It’s sushi, but not as we know it; Nikkei also brings robatayaki, sake, pisco and lucuma to the Mother City’s most popular restaurant strip.
Japanese immigrants introduced new ingredients to Peruvian cuisine, such as miso, ginger, soy, wasabi and rice vinegar, while integrating Peruvian ingredients like aji or yellow pepper, Andes potatoes and corn. The Japanese even influenced ceviche, that quintessential Peruvian staple, for example. In Japan, sashimi is served with wasabi and shoyu (soy sauce). But when a fresh-caught Peruvian fish is spiced with aji and lime, it creates a new level of flavour.
Traditional Peruvian ceviche means marinating fresh fish in lime juice for many hours until it is ‘cooked’. Ceviche Nikkei on the other hand adds fresh lime only for a few minutes on the fish before serving, keeping it from ‘overcooking’. Ginger and soy sauce are also added.
Nikkei is a catch-all term for Japanese emigrants or their descendants who are not citizens of Japan; broadly of Japanese origin, or with a Japanese legacy. When it comes to food though, Nikkei is specifically Japanese Peruvian.
Nikkei is also the namesake of the newest restaurant on Bree Street. Nikkei is in the Hacienda, Scala Pasta, Iron Steak and Burger & Lobster stable, so you know you’re in for a treat. It’s in the old Gate69, which was gutted and is now a mysterious dark green space, with influences from the 1920s seen in the lines, panels and lighting. From your seat you can watch the graceful dance of chefs over the hot coals and robatayaki.
One Michelin star chef chef Rikku O’Donnchu consulted on the menu, which is ably executed by group executive chef Justin Barker. Impressively, although the ceiling is high, the floor tiled and the music part of the vibe, the sound is manageable. You can even have a conversation.
Start your meal with a cocktail at the bar. While tasty, my classic pisco sour was the poor cousin to my friend’s Stars of Machu Picchu, a singing combination of La Diablada Pisco, agave and pink peppercorns.
My friend and I are both vegetarian, so we got the vegan amuse bouche of edamame with tiger’s milk foam and beetroot on an edible oyster shell. It sets up your palate nicely for what’s to come. Edamame is always a win in my books, and are starter of the beans was dressed with fermented chilli ketchup and cooling radish and cucumber salad. The crispy citrus tofu with green garlic aioli is delicious. It is very (very) easy to get tofu wrong. Nikkei does not.
But the stand out for us was the truffle maki with black truffle mousse, nori and fresh black truffle. Nikkei sushi differs from the Japanese in the rice. It is less sticky, a longer and almost imperceptibly crunchy grain.
We have it on good authority (the table seated next to us) that the citrus and kelp cured seabass with yuzu emulsion, chilli, red pepper salsa and ginger dressing, and the salmon teriyaki with sesame and red onion salsa are deliciously palate-pleasing.
Nikkei is a tasty and fun new addition to Cape Town’s restaurant offerings, and recommended for a happy evening (or lunch). There are also specials:
Pisco Hour is half price on all pisco cocktails, Monday to Saturday, 4pm ‒ 5.30pm
Sushi & Sake Sundays is a special 25-piece sushi platter for R199 and half price on all sake cocktails – and there is usually a live DJ on the decks, noon to 6pm
Note: Nikkei is not disabled friendly. Wide stairs up to the entrance from the street, and narrow down to the facilities.
Note 2: there are some vegan options, but not many – four on the Entradas (appetisers), two on the Piqueos (small plates) menus.
Monday to Sunday, noon to 10.30pm
87 Bree Street, Cape Town
021 109 0081
ALSO SEE: Crispy sushi waffle
Written by Lorraine Kearney.
Feature image: Supplied