Ōku is a taste of southeast Asia in Franschhoek

August 13, 2023 (Last Updated: August 11, 2023)

Franschhoek is best known for its French heritage, but it also has a serene southeast Asian corner in Ōku restaurant.

Oku 9 interior

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The swish little town trades on those French roots; think Bastille Day celebrations, French names and architecture, and plenty of fine dining. With its warm, continental climate, the valley – a top destination on the Cape’s wine routes – is best for heavy, robust red wines and rich, fruit-driven whites.

Ōku, the fusion restaurant housed in a courtyard towards the top of the main drag, close to the monument to the original French Huguenot settlers , has added a smattering of southeast Asia has been added to this tasty European mix.

Oku 10 interior

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It’s a splendid place, set in a calm cocoon defined by simplicity of style and colour. The floor to ceiling windows look out on three sides – courtyard and street in view – and delicate bonsais do duty as art. There is no visual clutter; the focus is very definitely on the food – delicate, yet robust; familiar, yet exotic; beautifully plated, singing with umami. The staff is tremendously knowledgeable too, explaining each dish in detail.

There are two options: a four- or five-course à la carte menu at R575/R675 a head, and an 11-course kaiseki menu (R950 a head, and R1 650 with wine and sake pairing). Go hungry, because you really want the latter. And thirsty. The wine list is focused on local wineries in the valley and there is a selection of sakes, including house brand beer-styled sakes, all served pleasingly warmed.

Oku 6 oyster

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The menu is slanted towards fish, but the kitchen whips up some fantastic vegan fare – be sure to notify the restaurant in advance. Tuna, oyster, salmon, prawn and crab are rounded out with lamb, duck and even beef. All of these were pronounced delicious by the somewhat discerning meat eater in the party, who had come along chiefly for the sake.

Oku 7 sashimi

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Ōku shone in the vegan department, too. Japanese milk bread with miso for starters set the tone for a long afternoon of enjoyment. The tom yum broth with shitake, chilli, coriander and lime brought just the right amount of heat and sour; roasted edamame, Chinese cabbage, red pepper, smoked aubergine, kale and lime upped the taste ante; shitake gyoza, tempura kale, roasted cauliflower with udon, tofu, tatsoi and baby corn – things just got tastier the further down the kaiseki menu we went.

Oku 5 edamame

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It culminated in the wonderful chokorētomūsu, a dark chocolate mousse with figs, strawberry, cinnamon and nutmeg, accompanied by Hakutsuru Plum sake. Leave a smidge of space for the soufflé-like Japanese cheesecake. It’s a froth of pear, white chocolate and cinnamon deliciousness.

Oku 2 cheescake

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Ōku, under the steady hand of chef proprietor Ryan Shell, is all kinds of fabulous. Book a table for the next time you’re in Franschhoek. Reservations are advised.

Oku 1 Ryan Shell

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Location: Heritage Square, 9 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek
Times: Monday – Sunday: 12pm – 3.30pm; 6pm – 8.30pm
Website: eat-oku.co.za

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Written by Lorraine Kearney.

Images: Supplied

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