So Yum, Hyde Park – Restaurant Review – 28th September 2012

Asian food seems to be flourishing in Johannesburg at the moment – with dim-sum, sushi and noodle bars popping up everywhere.  Thus far (and fortunately) these seem to be quite diverse, with different atmospheres and varying offerings on each menu.  We went to So Yum at the Hyde Park Corner shopping centre recently with friends from Botswana – in search of an elusive Asian favourite and hoping to satisfy a craving.

So Yum is in the Hyde Park Corner shopping centre – adjacent to well-liked sushi and seafood restaurant Willoughbys.  Although a lot of effort has been made with the décor, there is still no escaping the fact that you are sitting in a mall – albeit a pretty upmarket one.  There is a large ‘inside’ section, which is further from the crowds and affords diners a little more privacy.

As one would expect, the selection of wines and other drinks at So Yum is really good.  We had a few bottles of Springfield ‘Life from Stone’ Sauvignon Blanc and some Snow Mountain Pinot Noir which really was a treat.  There is also a range of cocktails and Asian drinks like Sake.

The menu is comprehensive and really offers a good variety of interesting Asian dishes.  A wide range of enticing dim-sum includes the likes of gau (a steamed, rice pastry dumpling), gyoza (a traditional Japanese steamed dumpling with a mouth-watering meat filling) and deep fried wonton.  For mains there is a selection of Asian-inspired soups and main dishes, as well as salads and some tasty curries.  You can also order sushi, and there are some pretty good specials depending on which day of the week you decide to go.

Between the six of us at our table, we ordered a range of dishes.  For the most part we were impressed with the food.  The dish which our Botswana friends had so long been seeking, steamed buns, lived up to its expectations:  You can choose from a filling of either pork, duck or veg, slathered in a honey-barbeque sauce and steamed in fluffy white pastry – rather like white bread.  And how good are they?  Well, our friends were delighted with the results – craving sorted.   One of my real So Yum favourites is the Hong Kong Pears, a substantial dim-sum starter which is not only technically interesting but also quite delicious.  These attractive potato-based dumplings are stuffed with duck, prawn and chicken, then shaped and deep fried, into delightful golden pears.  The only starter which did not really live up to my expectations was the prawn toasts – these were dry and the portion size quite mean.  They almost seemed reconstituted, not the delicious, buttery, whole-prawn and toast which you might be expecting.

In terms of mains, there were two dishes which were definite hits.  The first was the Peking Duck served with mandarin pancakes, cucumber, carrot, spring onion and hoisin sauce.  It’s hard to get Peking Duck wrong, but this one is really a cut above many of the others.  I always feel a tinge of food-envy, even if I have ordered something equally delicious.  It comes in at R 165.00 – also making it one of the most expensive dishes on the menu.  The other favourite was the Phad Thai.  Silky, stir-fried wheat noodles with prawn, tofu, nuts, egg and bean sprouts.  This dish has hints of smokiness and sweetness which really make it a flavourful treat.  I had a Duck Ramen noodle dish – whole, roasted duck breast with Ramen noodles, bean sprouts and spring onion in a clear soup.  The dish was really tasty, but the tiny bones in the duck breast meant that I had to be careful when eating it.

We didn’t have dessert, but there are some fusion temptations on the menu.  You might enjoy the cheesecake with an Asian twist or the chocolate sesame rolls – deep-fried chocolatey deliciousness rolled in sesame seeds.  They also have a sorbet selection – great as a lighter end to the meal.

The service at So Yum has improved over the years.  Staff have always been friendly and interested, but nowadays they are much more familiar with the menu.  The food arrived quickly and was served appropriately – except for the steamed dim-sum.  And here I go again, banging on about how dim-sum must be served with the lid of the steamer left on.  Apart from that, the service was good, enhancing our experience – which is exactly what it should do.

So Yum has its plus points, and its downsides.  The food really is pretty good – and you won’t find some of the unique delicacies on the menu anywhere else.  It’s also a great place to eat before heading off to a movie or browsing the Exclusive Books sale.  But it’s not really all that festive – probably something to do with the shopping mall vibe – and it is quite expensive.  Go if you are with the in-laws and looking for a good-but-sedate Asian meal in the area.  If you are planning a rowdy evening with lots of drink and festivities it might be better to pick something in a more appropriate setting.

You can contact So Yum on + 27 (0) 11 325 5138

The review was sent to the restaurant on 31st October 2012

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Tashas Le Parc – Restaurant Review – Wednesday 15th August 2012

One of the oddest starters I have ever ordered….

Tashas is a very popular café chain in South Africa, and I wouldn’t generally review it as we eat there often and it is always good. Sometimes the service is a bit lax, but the atmosphere is fantastic and the menu extensive.  We decided to try the new French-inspired ‘Tashas Le Parc’ at the Hyde Park Shopping Centre before going to see a movie.  This is an abridged review, mainly to describe the wonderfully odd starter we ordered.

We wanted something fresh, crisp and not too large before our main courses of Chicken Milanese and the Le Parc Burger.  The crudité platter for two with dips and hard boiled eggs sounded like a good option.  I have previously mentioned misconceptions about menus in the Cube review, which you can see here.  This, however, was absolutely surprising.  When you hear “crudité platter”, you probably think of something rather like the picture below, which is what we were expecting.

A typical crudite platter. Image courtesy of Elf’s Hill Catering

What we received was, in fact, the most ENORMOUS basket of whole vegetables.  There were two whole tomatoes, 3 whole peppers, about 4 whole carrots, large sections of cabbage and cauliflower, large cucumber quarters, a smattering of whole radishes and a whole lemon.

The vegetable portion of our “crudite platter for two”

We also got two unpeeled hard-boiled eggs, two saucers of dip – which was so tasty – and 6 slices of bread.

The proteins

We were given special knives and side plates and told that the idea was that we cut up this vast amount of vegetables, and peel the eggs, ourselves at the table.  Everything was fresh and tasty, but it all seemed like a huge amount of hard labour when one is relaxing over a meal.  There is a lot to be said for ‘modern’ twists on classic dishes, and for inventive menus – but I feel this was pushing the boat out a bit too far.

When it comes to huge amounts, be aware that the portions at Tashas are vast – wine by the glass included.  Our main courses were lovely, cooked perfectly and we thoroughly enjoyed them.  Our waitress was really delightful, friendly and obliging.  She also saw the humorous side of our starter predicament and didn’t bat an eyelid when we requested the largest vegetarian doggy bag I have ever seen.  It was suggested that we turn all these veggies into a fresh soup – which we thought was a really good idea.

I will surely go back to Tashas Le Parc, but I think next time I will just order a main course and stick to that!

You can contact Tashas Le Parc on +27 (0) 11 325 5008

This review was sent to the restaurant for a response on Monday 20th August