FYN continues to surprise and delight foodies – vegans included – with this Cape Town destination on their bucket list
WORDS: DEBBIE HATHWAY – PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
When I started covering upmarket events in 2008, chefs’ eyes would glaze over when I asked for a vegetarian meal. Those who tried to meet my requirements usually under-delivered in both creativity and nutrition, making me gaze longingly at the aromatic meat and poultry dishes being served to my colleagues. In desperation, I began to specify pescatarian instead as I still eat seafood. Everybody was happier.
Now, in a world of meat-free Mondays, an increasing trend towards veganism, and ever-more complicated stipulations coming from diners with health issues ranging from diabetes to gluten and lactose intolerance, any chef worth their salt tries to meet the challenge – given fair warning, of course.
When confronted by a spicy vegan and a bland, no starch, no nightshades, no dairy, no garlic specification, the team changed the invitation to dine at beyond at Buitenverwachting in Constantia, to FYN in the Cape Town CBD. They’re both owned by acclaimed chef Peter Tempelhoff. Because beyond caters more for meat eaters, FYN was a better fit. The date I chose became a multifaceted celebration with my favourite voluntary sidekick Ezelle Theunissen.
Curiously intimate – contrary to the impression an industrial feel might convey – artfully decorated, and tastefully appointed, FYN even has a little side table neatly placed next to us to hold our evening bags. It’s a sure sign of service par excellence! Both the culinary team and the prestigious location near parliament are legendary, and expectations were high. We were in time to savour a glass of Boschendal Brut MCC while admiring the unobstructed views of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head from our fifth-floor window seats.
With chef Ashley Moss in charge that evening, we re-established the dietaries… pescatarian, no garlic for me. Spicy vegan, no garlic, no mushrooms for Ezelle. Our preferences could not be more different. She loves to cook. I don’t. She’s a big eater. I have the capacity of a bird. She loves rich food and, again, I don’t. We both loved the canapés (kaiseki), served in little bowls containing delicate tasters of homemade tofu, a touch of samichi mushrooms, chestnuts, spring onions and lettuce, dressed with blonde miso soup.
Favourites from the first vegan starter were the tempura dune spinach with kaeshi dipping sauce and spinach gyoza with sesame dip. My serving included a scallop instead of the green spinach and a prawn gyoza with goma sesame dip. These were paired with the Buitenverwachting G 2018, a limited release that scored top marks for us. Next came porcini mushrooms, gobo (a Japanese root vegetable), some abalone and chives with ostrich egg custard as the base and truffle kaeshi as the finishing sauce. Ezelle’s option had noodles instead of ostrich custard, and they bulked up the gobo portion.
The third starter comprised yellowtail and sea bass sashimi plated with chirizu, West Coast seaweed salad, octopus tentacles and Japanese mayo. Ezelle’s dish featured sweet potato tataki as well as avocado salsa, tomato coated with koji oil and tofu cream, and a vegan mayo. The sauce on the food balanced the acidity in the Neil Ellis Cinsaut 2016, bringing out all the flavours. By now I had food envy. I had had my fill of seafood and was salivating over Ezelle’s vegetables. The fourth in the series of starters was rich and full-flavoured, paired with a rare tasting of the Posthouse Chenin Blanc 2009 from the Stellenbosch region, selected for its good concentration, age and good structure on the palate.
“There are delicate omami flavours in the vegan food, which is quite a feat. It’s a real challenge for chefs to cook without garlic or too much onion as they rely on it to make food flavourful and give it body. Without these ingredients, there’s a risk of over-seasoning the food. However, these dishes are really creamy, savoury and flavourful, and served at the perfect temperature,’ says Ezelle.
Paul Cluver from Elgin, a ‘very sexy wine’ accompanied our mains. Mine was pan-seared trout with miso and wakame (seaweed), cucumber noodles, crayfish hollandaise with braised dashi (fermented seaweed), leeks, and pickled vegetables that I loved. The vegan option was miso braised aubergine, tomato fondue, grilled shishito (not too spicy), green pepper romesco, ponzu onions (for freshness), truffle sauce, sushi rice, a seasoning of toasted sesame seeds and spring onion, drizzled with soy sauce to get the omami going.
Dessert was dark-chocolate petit fours paired with the delicious Thelema Semillon Late Harvest. Ezelle declared hers the best vegan dessert ever. “I like the fact that everything tastes different. There’s a sophistication of flavours. Nothing is overbearing,” she says. “If we can live like this, and we can have this kind of cultural and social experience without any harm to any other beings and the planet, that would be ideal.”
Bookings are essential via fynrestaurant.com/reservation at R775 for the dinner menu and R695 for the wine.
Contact FYN for more information on their lunchtime Bento Hiruma experience.