Silvervause Centre, 117 Vause Road, Musgrave, Durban
Monday to Saturday, noon to 9pm.
087 551 2964
Café Japan has opened in the space once occupied by Café 99 on the Berea, and is bringing the flavours of the nation hosting the Olympics to our dinner tables.
It’s a smart restaurant with much of the funky ex-Café 99 stuff covered in a more appealing bamboo. Service was friendly, helpful and delightful.
The first thing that caught our eye was the cocktail menu. Along with the conventionals like a Long Island Ice Tea or Whisky Sours were items like a red sun ‒ tequila, sake, orange juice and grenadine; or a sake blossom ‒ sake, peach schnapps, lemonade and grenadine. There’s a saketini ‒ a martini that mixes sake with dry gin and vermouth. Our eyes settled on the spicy ginger lemonade (R60) with sake, lemonade, wasabi and sushi ginger. Uncle Cyril had kept the bar closed for too long, so we were game for anything.
These were powerful and heady concoctions with a big kick of wasabi from the green stuff. As we drank them, the wasabi was slowly falling out of suspension, settling in a dark green layer at the bottom. We stirred with chopsticks, and the last sip, well, that was sinus-clearing. Delicious. We did switch to the more prosaic white wine afterwards.
I had memories of sake from our student days when somehow we had ended up in Durban’s top sushi restaurant on the beachfront and we couldn’t afford to eat. But the sake was cheap, so we polished off carafes of the fiery liquid while nibbling on bits of veg tempura and avo maki rolls. Suffice it to say the next morning was not all coming up cherry blossoms.
Café Japan offers a full range of sushi as well as some sushi-inspired salads, grills, and starters. We decided to order a range of smaller dishes to try, but if you want a big bowl of seafood on noodles, or chicken and prawn on noodles, you can go that route. There are also several grilled tuna and salmon options as well as fresh line fish.
First up, we decided to try the miso soup (R50), although neither of us are great fans of this classic Japanese dish. What came was pleasant enough ‒ slightly salty and slightly fishy but enjoyable in that the tofu hadn’t disintegrated and the seaweed gave it a lift. But it was never going to blow one’s socks off. Our vegetarian friend swears by it. The prawn cakes (R65) did get us excited. These were lovely mouthfuls full of prawn in a nice crisp crumb with a chilli dipping sauce.
A menu item that intrigues us was pickled herrings, mayonnaise and pineapple. We couldn’t get our head around it but wanted to try it. Sadly, with this being their first day open after the month-long closure, it wasn’t available. The same with the endamame beans. But there were plenty of options.
We tried the tuna sashimi (R65) which was a generous portion and went down a treat, and followed with linefish tempura (R50) and prawn tempura (R60). These were enjoyable but the batter was more a crumb than a true tempura batter.
The dim sum, however, were excellent ‒ we had the teriyaki beef (R55) and the chicken and prawn (R60), served with a lovely dipping sauce. We’ll come back for these.
Known for their lemon meringue ice cream and offering a dessert of the day, these were unfortunately a casualty of the reopening. But I will be back to try it.
The Independent on Saturday