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11 November 2019

It’s like a little slice of Japan smack bang in the heart of the Cape Town Central City and its offering is winning one accolade after the other. We investigate the Tjing Tjing House phenomenon and find out that it lives up to its reputation – and more.

It’s been the talk of the town for a while now, with its exquisite décor, sophisticated rooftop bar and excellent Eastern culinary fare.

But while Tjing Tjing House, which comprises four venues, namely Tjing Tjing Torii, Tjing Tjing Momiji, Momiji lounge and Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar, is not the only ode to Japan cuisine in the CBD, it certainly is the most stylish. It’s also about to become the most decorated.

While it has garnered awards in the past, it is now on something of a roll: in late September, Tjing Tjing Torii was named the Best Asian-Inspired Eatery in the Western Cape at the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Best Everyday Eateries awards. Tjing Tjing Momiji head chef Christina Semczyszyn was also nominated - for the Eat Out Nederburg Rising Star award (the winner will be announced at the Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards on 17 November). Then, to crown it all, Tjing Tjing Momiji is also a contender for South Africa’s Best Restaurant.


One of the biggest surprises of the whole Tjing Tjing story is to discover that the owner is a South African. Ilze Koekemoer has been passionate about Japanese food and culture for many years. She says the “strategy of serving different versions of the same cuisine is partly due to the fact that we wanted to unify all three levels of our building as being distinctly Japanese in its offering while providing a different experience on each level through showcasing the variety that the cuisine has to offer. The aim was also to have the décor and ambience match the food in each separate area of level”.


Curious to find out more, I head for the three-storey, 200-year-old heritage building at 165 Longmarket Street with a colleague one evening to experience the cool vibe of the Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar. This venue was voted one of the best new bars in the world by Conde Nast Traveller in 2012 a year after opening. Small and intimate, it resembles an old attic with its wooden mansards but the décor and furnishings are eclectic and if the striking bar – painted a vibrant, Japanese shrine-red and offset by a wall of Ilze's black-and-white photographs of Tokyo and Kyoto – doesn’t give you a zing of energy then nothing will, not even the bespoke cocktails, wine and otsumami (snacks) on offer. We opt for classic G&Ts and later regret that we have not been more adventurous. One needs to up one's street-cred in a venue like this, where you can star-gaze in more ways than one!


Later in the week, I am back at the chic, jet-black building, this time to meet a friend at Tjing Tjing Torii, the casual everyday eatery on the ground floor, for a quick workday lunch of Japanese street food. A torii is a traditional Japanese gate, most commonly found at the entrance to a Shinto shrine.

The eatery was beautifully refitted last year (when the whole building was renovated) and the bright, vibrant décor features neon lights in the shape of the Japanese character for torii, red bar stools (in the very same Japanese shrine-red shade as that in the Rooftop Bar), and beautiful oak eating booths. Here, even the blue menu is a conversation-stopper (or starter) not to mention the canary-yellow hand wipes on every oak table.

The menu is enticing: think bento boxes, steamed buns with fillings such as sticky pork belly and pickle, gyozo (pan-fried dumplings), ramen (wheat noodles) bowls and donburi (rice bowls). There are sides of miso soup, crispy rice balls, okonomiyaki fries … it is all rather bewildering for a Westerner. The eatery is known for Atsui Dog (a beef sausage, kimchi, kewpie and hot sauce served in a milk bread bun) but we decide to share a starter portion of the pork, cabbage and ginger dumplings and order two ramen bowls (with buttery miso chicken and smoky pork tonkotsu) as our mains. Everything is lip-smacking good, the service swift, the food piping hot. My friend, who lived in Hong Kong for many years, is impressed.


By all accounts, the dining experience at Tjing Tjing Momiji is next-level. Here the mood is calmer and more sophisticated and it is here that Christina has gained a reputation for her kaiseki menus. The website (which is also next-level!) describes Tjing Tjing Momiji as a tranquil, meditative space offering a more formal Japanese dining experience. “Kaiseki, Japan’s precursor to the modern degustation menu, is about celebrating and respecting season and place, structure, technique and above all, striving for balance.”

This striving for balance can also be applied more loosely to the different personalities of the spaces at Tjing Tjing House. From edgy to contemplative to downright cool, there is a certain yin and yang at play. If you're looking for a venue to paint the town a certain shrine-red, this is it.

IMAGES: Tjing Tjing

Tags: Tjing Tjing House Tjing Tjing Torii Tjing Tjing Momiji Ilze Koekemoer Christina Semczyszyn Central City restaurant Japanese restaurant Kaiseki fine dining eatery