WHEN it opened back in 2020, Yama Asian Eatery was called Yama Sushi Emporium, and that’s what it was, bringing the first top-quality sushi to the Franschhoek village. It is still the premier sushi restaurant on the main road but it also offers so much more.
As the website says, “The restaurant takes on a light, minimalistic approach that offers spacious seating both inside and outside in the courtyard.
“The team, guided by Ryan Shell, aims to create a calm space where locals can fully relax and enjoy themselves with anything from a quick lunch to a full dinner spread. The eatery offers a high-quality sushi menu accompanied by an Asian-themed à la carte menu using fresh seasonal ingredients. Guests are sure to feel at ease as they are gracefully guided and taken care of by our passionate team throughout their visit.
“Our wine list is focused on local wineries from in and around the valley as well as a selection of cocktails and sakes, including our own house brand beer-styled sakes.
“The dining experience is completed with instrumental music that evokes a sense of calmness in our guests that enables them to unwind and relax.”
Having eaten there a few weeks ago, I can endorse all of that as true. We were delighted to find our friend Peter Nyathi on management duty, and he wasted no time in bringing us glasses of bubbles and some crispy squid to nibble on. He knows I love bao buns so we were brought a portion of those, with Korean chicken, kimchi and radish. After that, we were let loose on the sushi menu. I really should eat sushi more often because when a lengthy time has elapsed I go a bit crazy and order way too much. Which is what happened here.
As much as I loved every mouthful of the sushi, I was left longing for a larger appetite so I could try other dishes, like ramen. Specifically duck ramen with ponzu cured egg, kimchi, nori, lime, and black bean chilli. Balance of flavours is key at Ryan’s restaurants and I would even try something with chilli because I trust it will not overpower anything else.
There are also dumplings and donburi, and heck, even the sides sound delicious (and vegetarian): kimchi fried rice with egg, Chinese cabbage, edamame, oyster mushrooms, soy sauce; charred broccoli with honey, chilli, soy, and mustard mayonnaise; and fragrant sushi rice with furikake, and soy cured egg yolk. I am salivating at the thought, which might be too much information but deal with it.
My friend claims to be not very adventurous with trying new food but it’s also her year of “yes” so she agreed to all my selections, which included crispy salmon skin rolls with salmon, tempura skin, avocado, and sweet soy. Later, she admitted she had never eaten squid before, and she did jolly well with that.
If something has “speciality” and the name of the restaurant in its description I feel obligated to try the dish. The Yama speciality rolls comprise tuna, rocket prawn, spring onion, and black bean mayonnaise. Scrumptious. When it comes to sushi I can do something as simple as maki but there’s always room for Rainbow Reloaded rolls. Here, they are salmon, avocado, tuna, caviar, spring onion, seven spice, mayonnaise, and teriyaki sauce.
Our favourite – and Peter’s – were the bamboo rolls with cucumber, avocado, salmon, tuna, prawn, mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce. Bit on the messy side to eat but honestly, who cares about that when you’re at a cosy corner table with wonderful company, sushi and wine?
“Sushi comes from a great tradition that we strive to honour consistently and, in every way,” says Ryan. “Making sure that the ingredients are the best available is where the journey begins for us.”
We finished with Japanese cheesecake, which I will never not order. What a fabulous meal. The staff are amazing too, and we had so much fun. I can also now say I have collected Ryan’s whole (current) set of Franschhoek restaurants; we ate at the newly-opened Eleven the following night (links below). I can’t wait for my next weekend there. I stayed at Leeu House, right across the road, a beautiful and convenient base for exploration of the village and the valley.