WHEN I first heard about Nikkei, I had to ask Google about it. What would Japan and Peru, not exactly direct neighbours, have in common? The answers are that Nikkei cuisine is a type of fusion cuisine that combines Japanese and Peruvian elements. And Nikkei is the word used to describe immigrants of Japanese origin in Peru. It’s also the name of the hottest new restaurant in Cape Town.
I’m going to give you the press release first, and then my review, so stick around.
“In the late 19th century, the cultural exchange between Japan and Peru ignited with the arrival of a Peruvian ship at Yokohama’s port. This vessel, shuttling laborers between Callao and Macau, laid the groundwork for a blossoming fusion. Japanese culinary finesse married Peru’s vibrant ingredients, swiftly becoming a local mainstay.
“Leap to 2020, this distinctive cuisine transcended its roots, permeating mainstream and fine dining spheres. Championed by modernist chefs, it emerged as a vanguard in the culinary landscape, spawning trendy establishments across the Middle East, London, and the US.
“The culmination arrived at the tail end of 2023, as Cape Town welcomed its inaugural Japanese-Peruvian culinary haven—Nikkei Japanese Peruvian, which opened in December 2023. Nestled at 87 Bree Street (formerly Gate 69), this venture emerges under the stewardship of esteemed establishments like Hacienda, Scala, Iron Steak, and Burger & Lobster. The acclaimed and globally recognised chef Rikku Ó’Donnchü, alongside the company’s executive chef, Justin Barker, helm the menu.
“Nikkei is inspired by the founders’ love for Asian and South American cuisine hence why they opened Hacienda Coastal Mexican in 2022. Justin, the group executive chef, has his own ambitions to head to South America and eat at his most inspiring restaurants. He is extremely passionate about South American cuisine and was at the helm of the opening of Hacienda Coastal Mexican.
“Rikku, having recent experience in Korea, Japan and even more recently, the US and Honk Kong, has always had a passion and sentimental/inspiring connection to Asian culture and cuisine, not only because his family connection, but because of the culinary, discipline and dedication to their craft. He was the executive chef of Michelin Korean fusion restaurant Doshi in Orlando, Florida.
“The founders saw a gap in the market on Bree and wanted to have something more than just another Japanese inspired restaurant; they wanted something elevated and untapped into.
“Nikkei’s menu caters to diverse tastes, thoughtfully categorised for easy exploration. Begin with piqueos, delightful small bites perfectly paired with your initial libations. Crudo y Marinados showcases raw or marinated delicacies, featuring the pinnacle of Nikkei cuisine—the celebrated ceviche. Petiscos Nikkei beckons communal dining, inviting patrons to share a variety of sumptuous plates.
“The heart of Nikkei’s kitchen resides in the acclaimed Josper oven, revered for its charcoal gastronomy – a cornerstone utilised in crafting most menu items, barring those from the robatayaki section. Robatayaki, a miniature charcoal grill brought tableside, delivers an authentic Japanese/Peruvian grilling experience. And sushi aficionados can revel in exclusive Japanese Peruvian new style signature rolls and revered Japanese classics.
“The bar at Nikkei boasts an enticing array of Japanese whiskies, some crowned as the world’s finest – a paradise for whiskey aficionados. Noteworthy among the offerings is a meticulously crafted list of sake and pisco cocktails, curated by an award-winning mixologist. The iconic Pisco Sours, a cherished Peruvian libation, now finds its home in Cape Town.
“The restaurant’s interior, a creation by long-time design partners SQ design, is a testament to the harmonious blend of Japanese and Peruvian cultures. A rich deep green palette, complemented by hints of gold and simplistic wood panelling, defines a space that exudes warmth and comfort – a visual ode to cultural equilibrium.
“Nikkei Japanese Peruvian stands as a testament to the artful fusion of Japanese precision and Peruvian vibrancy, adding a captivating chapter to Cape Town’s culinary tapestry.”
Right, my turn. The collective behind Iron Steak, Scala Pasta/Bar, Burger&Lobster and Hacienda Coastal Mexican have truly outdone themselves; this one is going to be hard to top. Notice how clever they are by having all their restaurants within two blocks in Bree Street?
Nikkei is utterly stunningly beautiful, at once spacious and airy with the soaring ceiling, and intimate with cosy tables and semicircular booths with buttery leather, and riotous foliage. The balcony is inconspicuous but will be the ultimate spot for people-watching. And you won’t be able to take your eyes off the people. This is a place to dress up for. This is heels and red lipstick, this is Glam. Yes, capital G. You’ll want to fit in. That said, the bloke at the table next to ours was wearing baggy short pants and hippie sandals (and had no inside voice) so there isn’t an actual dress code. But trust me, you’ll be glad you made the effort.
The wait staff provide a contrast to the muted colours of the decor with their bright pink wraparound tops, as they keep everything running smoothly. As per the press release, there are various ways to order your food, from an omakase for two (eight courses, R499 per person) and Peruvian Bento Box, to à la carte, which is the route we went, sharing six dishes (pics of these to follow on my Instagram). We began with crispy squid with togorashi, lime, micro coriander and squid ink aioli from the appetisers section. So were the oxtail croquettes with truffle mayo, yuzu dressed radish, and shaved truffle.
Seared sesame tuna, guacamole, smoked emulsion, lime and jalapeño ponzu; and fire cooked chicken thigh with black bean mole, pickled shimeji and sesame leaf came from the Piqueos page. Intrigued by what was being served at the table on the other side of us and discreetly asking our attentive waiter, we mimicked their order of Nikkei’s signature sushi, inspired by years of Japanese influence in Peru: crispy soft shell crab with katsu mayo, kimachi cucumber, crispy claw and togorashi; and – this was such a weird highlight for me who never or hardly ever orders vegetarian sushi but it still teases at my mind even now, two weeks later – truffle maki, which is black truffle mousse in nori with fresh black truffle shaved on top. Everything was excellent and full of wonderful, exciting flavours, but these maki were something else, heady and seductive.
Desserts sounded tempting too but we were at just that right level of fullness and anything more would have pushed us over the edge and ruined everything. Drinks galore – all manner of cocktails (the Tokyo Skyline is as pretty as you like with Île Four Junmai Daiginjo sake, Grey Goose vodka, vanilla, passion fruit, martini prosecco and lime; and all the beers, spirits and wine you can handle. Absolutely gorgeous.
- Fun fact: Where Iron Steak is now, used to be a Peruvian restaurant…
- Mondays to Saturdays 4.30pm-6pm
- Half price on all pisco based cocktails
- Not valid on First Thursdays. No banking. No sharing. Terms and conditions apply
SUSHI AND SAKE SUNDAYS
- Every Sunday 12-6pm
- R199 Sunday sushi platter and half price on all sake based cocktails
- Live DJ from 12.30pm-5.30pm