Style and substance meet in equal measure at award-winning chef Peter Tempelhoff’s new downtown eatery FYN
In a city celebrated for its unique urban character and attractions, there have been surprisingly few destination restaurants taking full advantage of that old real-estate adage: location, location, location. Barring a few exceptions, it’s only really Cape Town’s handsome offering of espresso bars and hip cafés that have provided a clear sense of place as a side-order to one’s meal or flat white.
This is without doubt one of the most immediately alluring aspects of celebrated Cape Town chef Peter Tempelhoff’s newly opened FYN restaurant, which is located on the fifth floor of a heritage building downtown, a part of the city more readily associated with local street food than fine dining. It’s precisely this unexpected setting that adds a liberal sprinkling of excitement and occasion to reserving a table at FYN, where one knows to expect a more elevated kind of dining experience – which he describes as ‘relaxed, modern fine dining’ – based on the chef’s stellar track record.
The historic Speaker’s Corner complex where it is located is a conversation starter in itself, comprising the conjoined Church Square and Parliament Street buildings, 120 and 90 years old respectively. In the hands of commercial property regeneration company Urban Lime, working with InHouse and Robert Sherwood Interiors, it’s been masterfully restored to honour its heritage and provide an unusual address for businesses.
Its elevated position provides FYN with knockout views of the city, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head – one of the star attractions of the strikingly designed restaurant, which Tempelhoff describes as ‘very sexy’. The chef-patron’s brief to Tristan du Plessis, principal and lead designer of interior architecture firm Studio A, was for an urban eatery with a distinctly South African-meets-Japanese feel, to match the style of food. The result fuses the sleek minimalism of clean lines and expanses of glass with the warmth of natural materials like stone and dark wood. The voluminous space is both airy and intimate due to the sculptural wooden bead and lighting installation, which has the effect of lowering the ceiling.
FYN, the Afrikaans word for ‘fine’ and also referencing South Africa’s indigenous fynbos vegetation, has been a dream project germinating in Tempelhoff’s consciousness for many years. ‘My original idea as a young line chef at Grande Roche Hotel in 1996 was going to be a restaurant called Assiette, and the idea was that the menu would incorporate many tastes and variations of the same ingredient on one plate,’ he reminisces.
At FYN, diners can expect cuisine that is ‘very ingredient-focused’ and which draws inspiration ‘from South Africa’s culture, lore and society’, as well as Tempelhoff’s travels around the world, specifically to Japan. As such, he has incorporated the kaiseki dining concept into the multi-sensory experiential menu, with the starter and the dessert courses served on small oak trays in the Japanese tradition.
It’s all in the details, down to the bespoke ceramic crockery in which the exquisitely presented dishes by Tempelhoff and executive chef Ashley Moss, are served. Appetites are whetted with complex, delicious canapes served Bento-style, followed by a bread course.
Diners can choose from a regular or plant-based menu, which our party enjoyed. We snacked on flavour-packed morsels like sweet-potato samosas with a spicy Asian dipping sauce, crunchy daikon radish maki with a smoky mayonnaise, and a sublime mouthful of crispy chewy rice with avo, before moving on to the Kaiseki tray – a delight for the eye and tastebuds with dishes fusing spicy tofu, tempeh and shimiji mushrooms with an array of umami-rich flavours.
While the roast quail with barbecued eel is considered one of the top dishes on the menu, we enjoyed a good pescatarian option of salmon with tangy black tomato and samphire, as well as melt-in-the-mouth miso-glazed aubergine with dashi-poached leeks and sherry mushroom sauce.
Dessert was a trio of tastes like bitter chocolate perfectly foiled with salted Japanese plum and fennel, and a delicious coconut yoghurt sherbet.
The dinner menu is R850 per head, but it is highly recommended to accompany it with a superbly compiled wine flight – a refined and considered selection chosen by brilliant GM Jennifer Hugé, ex-La Colombe.
FYN is open for lunch (12pm–2pm) and dinner (6pm–8.30pm) from Tuesday to Saturday. For an additional touch of theatre, book a seat at the Kitchen Counter for a special 14-course menu prepared in front of you by the chefs.
FYN is located on the 5thFloor, Speaker’s Corner building, 37 Parliament Street, Cape Town. For reservations, go to fynrestaurant.com
Photographs: Bruce Tuck