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Elemental fusion at Asoka in Cape Town
Take your senses on an enchanting journey through international cuisine and cocktails at Asoka
Everyone who’s anyone in Cape Town knows that Tuesday is Asoka. Or so I’m told. The weekly live jazz and deep house nights have been an institution among the Mother City’s hip after-dark crowd for as long as just about anyone can remember – even if a typical trendster’s recall only goes back as far as last Sunday at Caprice.
Even tonight, on my first Tuesday jaunt and almost a decade after the restaurant opened its doors, the place is heaving while most nightlife haunts are still sleeping off Saturday night’s debauchery.
And while I might be a bit behind for the liking of all the edgy locals who’ve been ticking off Tuesdays like reserve tequila shots, what I did discover (and what even the city’s hippest ‘anyones’ probably didn’t know) is that there’s way more to this longstanding hotspot than just a few hours of pre-hump day party.
Perched in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of way in a Victorian townhouse in the midsection of Kloof Street, Asoka, as it turns out, is a lot of things. Restaurant. Cocktail bar. Sundowner spot. Interactive dining joint. Live music venue. Late-night dance floor. But most importantly, it’s an experience.
Beyond the homely terrace and sash windows is a space that sloughs off its English heritage, whisks you boldly away to another world and seduces each and every one of your senses.
SIGHT & TOUCH
For starters, the interior itself is an exotic adventure that takes you on a journey from Turkey to Thailand. Plush cushioned booths that wouldn’t be out of place in an Ottoman palace line the walls, an intricately carved Indian door peers out over the bar, bamboo barriers reminiscent of Japanese forests act as room dividers and at the centre of everything rests an ancient tree with branches that spiral up and out of a rectangular skylight in the roof – giving the room a mystical tea garden sort of feel.
I’m told later that the Dharma Tree, as it’s lovingly referred to, is a homage to the teachings of Buddha and is the ‘earth’ part of the five feng shui elements of forces. Owner Paul Hetreed has used the ancient Chinese system to inform Asoka’s design principles, and accordingly, it’s clear that an incredible amount of effort and thought has been put into creating the surrounding visual masterpiece.
From the flickering candles on the tables to the fairy lights that glitter like stars from the ceiling, everything’s been arranged with the utmost love and attention – much in the same way as Asoka’s fusion food.
TASTE & SMELL
Contrary to the belief held by most of the good-looking regulars that roll in for their regular Tuesday cocktail diet, Asoka does in fact serve more than just the granadilla garnish in the famous Porn Star martini (it’s not better than sex – but it comes pretty damn close).
The International fusion menu has recently undergone an exciting renovation with Executive Chef, Ryan Mollentze, cleverly incorporating the five elements (Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Nirvana) into an inventive sharing plates menu to bring you an interactive dining experience.
To test out the social eating element, my party and I munched on the mezze board, a combination of Mediterranean delicacies and familiar finger food, while taking in the ‘talent’ and catching up on conversation. Then as the jazz band struck up and the energy kicked up a notch, we split a few of Asoka’s aromatic signature dishes: rolling tender duck in springrolls, packing tacos full of fresh tuna and slicing juicy pieces of teriyaki beef fillet.
Everything was fragrant and delicious, and best of all, the relaxed sharing approach led us on a culinary journey rather than a one-way trip down one-dish lane.
We even ended up exchanging cocktails to compare the creative concoctions that garnered Asoka its initial fame. The bar was one of the first in Cape Town to design and create its own unique list – before it was cool – and was even voted one of the ‘World’s 50 Best Bars’ in 2012 by Drinks International. These days it still holds fast to a nearly-50 strong selection, including multiple martinis, classics like the mojito and even artisan mixes made from pricey reserve liquors.
On a busy night like tonight, servers pick their way through the undulating dance floor with their elbows, doing their best to deliver the whimsical drinks creations to VIP tables without spilling a drop. For the poor waitrons, that’s the way the cookie crumbles though when you have in-house DJs tearing up the decks every evening after dinner. Music has always been a central component to the Asoka ambience, and while not every day of the week ends in the kind of vibey dance party that Tuesday demands, there’s always original beats bouncing off the dark wood and rounding out the sexy, sensual journey.
So you can come to groove, to gossip over happy hour drinks and shared plates, to get lost in good chat over good food or just to get a glimpse of the gorgeous crowd that calls the Cape home.
After all, that’s the beauty of Asoka - it’s your experience and you can have it the way you want to.
Note: Asoka’s come under fire in past for a discriminatory door policy. We asked for some clarity on the issue and came away with the fact that once dinner is done and the restaurant turns into a lounge/club, it operates in the same way as most exclusive local nightlife spots: entry is granted on a first-come, first-served basis unless you are on the guest list or are a regular that drops lots of cash (that’s just the way it is). You must be stylishly dressed (no hats or slops), and the guy-girl ratio will be taken into consideration on the night.
Tip: If you want to skip the queue and guarantee yourself entry into Asoka, make a reservation and come early for dinner. That way you’ll also get the full Asoka experience.
The Bill: An experience like this doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay between R65 and R120 for your meal, depending on how many plates you choose and between R45 and R65 for a dessert. Cocktails start from R65.
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