Can we Toque? Review: Japa Express Sushi Bar, Rivonia

A bit undercooked. Photo stolen from Michael Olivier

By John Fraser

I loved and hated Japan all those decades ago when I visited that remarkable country.

Riding the bullet train was exciting, but climbing up and down hills in Kyoto to visit all those temples in the summer heat and humidity made SAS training seem like a walk in the park.

But the food was remarkable. I remember visiting a Yakitori restaurant which had a wide choice of skewered stuff. Brilliant, lovely, memorable. Yum, yum, yum.

Then there was a hole-in-the-wall place where they transformed shards of meat on a griddle into something magical and lovely.

And who could forget knocking back wondrous Japanese whisky in those late-nite bars where Filipino musicians sang Beatles songs as well as the Beatles themselves. The drumming was better, too.

I hadn’t eaten much great Japanese food since my visit, but all of this changed when I stumbled across (into?) the Japa Express Suishi Bar, which hovers above Woolworths in Rivonia.

Don’t be put off by the name. You don’t have to eat sushi or sashimi or anything else which hasn’t been near an oven or a grill. The menu is biblical in length and variety.

I gravitated towards the dim sum/potstickers/dumplings – call them what you will.

They are so, so tasty. Moist, succulent, well-flavoured. Magnificent.

Then there are the Tempura prawns in feather-light batter, succulent and melt-in-the-mouth tender.

I have on different visits tried the hotpot which is great fun and the barbecue booth, where you cook your meat over a tabletop gas braai .

Friends with whom I have visited have opted for sushi and sashimi and have raved over it.

But there are so, so many other dishes to try. The roast pork, the oriental schnitzels, the miso soup.

The beer is ice-cold and served in chilled glasses, and they have a good wine list as well as a choice of high-octane spirits of the type which send ANC prohibition despots into fits of rage.

One Pretoria restaurant I used to like a lot is now on my black list because of what I regard as a sloppy and dangerous attitude to Covid-19. Staff and customers who sometimes wear masks and sometimes don’t. I am too old and fragile to risk infection, however delightful the food sometimes was.

No such fears about Japa. They squirt you and take your temperature on arrival; you must keep your mask on until the drinks arrive.

And – so, so impressively – the food is served on another table adjacent to where you are seated, to minimise contact between waitress and diner. It is hardly an inconvenience to fetch it to your own table once the waitress is well out of infection range.

It took a little thought to set up this system, but is not that hard to implement. We should have it everywhere.

If you are one of those weird eccentrics like me who remains terrified of the pandemic, I would really, really recommend this place. You eat well, and you can expect to live for quite a long while after you leave.

Brilliant food, great health and safety.

Oh, and the majority of customers when I go there are of an oriental appearance. An excellent sign. They know their food, and are voting with their feet, or chopsticks, or whatever…

I will be back. Again and again and again.

Rating:  I give it 5*

Key to the Ratings:

1*    Dog food is nicer

2*.  Cat food is nicer

3*.  Not bad if Woolworths is sold out of ready-meals.

4*.  I like it

5*.  I love it.  Not to be missed.

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