The Day I Fell in Love with Mall Sushi

Tightly wrapped in neon-yellow soya paper, covered with sesame seeds and spring-onion shavings, and sprinkled with seven spices, the hot & spicy roll gleamed gloriously on the white porcelain plate. This was my third one of the meal, and as I took the last bite of buttery tuna from this delicate work of culinary excellence, I considered ordering a fourth.

Suddenly, gluttony didn’t sound so bad; it sounded excusable, even requisite, in the face of such deliciousness. Gluttony sounded like the only solution to appease this infatuated heart.

You never know where your next memorable meal might come from, and in this case, it came at a mall. That’s right, the best sushi in Cape Town, which is one of the fastest emerging foodie havens in the world, can be found tucked away on the ground floor of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront shopping mall, right next to Margaret Muir and across from Caroline Fine Flowers. Sushi, high-end bed linens, and bouquets of hydrangeas together at last.

Willoughby & Co. sounds more like an English pub than a sushi mecca, and the casually dressed staff and olde English lettering on the marquee did nothing to dispel the notion. A first glance at the menu, too, reveals standard pub-grub platters like fish cakes, fish ‘n’ chips, and calamari, but as we further unfolded the accordion-style menu and flipped it over we discovered a full, rather ambitious array of Japanese dishes ranging from donburi and yakitori to, of course, sushi.

In many parts of the world, seafood and sushi are served and considered exclusive from one another, but in South Africa it’s not uncommon for fish restaurants to offer both: sushi bar in the front, full-service kitchen in the back. Here at Willoughby & Co., where I was told the queue sometimes stretches down past Margaret Muir and around the corner on weekend nights, orders seemed equally split between the two menus.

Oftentimes restaurants with multiple personalities that try to be everything for everyone end up specializing in nothing, but that’s clearly not the case here: the V&A Waterfront Restaurant Guide named it the best seafood restaurant just two years ago, and judging by the dearth of tables available on a Wednesday night it’s still a popular option for locals and tourists alike.

And why not. The wine menu is reasonably priced and extensive, and highlighted with whites and reds from well-respected Cape Winelands producer Fairview. The service is personable and attentive, and the ambiance… well, let’s just say it’s not easy to foster a buzzing atmosphere when half your patrons are seated smack dab in the middle of a mall thoroughfare. Somehow, though, what would likely be a depressing dining experience in the States is a rather cozy one here at Willoughby.

Save for a crispy calamari starter, we stuck to the sushi, specifically the hot & spicy roll along with some salmon and tuna nigiri, but everything coming out of the kitchen looked and smelled appetizing. Our server practically drooled as he recommended the spider roll (crispy soft shell crab wrapped with soya bean paper and served with ponzu sauce), and we overheard the manager proudly pointing towards the sushi bar and telling the table next to us that “that man in the little black hat” is one of the best sushi chefs in the southern hemisphere.

I know you’re somewhere out there, my sweetest hot & spicy roll, beneath the pale South African moon light, and I’m here, thinking of you, loving you tonight. And maybe, just maybe, if our love can see us through, we’ll be together again, out where my sushi dreams come true.

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