When sushi master Papa San closed Takumi in April this year, customers that had been coming to him for the best Japanese food in Cape Town since he opened Tokyo back in the ’90s, worried that this was finally it, that he really was retiring to go fishing and play golf. Luckily for all of us, a few weeks off were enough and soon, in partnership with chef Ben Bettendorf, who was with him for two years at Takumi, Papa San was hard at work painting, sanding and decorating a new place – Obi Restaurant in Long Street. It’s a pared-down space, where food rather than decor is the focus, and Papa San’s reputation and devoted clientele mean it has been fully booked most evenings since it opened at the beginning of July.
All the old favourites from the Takumi menu are back with the addition of a few new ones. A short list of starters includes miso soup, nasu miso (fried aubergine with sesame seeds and honey miso dressing), and a tempura selection. Served only at lunchtime, the shoyu ramen is worth coming for alone – a generous bowl of deeply satisfying broth, flavoured lightly with soy, full of ramen noodles, a boiled egg, strip of pork cheek chashu, spring onion and nori, it’s a meal in itself and the perfect winter comfort food.
Choosing from the five pages of varied sushi and sashimi offerings is tough. In the end I go for the caterpillar, eight pieces of inside-out roll with grilled eel, cucumber, avocado, teriyaki sauce and more avocado on top for the caterpillar likeness. It’s beautifully balanced in flavours and a revelation for someone whose sushi experiences till now have been rather ordinary. Also at lunch time, the bento boxes are the perfect solution for the indecisive, including vegetable tempura, a selection of sushi, and miso soup.
Authentic, meticulous and top quality have always been the watchwords of Papa San’s approach. In Japan, he says, there would be 30 or 40 different types of seafood on offer. Here in Cape Town that variety isn’t available but they get the best of the day’s catch and include linefish such as kabaljou or yellowtail on the menu whenever possible.
The thing about Japanese food is that food tastes of what it is. It’s very simple. Flavours are light but true.
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Words: Kit Heathcock | Images: Supplied