Asanka is a Ghanaian word meaning “grinding pot”, much like a large, wide rimmed, pestle and mortar, and the asanka is used all over West Africa to blend and create wholesome meals from the freshest ingredients.
Asanka is also the name of an African fusion restaurant in Johannesburg’s northern suburb of Rivonia, in the Rivonia Junction Mall. The restaurant is new, having only opened in February 2017.
I went along recently to a media tasting of their new winter menu. The wait staff are pleasant and friendly, but there are still a few edges that need sharpening with regards to service. Our welcome drinks were handed to us by hand rather than on a tray, and I would have preferred the tray. There were trays around because drinks that came from the bar rather than the bottle of bubbly were served on trays. But that is a small and insignificant quibble.
The restaurant itself is beautifully decorated, with shweshwe inspired wall paper in brown and Kenyan portrait photographs in black and white. It is classy and chic.
Executive chef Rouget Bagley is a gem. He is young yet he is already pushing boundaries. He uses Asian and European influences in his menu and, for the most part, the fusion between that and pan-African cuisines really works.
The Amuse Bouche was rye bruchetta with aubergine (egg plant) mousse and fennel fluid gel. I enjoyed this little tantalizer and would happily make a lunch of such a sandwich in the future.
The Berbere lamb knuckle pansotti with red wine but blanc, mint jelly and chestnut soil was interesting. I found the filling of the pansotti to be a little sparse and the little bit of lamb I did get didn’t fall apart on the tongue – it wasn’t something that required one hundred chews, but it was tougher than I expected. The word “pansotti” itself means “belly” and the filling should reflect a nice bellyfull. The flavours all mixed well.
The house smoked pan seared salmon with slow cooked beans and roasted red pepper was easily my favourite dish of the evening. Lightly curried, this is a perfect winter’s evening dish. You’ll find it on the menu listed as Salmon Red Red.
The Baharat prawn was unremarkable. The intermezzo, or palate cleanser, wasn’t. It was very unusual. It seemed to be rich, creamy Bulgarian yoghurt with a fruit puree. Perfect! Not too sweet and not yet another sorbet.
The spiced char sui springbok fillet with bulgar wheat risotto and plum puree was excellent. I expected the plum puree to be more tart and was pleasantly surprised. I make my own jollof rice fairly often, and I usually serve this with chicken in summer and beef stew in winter. Chef Rouget’s version is dryer than mine and much spicier, more flavoursome. I prefer the texture of mine, but the flavour of his. Something for me to aim at in the months to come.
The Asanka eel didn’t appeal to me at all. When I have had eel in the past it has been batter dipped and fried. This was grilled and served in miso soup. The yam noodle it was served with was interesting and I couldn’t make up my mind about it with the accompanying ingredients. I would like to try the yam noodles with a nice sauce one day.
The white chocolate matcha dessert gave us mousse, white chocolate Aero, a matcha spong and a white chocolate sorbet.
The tasting portions were small, and I was satisfied at the end of the meal, but not “stuffed”.
Altogether a very satisfactory state of affairs.