Koi, RosebankMy, how food fashions evolve.
My generation grew up fearing vegetables because they were served as overcooked heaps of soggy mush. Tuna was something confined to a tin, with hard lumps of flesh drenched in clammy oil.
Now some of us eat our fish and vegetables raw or enhanced by just the tiniest touch of heat. But if your mother is 80 years old and has lived in England all her life, that’s not a meal, that’s just ingredients.
Still, my brave mum is here on her first trip to Africa, and I wanted to take her out for supper. First I listened for clues, and picked up a general distrust of foreign food that vetoed my favourite Italian and Indian haunts. I racked my brain for a place where the food would be recognisable, in a vibey area to show her how fabulous Joburg is.
Inspiration came when I discovered she likes fish, so I took her to Koi in Rosebank. Except Koi is an Asian restaurant that happens to do fish, rather than a fish restaurant that happens to be Asian, and there’s a world of difference.
We sat at a table by the open square and I ordered a glass of Pierre Jourdan Brut while my teetotal mum had ginger ale, so we could toast each other in bubbles.
Then came the serious business of conquering the massive menu. In Asia I’d fallen in love with pau, little steamed buns filled with mince, so I ordered Lamb Pau as a starter.
They arrived in a cute little bamboo steamer and looked lovely, all chubby with neat crinkly tops. They lacked a lightness of touch so the buns were rather stodgy, but the savoury filling was delicious.
As I dunked a second pau in soy sauce I wondered whether they weren’t supposed to be a starter at all but a meal in themselves, since only a Sumo wrestler could tuck away all three and still do justice to the main course.
Meanwhile mum fancied ending her meal with a lemongrass crème brûlée, so she chose a light-sounding main course, Tuna Tataki and avo salad. As one of the few people in Joburg who doesn’t like Sushi my grasp of Asian cooking terminology is a little flimsy, and mum soon paid the price. I now know Tataki means the fish is seared very briefly, marinated in vinegar and seasoned with ginger.
It was a generous portion, served with a creamy peanut-tinged dressing in a separate bowl. Mum saw what she thought was a thin slice of ham and took a mouthful. Oops. That was the fresh ginger. She glugged down some water and wiped away a tear. Then she tackled the tuna, wondering why they had forgotten to cook it first.
The avo and cucumber were great, but the green stuff – bok choy – was too tough for her to tackle. It followed the ginger and the near-raw tuna onto my plate to help her out. I polished off the greens, dunking them in peanut sauce and feeling my vitamin and mineral count instantly soar.
I’d chosen Koi’s signature dish, Sesame Crusted Seared Tuna. It’s pricy at R165 but absolutely delicious, as the crispy crust gives way to tender, juicy fish beneath. Mum liked it so we did some trading, but only after I scraped off the wasabi mayonnaise for her. My tuna was beautifully presented on seared greens and red peppers, and topped with a tangle of crispy fronds. Ah yes, the sweet potato crisps promised in the menu. Not crisps that a British pensioner would recognise, but good for a giggle.
Our waitress Sheila was lovely, smiling patiently as we dithered and debated, then not even raising an eyebrow when half the salad was returned uneaten.
By now my mum no doubt feared that the friendly crème brûlée she had pictured would turn out not quite as expected, so we got the bill. “It’s an expensive way to discover that they haven’t cooked my fish,” she said.
Koi certainly isn’t cheap, but the food is tasty and the ambience delightful. And the sheer entertainment value was priceless.
The Firs, Rosebank
Open daily: 12:00 - 22:30