Neither the drift of the continents, nor the rising waters and its climatic exiles have anything to do with it, but the cuisine of the best restaurant in Africa is of Japanese inspiration. Blame Canadian-South African chef Peter Tempelhoff. A backpacker who became a Japanophile after a first trip to the archipelago in 2008. Ten years later, he opened Fyn, on the fifth floor of a building in downtown Cape Town.
Like at the beach
The restaurant, with an industrial and dark decor, takes advantage of its large bay windows to capture the light of day. The room offers a nice view of a section of the iconic Table Mountain. The gaze is lost between the art deco buildings that surround us. From the high ceiling fall strings of raw wooden discs aligned in tight rows, an Instagram catcher! If the decoration of the restaurant plays on the industrial past of the city, its cuisine looks towards the ocean.
The appetizers drop us off on the beach. It is indeed on the dunes of Muizenberg that the shoots of sea spinach are picked: fried in tempura, the plant seems to have remained a prisoner of the sands. Even if it means walking on the beach, you might as well pick up sea lettuce, this edible green algae. As small as a flower petal, it tops a wonton (ravioli) of guinea fowl bathed in a tori paitan (a chicken broth emulsion) as white as foam. Let’s dive!
Gangsters love it
Another treasure is born off Cape Town : the abalones. This shell, intensely poached by local mafias, is often exported to China, via Hong Kong. Its fishing is regulated, with only 110 permits issued for one harvest per year. Luckily, our young waiter’s father has had a license since the 1990s and supplies Peter Tempelhoff’s restaurant. We will not become accomplices of a criminal network!
Abalone is also exceptional in its preparation, which is inspired here by an ancestral method practiced by fishermen: by picking up the abalone, the divers also bring up kelp, a long seaweed as thick as bamboo. The Cape region is known for its large kelp forest, popularized by the documentary “The Wisdom of the Octopus”. The fishermen extract the abalone from its shell and slip it into the hollow part of the kelp cut in half. The tube is closed and placed on the fire lit on the beach. This stewing allows the kelp to release an enzyme that tenderizes the abalone.
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Indoors, the kelp is brought on what looks like a mini saxophone stand. The seaweed is detached and emptied in front of us. The abalone has been detailed and cooked in a white wine preparation. It is then mixed with a lemon and garlic sauce, then placed on a fillet of fish, a abadèche du Cap. A tomato compote with sea herbs decorates this marine dish. We appreciate the dish and its simple and interesting demonstration, which must have marked the jury of the “50 Best” ranking.
Published each year, “50 Best” offers an alternative to the “Michelin Guide”. He explores regions ignored by the famous French guide. He also stands out for his choice of a more avant-garde and sometimes spectacular cuisine. “These are restaurants-attractions, à la Disney World, with things that move on the plates, that smoke. These are bluff dishes”, scratches Jean-Vincent Ridon, sommelier based in Cap. However, Fyn does not fall into these faults, according to him. “Peter Tempelhoff, it’s different, he does research, it’s very nice”, recognizes the gourmet.
You came to dinner with your friends, not the waiter, do we agree?
The chef limited interactions with service. “We wanted to shorten the tasting menu experience. You came to dinner with your friends, not with the waiter, okay? summarizes Peter Tempelhoff. Count 2h30 against 4 hours of service in more traditional restaurants. The customer is little disturbed, but he is sometimes put to work. As for this milk brioche from Hokkaido brought on a base that turns out to be a ramekin that you have to turn over to discover a delicious crème brûlée with mushrooms.
Maki and sealant
We also have to roll up our sleeves to make our own maki: the ingredients come in a kit, you just have to assemble them. Here fresh fish sashimi, there obsiblues prawns, avocado slices, condiments (kosho, wasabi, etc.), perfectly sticky rice and two sheets of seaweed. Depending on your dexterity, the result will either look like a bite-size or perfectly rolled maki. A finger wash is quickly brought to erase the traces of the more or less successful culinary workshop.
The products worked are local and guarantee the restaurant’s African influence despite the Japanese-inspired cuisine. Chawanmushi (steamed cream) is prepared with an ostrich egg. The springbok (antelope), served in tender fillets covered with a parmesan crust, originates from the nearby Outeniqua Mountains. The chocolates served with the coffee are presented skewered on the quills of a porcupine. The name of the restaurant emphasizes the African character of the place: ” Fyn is an Afrikaans word that means “end”, and which refers to the fynbos, the wild vegetation typical of the bush of the region.
The bill is 60 euros for a 6-course tasting lunch, and 100 euros for a food and wine pairing. “We are the cheapest restaurant in the “50 Best” ranking, assures Peter Tempelhoff after comparing his prices with his competitors. Despite the pandemic and only four years of operations, Fyn has risen from 92nd place in 2021 to 37th in 2022. It rubs shoulders with two other regularly well-ranked South African restaurants located in the Cape region: Wolfgat and La Colombe.
Demand is exploding
Jennifer Hugé cut her teeth at La Colombe, another Cap gastro, before becoming manager and co-owner of Fyn. “How do you know that I am French? she asks us as she prepares a Hénaff pâté-pickle sandwich in a baguette. Jennifer has a bottle. She has spent twenty-one years in the restaurant business in South Africa and she knows how to place a restaurant in the rankings. Maintaining it is another challenge. “People who come here expect the best of the best. You always have to be on top. It’s hard. But I’ve already done it with La Colombe, so I’m used to it, ”she encourages herself.
With the rewards, demand is exploding. “We have a capacity of 50 covers but double the number of reservations each day. In summer, we are full three months in advance. It’s a blessing in disguise”, positive Peter. The leader doubles up and pushes the walls. A private lounge with 20 covers will soon be open on the floor below. The privileged will have to take off their shoes to dine on tatami mats. On the ground floor, a ramen restaurant is under construction. Peter has just returned from Japan, where he ate these noodle broths up to three times a day, for over a week. Elsewhere in the region, the chef and his teams have opened Beyond, another restaurant in the vineyards of Constantia. Peter even says he has opportunities in the United States. We could well see him opening an establishment in Japan and offering the best of African cuisine there.
Fyn, 5th Floor, Speakers Corner, 37 Parliament Str, Cape Town, 8001