A fine Afro-fusion cuisine experience amidst warm, contemporary African themes.
by Jaco Lotriet
South Africans revel at the chance of treating their taste buds to a mouth-watering, value-for-money dining experience. Entrenched in our sub-culture, it is indeed a favourite pastime, whether it be with a loved one, as a family outing or simply whiling away the time in the company of good friends.
The perceived standards in local restaurants hold up well with that of our international counterparts. The franchises in particular sem to receive preference in attendance from the general public. Privately owned eating houses are nevertheless a treasure trove of culinary delights, perhaps aimed more so at the discerning palate, suited to the upper echelons of society . One such gem is Asanka, situated on the upper level of Rivonia Junction, at the heart of Johannesburg’s cosmopolitan Sandton metropolis.
Asanka recently hosted Stage and Screen to a 7-course tasting that featured selections from their extensive menu. We surmised that some of our readers might enjoy a tantalising taste experience, before setting off to a theatre production…
From the moment you lay eyes on the open patio entrance, from the eclectic, elegant décor, to the bold, textured shweshwe-inspired wall paper, you know that you are in for something special. The atmosphere is sophisticated, with a backdrop of grounded, earthy tones. The huge bar offers a welcoming space to relax before dinner or simply sip an after-work drink, offering a wide selection of spirits and South African wines. Crisp, white linen covers the tables and set wine glasses lure you to the gold and orange retro furniture.
The main part of such a dining experience, was the food! Amuse Bouche was the first appetizer in line – a Rye Bruschetta with Aubergine Mousse and Fennel Fluid Gel. The bruschetta was followed by Berbere Lamb Knuckle Pansotti – a slow cooked Berbere gets its vibrant flavour from the famous West African Harissa rub, while the handmade pasta brings a taste of Italy to the dish. Spicy but not overpowering.
Next up was the House Smoked Salmon Red-Red. The pan seared salmon was cooked to perfection. Not too dry, as it should be, accompanied by a ragout-like mixture of slow cooked beans and roasted peppers. The Baharat Prawn starter was perhaps less convincing. The combination of corn purée and Nori gel was somewhat bland. A larger serving, as ordered from the set menu, may prove to be more appetizing. I would however still recommend this dish to prawn lovers.
The star dish of the night was undoubtedly the Spiced Char Sui Springbok Fillet, revealing Asanka’s true Afro-fusion style. I am not a fan of venison. The ‘wild’ taste does not appeal to my taste and is usually over cooked. There are exceptions to the rule, as I discovered, their serving defines the very essence of the word ‘succulent’ and pleasantly exceeded all my expectations. Complimented by a slight onion-infused Bulgar Wheat Risotto, Plum purée and Char Tender Stem Broccoli, it is beautifully balanced. A side order of Fluffed Jollof Rice was another shining beacon of culinary excellence. Do take heed however, the exquisite spices are rounded off well, but lingers for some time. The Asanka Eel in Miso Broth is an acquired taste. It boasts an interesting blend of flavours, offset by a piquant, citrusy zest.
No dinner would be complete without a sweet ending. My personal choice from the set menu would have been the Baked Chocolate Tiramisu. Multi-award winning executive Chef Rouget Bagley had something different in store for the tasting. White Chocolate Macha – a very sweet combination of Macha Mousse, White Chocolate Aero, Macha Sponge and White Chocolate Sorbet, The Macha Sponge had a polenta-like texture, the colouring different tones of green. Sweet and satisfying all together.
A welcome and beautiful conclusion to the tasting was a surprising visit to our table, by Chef Bagley. His demeanour exuded a quirky professionalism; his passion for the culinary arts clearly evident in the way he answered our questions. He strives to push the envelope with creative concepts, conjuring up Africa and the world beyond, in every dish he plates.
The restaurant’s name hints at a Ghanaian grinding pot, used to blend and create fresh ingredients – a useful tool in the origin of Asanka’s approach and philosophy. A truly memorable gourmet experience, I relish at the thought of savouring the other dishes on their superb menu on my next visit!