped with Scott, at top left) had returned to the Gory by this stage, which is a pity as Scott’s ostrich wagu is tailor made for SA brandy and could help drain the lake.  This Birds & BrandyTM pairing is so cool, it would even work in Birdhaven, Johannesburg.

Flame the ostrich in KWV 5 year old and serve alongside a balloon of 20yo.  A unique African pairing from one of the most innovative and unexpected chefs in the business and something for the China/South Africa Cognac and Brandy Brotherhood (below) to champion.

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But brandy lovers had better hurry as Scott has been offered a berth on the European summer tour of a German rock star who is a regular at the Garden.  With a motto “Cape Town can wait”, Scott is a rara avis indeed in mother’s aviary.