REVIEW | Japanese Izakaya Arata restaurant in Stanley Street

Food at new eatery far surpasses anticipation when ordering from the menu

There is nothing quite like reading a menu and not knowing exactly what is on offer.
It provides an extra element of anticipation and in the case of one of Port Elizabeth’s newest restaurants, Izakaya Arata, the food far surpasses the anticipation.
Just so we are all on the same page, an izakaya is a Japanese bar serving tapas-style food that’s meant to be shared among friends.
And we now have one nestled in the gastronomic heaven that is Stanley Street.
What’s really exciting about Izakaya Arata is that it is owned and managed by Tokyo-born and trained chef Arata Koga who has, over the many decades he has worked as a chef, been celebrated for his authentic Japanese fare.
Koga, 73, has been in SA for a number of years, working in Johannesburg before making quite the name for himself in the Western Cape.
There he worked as a sushi master at top restaurants Tank in Cape Town and Genki in Stellenbosch.
At the Stanley Street restaurant, opened about three months ago, Koga has created a little slice of Japan that offers up simple, yet sleek decor, a good wine menu, with some saki and Japanese tea thrown in, and a small but sumptuous menu.
At Izakaya Arata it’s all about the tapas menu and some pretty substantial ramen dishes.
The menu is fun to navigate with dishes like spinach goma, cucumber and wakami salade, endamame with sea salt and yakitori grilled skewers on offer.
Our knowledgeable waiter patiently explained the dishes which led us to opt for the crispy bang bang prawns (prawn and avo spring rolls) at R58, sweetcorn and edamame at R38, and calamari teriyaki at R38.
Before we even received our starters we were given two small bowls of beans and spinach on the house – a lovely start to the meal.
The tapas dishes were wonderful.
Fresh, beautifully presented and, most importantly, very yummy.
From there, we moved on to ramen dishes, a pork dish for me and chicken for my husband.
At R75 each the meals were more than a bargain and I even took a substantial portion home in a doggy bag.
What’s really wonderful about the ramen dishes are their originality. You’ll not find them on offer in too many venues in Port Elizabeth.
Mine came with half an egg, asparagus, spring onions and a wonderfully flavoursome broth.
That said, I believe a fish dish is in order on our next visit especially after Koga, this week, pronounced Port Elizabeth a far better place to find fresh fish than Cape Town.
Koga, who made his way to the Friendly City ironically because he has some good friends in town, said while the salmon and tuna offerings in Cape Town were fantastic, line fish from Port Elizabeth could not be beaten.
In broken English Koga said: “I go down there (the harbour) every day. PE has lots of good line fish.”
The affable chef, who pronounced himself “young hey” when asked his age, laughed off questions about when he started as a chef, simply saying: “Oh, many years ago”.
He halting explained how his outstanding skills in the kitchen had been honed first in Tokyo, followed by a stint in New York and a journey that ultimately brought him to SA.
His culinary adventures across the globe can be seen in his food.
It’s carefully crafted with maximum flavour, which brings me to the dessert menu.
Consisting only of ice cream – wasabi, tea ice cream with red bean paste and fruit, and ginger ice cream with fruit (which we sampled at R35) – it’s a delicious way to end a meal.
Izakaya Arata gets a huge thumbs up as it offers a lot more than a delicious meal.
It’s an experience that goes far beyond the general sushi offerings the city has had available in the past.
This review visit was unannounced, anonymous and the meal paid for in full...

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