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Izakaya Matsuri

Izakaya Matsuri
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Cost
R60 avg main meal
Ambience
Authentic culture, Comfy & casual
Food
Asian, Japanese, Sushi, Tapas
Payment
Mastercard, Visa

Critic's review

Lisa van Aswegen

Food
An izakaya is a Japanese bar with food; Izakaya Matsuri is so much more. With owner and chef Arata Koga at the helm, you can expect top quality sushi – and it delivers. Fresh fish, perfect portion sizes and interesting options – such as eel, mackerel and octopus – over and above the salmon and tuna, will have sushi-lovers well pleased. Signature rolls include a large tempura and baked roll selection. The aburi sushi is a must, whether in roll or sashimi style: fish is scorched with piping hot sesame oil for a rich, decadent twist, the salmon version is simple perfection.

The rest of the menu is all tapas-sized, and a pleasure to eat your way through: panko pork neck skewers, dumplings and simple seared spinach vie for attention with kimchi octopus and cucumber, softshell crab, or salmon croquettes. Udon noodles and yaki soba complete the Asian picture. The flavours are unfailingly fresh, authentic and utterly moreish.

Drinks
The wine list mostly has mainstream local wines, but with a decent mix of price points. Rather go for an authentic sake or Japanese beer.

Service
Always friendly and welcoming, with an eye for returning guests. Waiters understand the menu and have good recommendations.

Ambience
A cosy inside space with red accents and paper lanterns creates an authentic feel. The place to be is in the pedestrian walkway outside, sitting under fairy-lit trees.

And…
It's ice cream for afters: choose from wasabi and black sesame, green tea or deep-fried.

(September 2016)

Eat Out reviewers dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Click here to read our editorial policy.

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  • John Maytham

    Food
    Sushi is the dominant offering on the menu. And it’s very good. Chef Arata-san makes perhaps the best sushi rice in Cape Town – that magical combination where every grain is on the edge between tender and hard; each grain keeps its own shape and yet is bound together with other equally individual grains in a sticky, non-gluey whole by an excellent sushi-su; the seasoned vinegar that is added to cooked rice to make it sushi rice. But it is the ‘tapas’ dishes that truly distinguish Matsuri from other Japanese options in the city. In Japan, an Izikaya is primarily a place for enjoying a drink after work that serves small plates of food to accompany the alcohol, which is sake, more often than not. And the small plates here are authentic and delicious. Throw caution to the winds and choose the five-dish Zen Sai (appetiser) platter. Options change daily and are displayed on a chalk blackboard. Perhaps steamed edamame beans with a crunchy salt coating, shiitake mushroom tempura, chicken and pork skewers, a spicy tuna centre to an aubergine slice; and perfectly crispy and tender calamari legs. There are three dessert options; all of them ice creams, and all of them more delicious than western palates might think. If you can’t choose between green tea and fudge-like bean paste, deep-fried vanilla with chocolate sauce, and wasabi and black sesame seed, then have a plate with a scoop of each.

    Drinks
    There is a good variety of sake options, served hot or cold. And for the less adventurous, there are some Japanese and local beers, as well as a fairly predictable selection of wines at reasonable mark-ups.

    Service
    It’s affable and efficient. There can be a delay in catching a waiter’s eye when the place is packed, as if often is. But once the order has been placed, it arrives at the table soon after.

    Ambiance
    In Japan, Izikaya restaurants are often referred to as akachōchin for the red paper lanterns that are traditionally part of the décor. And there are lanterns here aplenty, along with shoji screens and the Wave off Kanagawa, perhaps the most famous of the artist Hokusai’s 36 woodblock print views of Mount Fuji. They soften what might otherwise seem a quite stark and impersonal industrial space.

    And …
    This is the place to venture off the path you normally tread in a Japanese restaurant. There is a great deal more to Japanese cuisine than sushi, and this is an excellent starting point for that journey of discovery.

  • Linda Scarborough

    Food
    Sushi options dominate two thirds of the menu, but the tapas dishes, mostly starters, keep things interesting, such as the crispy bang bang prawn spring rolls, grilled skewers of pork neck or chicken, gyoza (fried dumplings filled with garlicky pork) and the hearty miso soup with bobbing cubes of tofu. Keep an eye on the specials board for chef Arata Koga’s quirky dishes like the spider rolls with crab legs, otherwise go for the exemplary sushi. There are several tempura options, with fillings of salmon, spicy tuna, prawns, eel and vegetables. The carb-dodgers can even opt for a salmon, tuna, line fish, avo, caviar and prawn roll without rice, or the hot soy wrapper roll using a gluten-free soy bean sheet – or just plump for a platter of sashimi. Some of the dishes are accompanied by dipping sauces like ponzu, a dark soy with spring onion, and a little dish of sticky and sweet sesame sauce, but the table also sports Kikkoman soy and a little shaker of chilli seasoning. There are only three options on the dessert menu and all are ice creams, but they are anything but boring. The green tea-flavoured variation, with its accompanying fudgy bean paste, is a fresh and fragrant delight; the deep-fried vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce is fair enough; but the real showstopper is the wasabi and black sesame seed ice cream. It’s surprisingly palatable – and will at least be worth a good story if you don’t manage to fall in love with it.

    Drinks
    Order hot or cold sake or one of the two Japanese beers on offer. The Kirin is a deliciously crisp and slightly sweet beer that complements the salty umami of the food brilliantly.

    Ambience
    The décor has an urban edge, with screeded concrete floors, grey walls and metal chairs; nevertheless the restaurant has a very comfortable and cosy feel. Strings of dangling red and white lanterns and shoji screens against the big windows help to create an intimate, softly lit ambience. The bar area to one side has gold-edged sake bottles lined up alongside earthenware carafes; and a line of flags with colourful backgrounds to the famous wave woodcut print by Hokusai are a tongue-in-cheek touch. The smartly dressed sushi chefs behind the counter look serious, and produce authoritative-sounding sizzles and chops.

    Service
    If you need anything explained or recommended, staff are able and willing. As you’d expect from a sushi restaurant, things move along pretty quickly.

    And…
    The place may be tricky to find, on a pedestrian alleyway off a one-way street, but this only adds to the feeling that you’ve slipped into another city once you get inside.

    (August 2014)

User reviews

  • Our favourite place for Japanese food in Cape Town. Sushi, as well as other interesting, yummy little beautifully presented dishes are made with ingredients seldom seen elsewhere and the seasoning, dressings and sauces are perfectly balanced. We enjoy sitting outside on summer evenings, under the tree with strings of fairy lights. Service is welcoming, friendly and relaxed.
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  • Lovely little setting hidden down an alley filled with fairy lights, this "japa-chic" tapas bar's contemporary finishings are well contrasted by the sensai like chefs who push out modern bite sized masterpieces. The menu inspires an endless taste adventure which will have your tummy begging for more Save your flight to Japan and come spend your money here. Namaste.
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  • Authentic Japanese food. Chef Arata-san rolls sushi that is fresh and delicious (at a great price), and his varied side dishes make me homesick for Japan.
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Facilities

  • Child friendly
  • Dinner
  • Food
  • Lunch
  • Parking
  • Serves food
  • Takeaways
  • WiFi

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