Koi restaurant opened at the Ambassador hotel (was Salt restaurant) recently. I had dinner there soon after it opened, and I attended the launch function a few weeks later.
Koi has been operating in Gauteng since 2010 and there are now three of them (Rosebank, Lynnwood and Sandton). This is the first Koi restaurant outside of Gauteng but it has been done in partnership with the owners of Wakame, who have a good grasp of the Cape Town restaurant scene (Wakame is apparently closing soon, as the building is to be renovated).
The description on their website sets the bar high. We will have to see if the restaurant lives up to it:
Simplistic yet comfortable, Koi promises a unique dining experience with Asian expertise combined with contemporary style. Cuisine that is uncompromised, service that is impeccable and a complete experience that leaves nothing to be desired, Koi is the definitive origin of perfection.
They will also be taking over Salt Deli across the road and turning it into something like Voila (in the Cape Quarter) which is also in the group. If all goes according to plan the deli will close for 2 weeks from mid-October and the new offering will launch at the beginning of November. I’m pretty excited about that as Salt Deli is a local for me and it sucks right now.
I’m impressed at how big Koi restaurant is. They have really opened up the space and used it well. It looks like they can seat about 100 people, which is not insubstantial. Due to the L-shaped layout, the restaurant has 2 sections. The main section as you walk in has a tiled floor and 2 sides of the area have glass doors which can be opened. The glass reveals the amazing view which has always been a big draw card of this space since it was On The Rocks. The other section has a wooden floor and one side is home to the sushi counter and bar. From This area you can still see the view, but you won’t be as close to the windows.
The third wall of the main section is completely covered with an effective lighting feature. It is gold in colour and the hexagonal shapes look like honeycomb but I imagine it is meant to be (koi?) fish scales.The feature is lit softly from behind to create a warm golden glow in the evening, but during the day it loses much of the effect. In fact there is a marked difference in the atmosphere during the day versus the night. But during the day you have the amazing view, which is not visible in the darkness of night. I’m looking forward to seeing the restaurant in Summer when the sun sets late so you should get the view and the warm evening ambiance of the restaurant.
In fact, to take advantage of the stunning view, Koi is going to be taking over the pool area which is below the restaurant. Dinner guests will be able to enjoy a pre-meal cocktail or glass of bubbly downstairs around the pool and enjoy the amazing view, before going upstairs to dine. Certainly a pleasant way to spend an evening.
The menu is the same across all the restaurants, touted as contemporary Asian, which I would say is a fairly accurate description. The dim sum offering includes fried and steamed options (2 per portion). There are several vegetarian fillings like butternut, spinach, mushroom & pine nuts (R40) or spinach & cream cheese (R38). Meat or fish oriented options include prawn & shitake mushroom (R46) and chicken & ginger (R44). There are also dim sum platters which offer improved value from R74 for 6. We opted for the dim sum starter platter (R85), which included 2x salmon & cream cheese, 2x butternut, spinach, mushroom & pine nuts and chicken ginger & chive wonton. The dim sum was light and fresh, with delicate flavours, as it should be.
The starter menu offers a number of enticing options like, spring rolls (R42 to R55) with your choice of filling eg. roast duck, prawn, cheese & coriander, and avo & prawn bang bang. We didn’t order spring rolls but they were serving them at the launch and they were pretty good. Other starter options include tempura soft shell crab (R98) served with wasabi mayo & ponzu sauce, tom yum goong soup (R72) and crispy calamari (R68) with hoisin sauce, coriander & lime.
There are some delicious sounding salads, which could serve as a sushi substitute. For instance the Japanse salad (R95 – R120) offers thinly sliced assorted fish on a bed of greens topped with an Asian vinaigrette. The Sunomono salad (R120) is sashimi served with wakame and cucumber. The roast duck & rice noodle salad (R85) with micro herbs & sesame soya dressing sounds amazing.
The sushi offering is what one would expect. Standard pieces such as sashimi (3 pieces for R38 – R60), california roll (8 pieces for R58 – R85), nigiri (R2 pieces for R35 – R52). This is complemented by the mayo, sauce and tempura rich sushi specials like rainbow reloaded (R95), spider roll (R98), Koi fashion sandwich (105). Sushi is also available in platters. We opted for the Hokkaido platter (R220) which included 4x Koi rock ‘n roll, 4x rock shrimp california, 4x Koi roses and 2x tuna nigiri.
The 14 main course options include pad Thai (R85 – R115), red Thai curry (R90 – R130), crispy Peking duck (160) with pancakes, hoisin & citrus dipping sauce. I was quite excited to see udon soup (R128) served with three lightly battered prawns in a soya broth, but we forfeited that as well as the many seafood options to try the wok-charred beef (R145) served on an edamame puree topped with mixed Asian mushrooms & an Asian barbeque (now that’s fusion!) sauce . It was delicious, probably the highlight of the meal.
The side orders must be the healthiest on any menu ever, steamed broccoli, wok seared greens, stir fry vegetables, grilled vegetables, etc. All priced at R30.
The dessert menu includes some interesting options such as the Koi artisan ice lollies (which I suspect are made by the guys at Las Paletas). They come in interesting flavours like green tea gelato, yuzu cheesecake and berry mojito and cost R35. We skipped over the other appealing options like ginger & sake tiramisu (R44) and lemongrass creme brulee (R44) to try the yuzu tart (R44) with mixed berries. We made a good choice it was delicious.
Koi offers a carefully selected tea menu, something you don’t often see outside of hotel restaurants. With various green teas (R28 – R58), oolong tea (R28), black teas (R27 – 34) and rooibos teas (R26 – R30). I can’t remember which one we tried but it was a lovely way to end the meal.
The wine list has been quite well curated and offers 10 whites (R42 – R65) and 9 reds (R42 – R68) by the glass, as well as 2 cap classiques (R45 & R75). There are only 18 whites wines available by the bottle, but the variety is broad and the wines are stellar. There are some options for the budget conscious, such as the Secateurs chenin blanc at R137 and the Ataraxia sauvignon blanc at R160. Those who can afford to spoil their discerning palates will be excited by legendary options such as the Reyneke Reserve sauvignon blanc at R279 or the Mulderbosch barrel fermented chardonnay at R375.
I found the selection of 16 reds to be much less exciting. Of the 4 wines below R200 I would probably opt for either the Kanonkop Kadette at R173 or the Paradyskloof grenache, malbec & syrah blend at R137. If I was abusing someone else’s company credit card, I would choose the Bouchard Hannibal at R356 or the Anthonij Rupert Optima at R263.
The cocktail menu is also worth a look with some interesting options like the basil & lemongrass martini (R44) or the Jacki Chan, Jack Daniels & triple sec topped with lemonade and quarted limes (R46). The Koi Cooler also sounds nice, mandarin vodka muddled with fresh oranges & fresh passion fruit served over crushed ice & topped with Amaretto (R48).
Overall we had a very pleasant dining experience. The food is good, but not amazing and you’re paying a premium for the location. Just popping in for a bit of sushi and a glass of wine is fine, but if you want to enjoy the full experience, you’re going to have to drop some proper dollar.
* Disclaimer: When I went for dinner I was accompanying a friend who was reviewing it, so we were expected and didn’t pay for everything.