Adding glamour and an exotic fusion of flavours to Bree Street, swanky Nikkei Japanese Peruvian restaurant is settling in nicely.
“The ones who dared”. In a prominent place on the Nikkei Japanese Peruvian menu, diners read about two nationalities who “travelled from the two ends of the same ocean. A marriage between Japanese mastery and Peruvian gastronomy”. These countries shared history and an ocean during the 19th century.
Modern cuisines have always borrowed from the past. Nikkei restaurant, an “artful fusion of Japanese precision and Peruvian vibrancy”, opened in Bree Street in December 2023. Here, fusion plates tastily merge Japanese, Peruvian – even Spanish – culinary elements in visually appealing dishes.
The interior by SQ design blends Japanese and Peruvian cultures in rich greens with gold, burnt orange and mustard accents. A small upstairs area overlooks a vast dining space, bar, and open kitchen.
Nikkei co-owner Paolo Carrara says the green evokes South American jungles, the Amazon and Peru. Adding contrast in severe black and rippled glass, an open kitchen copies a Japanese street-food stall, with a roof and hatch. Eye-catching elongated chandeliers use clean lines to form the Peruvian symbol for long life.
“Peru has the second biggest Japanese population outside of Japan,” states Carrara. “Very similar climate and fishing conditions … They started living there and using South American ingredients such as yams, Spanish and South American chilli, the mole … avocado and banana are all very big.”
By all accounts, Cape Town’s Nikkei Japanese Peruvian is already cooking. Well-known online foodie Pamela McOnie wrote on the public Cape Town Eats Group: “This is a spot where you can dress up and put on your heels! Great cocktail menu, and you can pop in for drinks at the bar and have a snack.”
On a quiet Monday at lunchtime, I bumped into seasoned food-and-wine-lover Yegas Naidoo from Durban, who makes it her mission to try “hot” places. Her best dishes were the fire-blistered jalapeños and crispy squid. She was impressed by the "soaring proportions of the room", the saké pourers and the "magnificent" wine stemware.
Executive chef Justin Barker explains that the owners had an “understanding of the Mexican/Spanish side of things, so in transitioning to a Peruvian Japanese menu concept, [consulting chef O'Donnchu of] RIKŪ helped us along”. Barker also oversees Mexican-themed Hacienda, Italian Scala Pasta/Bar, carnivore-focused Iron Steak & Bar, and easy-going Burger & Lobster, all in or near the CBD’s Bree Street.
The owners saw a gap in the market. “They wanted to bring a Peruvian restaurant to Cape Town. Utilising the land and the sea, utilising local raw ingredients, fish … We have a high standard of fish: yellowtail, sea bass, kingklip plus imported salmon, for all that ceviche. We use high-end Japanese rice and make our products in-house. Our seasonings are Japanese inspired,” elaborates Barker.
SHARING IS CARING
The Nikkei menu is divided into sections, where sharing is recommended. After ‘Entradas’ (appetisers), head to ‘Crudo’ if chilled, raw, and marinated plates make your heart sing. You’ll find a twist on Peru’s famous cured fish, ceviche, in citrus and kelp seabass with yuzu emulsion, chilli, red pepper salsa and ginger dressing. Or shrimp crudo. And tuna ceviche, where smoked jalapeño, Shoyu, coriander oil and black sesame add Spanish and Japanese touches.
“‘Nikkei’s Signature Sushi’ [another section] is not classic so much as combining Japanese influence with Peruvian methods,” says Barker, recommending the unusual crispy red lock lobster with banana and black garlic – a Nikkei signature dish. Truffle Maki has customer votes, too, a Peruvian twist of black truffle mousse in the centre of nori sushi with fresh black truffle shaved on top.
There are warm ‘Piqueos’, tipping a balance between pure Japanese and Peruvian methods, in small plates. How does fire-cooked chicken thigh with black bean mole, pickled shimeji and sesame leaf sound? Or wagyu ribeye tataki with shisu aioli? Baked kingklip partners roast squash, hot yellow pepper mole and Japanese arabiki sausage.
“On the hot kitchen side, we’re utilising robatayaki [charcoal grill skewers],” explains Barker. A small open grill over coals arrives at the table, two skewers per portion.
“The nice thing about sharing, and the combination of smaller plates is that people get to try everything. So, you could order Crudo and something else, then add Robatayaki to your meal at the end. We also do a ‘Combinado’, basically a Japanese bento box, but with Peruvian elements.” It could include Japanese oxtail croquette, crispy citrus tofu, edamame with fermented chilli ketchup, and crispy squid with Japanese togarashi and lime.
Or, for the customer who doesn’t want to be frazzled by decisions about which section to order from, the Nikkei Omakase set menu for two (R499 each) offers tastes from it all, via a chef’s selection of eight courses.
Don’t miss White Lotus, a tasty Nikkei dessert signature: strawberry mousse combined with tropical sours and molecular sponge. There are “extras” too. Lounging in a Nikkei half-circle booth or seated at a table for four, you’ll be treated to an experience: a pink-kimono-clad waitress serves a welcome edible oyster shell on arrival … and customers leave after nibbling on a dessert mochi ball (miso, caramel and chocolate, or strawberry cheesecake).
Concludes Barker: “We’ve just scratched the surface with Nikkei.”
Nikkei, 87 Bree Street, Cape Town. Open for lunch and dinner daily until 22h30. Tel 021 109 0081, nikkei.co.za
Sushi and Sake Sundays 12h00 to 18h00. R199 for 25 pieces of sushi. Half-price Sake cocktails. Live deejay with saxophone.
The Pisco Hour Monday to Saturday 16h30 to 18h00. Half price on all Pisco-based cocktails. Excludes First Thursdays.