It was ironic that our introduction to Ukkō, the newest Bryanston restaurant arrival, was during a typical Highveld thunderstorm, as the stylish Mediterranean tapas and sushi spot gets its name from Ukkonen, the Finnish god of thunder. However, with the exception of a concrete art sculpture by Marlecia Marais of the deity, who was believed to control rainfall and thus the harvests, that’s where the Finnish part of the evening began and ended.
Rather, Ukkō owner Mun Manal, used the name as an extension of his idea to curate a space where people come together to celebrate special as well as everyday moments. “I wanted a name which did not dictate a specific food style,” he said. And, in true South African style which adapts the best of international cuisine to suit local tastes, dishes on offer range from Japanese, Italian, Spanish to Latin American. So while the menu is somewhat schizophrenic, it has broad appeal for meat and fish lovers as well as vegetarians.
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It was impressive to see the owner chatting to tables on a Monday night – certainly an ode for Ukkō’s future success, notwithstanding Manal’s pedigree as a restauranteur, which includes having co-owned 12 restaurants around the country including Greek chains Plaka and Mezepoli. He told us that Ukkō, which opened in November last year, was his first solo venture.
The restaurant boasts a beautifully appointed bar area, with lovely warm lighting and an inviting array of old and new favourites featuring behind it. Touting themselves as a ‘mixology bar’, the cocktails, which range in price from R85 to R110, sound delicious. It being a Monday, we opted for a glass of wine from the thoughtful selection which includes crowd-pleasers like Haute Cabriere Chardonnay Pinot Noir (R250) to more interesting choices like an Oak Valley Riesling (R220). Reds were equally well planned, with a selection of cultivars to please even the fussiest of wine snobs. If you’re unsure about which to choose from the wine-by-the-glass selection, ask your waiter to bring you one of their labelled taster glasses to help you commit.
Our waiter, Siphiwe Nkabinde offered us water which arrived promptly while we perused the menu, which is divided into sections for salads, Mediterr-asian raw bar, tapas, large plates, sushi, side dishes and dessert. Choosing what to eat was easy with such an array – choosing what not to eat was a little trickier! More than half of the menu is fish in different itinerations, from classic sushi to Ukkō signatures such as the Crunch Roll with crispy salmon or tuna, or Blue Oaks fried shrimp and spicy tuna roll. We tried the Ukkō Roll, with salmon, chives, avocado topped with tuna and salmon. It is served in six rather large, slightly difficult to eat pieces (R180).
But it was the sharing tapas section that appealed to me the most; as soon as our marinated aubergine (R65) dish was set down, I knew I would be able to eat it every day for life. Thin slices, the grill marks evident, covered with basil pesto, tahini dressing with a generous sprinkling of pine nuts providing a luxurious touch, it was absolutely delicious. We also tried the marinated chickpea and celery salad (R55), something fresh to accompany our deep-fried beef dumplings and the stirfried, gingery chicken dumplings (both R85), served with gyoza sauce that had a slight bite.
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The grilled octopus (R130), doused in lemon butter, was tasty if a little chewy, and I’d opt to try something else like the steamed fresh mussels (R105) instead next time I visited.
Asking a waiter what the line fish of the day is in a South African restaurant usually elicits the same tired response of ‘Kingklip’, so it was refreshing to have the option of a whole, flame-grilled Soldier, served with lemon, thyme and coriander (R320) or a fillet of Sea Bass (R240). We opted for the latter, which arrived perfectly cooked with soft, melt-in-your-mouth flesh and a crisp skin. Manal later told us the restaurant received deliveries of fresh fish thrice weekly, and it shows.
Large plate meat options also include a 300g beef fillet, a 250g Wagyu sirloin, and a grilled baby chicken. Having to order separate side dishes, from R40 to R55, makes the price of mains fairly pricey. Our food arrived at the table promptly, without being rushed, and service is spot on – attentive without being intrusive. Nkabinde advised us knowledgeably about various dishes, showing careful training.
Of the five dessert options, we chose to share the decadent baked chocolate (R95) which takes additional time to prepare but was worth the 15-minute wait for its gooey, Lindt filled centre. Disappointingly, the accompanying vanilla ice cream lacked the creaminess I crave. Other choices include mini churros (R75), tiramisu (R85) and a baked cheesecake (R90).
We left the restaurant after a very pleasant evening spent within its Scandi-décorated surrounds. It is an excellent choice for a date night, work lunch or a group party, with lots of sharing options and a wide selection.
Ukkō certainly comes highly recommended, and while its position overlooking a car park within in Nicolway Shopping Centre means it would not be my choice for a romantic dinner, it is easy to see why it has already gathered a steady stream of regulars.