EVEN as the plan for the four-course tasting experience at Shio was being laid out, frissons of excitement were making me shiver with anticipation.
Shio Modern Japanese Izakaya is one of Cheyne Morrisby’s restaurants, along with Cheyne’s and Lucky Bao in Hout Bay and with more in the pipeline, which is fabulous news for us city bowl dwellers for whom a drive around any mountain constitutes a road trip. Set out across two rooms with high and low tables, and an outside deck, Shio epitomises what we know, love, and have come to expect from Cheyne: incredible food beautifully presented.
The menu comprises four elements, and spreads out into a fan. Anywhere else this would be a gimmick, but here it works in harmony with the Japanese theme and simple, aesthetically pleasing decor. For this experience the terms and conditions are easily bearable – two diners, one dish from each section of the menu…for R250 (a few dishes carry small surcharges) a person. The special offer runs until the end of August, for lunch and dinner.
The difficult part comes with the choosing; everything sounds amazing, and tastes even better, as we were to discover. Umi are the ocean dishes. I ordered the Umi Hijiki salad, which is salmon and tuna sashimi with edamame and pickled shimeji. My Let’s Do Lunch partner Diva had the tiger prawn katsu in an exquisite hot and sour cream sauce with lime leaf and bonito flakes.
Moving on to the next two courses, Tochi (land) and Chikyuu (earth) – which very simplified, are the protein and vegetable dishes and thus served together – I struggled to settle on the former, while I was instantly attracted to the miso glazed aubergine with smoked tofu, topped with what is considered the perfect egg, boiled for five minutes and 10 seconds, and garnished with caviar. While not a vegetarian, this was my favourite of the day, in an eyes-roll-back-in-ecstacy way.
From the land I eventually chose the pork belly roast with red miso and nashi pear sauce, toasted cashew crumbs, and crisp curly sweet potato ribbons. Diva had the BBQ duck breast with date and waterchestnut gyoza, dressed with sticky star anise sauce. Her veg choice was a bowl brimming with edamame beans with lemon butter and smoked bonito salt.
I don’t usually do dessert, but since it was a condition of the special, I chose Kyoto Coffee, which was explained as “similar to an Irish coffee”. But not. It was the perfect choice, being predominantly liquid and not sweet – a double shot of espresso with Nikka Black whisky, and coconut cream floating on top. It was accompanied by a soft warm cinnamon doughnut, which was just the right tasty morsel with which to finish. The Diva had banana cream pie with miso butterscotch and peanut butter ice cream, which I could tell excited her greatly.
We were attended to by Arthur Gumbochuma who was able to answer all our questions about the unusual or unfamiliar ingredients, and offered assurance that any heat would be tolerable for me by bringing me a tasting sample from the kitchen. He also recommended the flexible Springfield Miss Lucy white blend as suitable to work with the food across the multiple courses, and he was spot-on.
From the first mouthful to the last, this was an exceptional meal. I highly recommend it, and as Diva would say, thank me later.
Shio Modern Japanese Izakaya is at 49 Napier Street in De Waterkant. Call 064 661 7474 to book.
PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN