Mother City Fine Dining

Mother City Fine Dining

BEN WEI: “Original taste” of sushi at reasonable prices

By Bianca Coleman

Let’s take a moment to talk about a low carb lifestyle. Some people can adjust more effortlessly than others, and from experience I can tell you it does become easier – and exactly that: a lifestyle.
However, one of the most difficult things to give up is sushi, at least for a while anyway. At Ben Wei in Wembley Square there are lots of fabulous rice-free options. Our feast began with one of them: bamboo rolls. These are made with salmon, tuna, crab, carrot, ginger and ginger wrapped in cucumber. Chef Jim Dai even makes Banting-friendly salmon roses with nori, avo and cucumber, topped with mayo and caviar.

Pause a moment and back up. Locals will know Ben Wei – which means “original taste” – is only a few months old. Formerly Fugu, where Dai worked between stints at top Cape Town hotels, he is now co-owner with entrepreneur Ian McMahon, who has been in the hospitality industry since he was a teenager.
A massive rebrand, renovation and revamp were undertaken with Philip Tyers from Lyon & Tyres designing a bespoke interior, pulling reflections from green and blue acid colours, with Hertex material-clad benches and Imperial design wall coverings. Picking up on the hidden LED lights, Francois Mostert from Robin Sprong Bespoke Wallpaper designed a specific focal centre wall design masterpiece that brings all the colours and interiors together.

Ben Wei is owned by entrepreneur Ian McMahon and renowned chef Jim Dai

The best place to sit is on the fabulous couch at the entrance, which is perfect for lounging regally while someone pours your sake. This is less of an indulgence than proper etiquette. Apparently one should never pour one’s own sake, and I’m quite all right with having handsome young men doing it for me.
Returning to the food, the menu offers a good variety of sushi without being too much to handle (an abundance of options is not always a good thing), as well as Asian fusion dishes. Thus you can begin with bamboo rolls, Vietnamese prawn rolls with lime and coriander sauce, and crispy Asian fish cakes with coriander aioli (both new dishes, and the fish cakes are a definite must); followed a custom-made platter of more sushi culled from the Western style, chef’s specials, and “normal” sushi like hand rolls and nigiri. Do try the Jimmylicious, a prawn and cream cheese sandwich topped with crispy prawn and dipped in tangy mayo. I’m also a big fan of any reloaded sushi; the Rainbow Reloaded is another new one on the menu, with seven spice, mayo and teriyaki sauce.

Then move on to main courses. We had sweet and sour prawns with rice. Kung-Pao chicken is new, as are Chow Fan (wok-fried jasmine rice with egg, veggies and your choice of meat) and Singapore rice noodles wok-fried with your choice of meat.
Whatever you do, keep space for dessert. I do not have a sweet tooth, but the coconut ice cream with red berry coulis did not offend my palate, and as much as I adore and crave sushi at least once a week if not more, I’d go back just for this.
Besides all this, there are also soups and salads, curries and platters. The wine list is compact, with a satisfying selection to pair appropriately. The best part of all is that prices are surprisingly reasonable, and I can even top that because it’s just down the road from where I live. Welcome to the ‘hood, Ben Wei.
Although walk-ins are welcomed, booking is recommended.

Ben Wei is in Wembley Square, Mckenzie Street, Gardens.
Open Mondays to Saturdays from 11.30am, kitchen closes at 9pm.
Call 021 461 2966; or send an email to eat@benwei.co.za.