It’s hard not to love the perks of the job, and last Tuesday night’s dinner and jazz extravaganza at Asoka was no exception. one small seed was invited to come along to the suave nightlife hotspot nestled in upper Kloof Street, the capital of Cape Town cool, to try the food and watch the band. So, having only popped into Asoka once before for a pre-drinks G&T or two, I went along—admittedly expecting far less of a place whose renown comes from its chic clientele and extensive cocktail menu rather than its food or live music.

Come eight o’clock Tuesday night, we arrived at Asoka to be warmly welcomed and seated at a table by the bar. If you haven’t been into Asoka before, one of its talking points is one of the oldest olive trees in Cape Town, centred inside the restaurant itself with its huge branches reaching out to the heavens through a skylight. The effect is the lovely sense of being outdoors, while sitting in a plush, low-lit, and elegantly decorated eatery–safely tucked away from the volatile temperament of the mother city’s elements.

Once happily attended to with a shaken Margarita that topped the standards of most cocktail bars in Cape Town (and I regard myself a connoisseur), our waitress explained that their menu consists of a selection of tapas, and so mixing and sharing is the order of the day. From sushi and meze platters to Thai curry and Teriyaki fillet, we were instantly impressed by their delectable selection on offer, and really had a hard time knowing where to start! (And with each plate not costing more than R30–60 or so, a dinner at Asoka could work out much more affordable than expected.)

To start, we decided on the five spice seared tuna and the grilled calamari with garlic lemon herb and chilli. As far as ingredients go, not only was the selection superb but the freshness and quality of everything was truly outstanding. The seared tuna was as good as you’d find in SA’s best sushi bars, and its combination with a slightly spicy tomato salsa and fresh rocket reinvented tuna sashimi for me; it really was delicious, and beautifully presented. The calamari came with a side salad that included Danish feta, Kalamata olives and garden rocket, and it too left nothing to be desired.


By now the jazz had begun, so we moved over with our drinks to the main area of the restaurant where the five-piece band were already set up under the tree and avidly doing their thing. Playing weekly from 8pm onwards, the perfect excuse to get to Asoka every Tuesday night is the funky Cape Town jazz quintet Reality Radio (previously The Restless Natives). The band takes the already perfect mix of Asoka’s tranquil yet vibey atmosphere and augments it to a whole new level with their rhythmic tunes that move from sexy and smooth through to funky and energetic jazz of the very best kind.


Five brilliant musicians in their own right, Reality Radio features the formidable Lee Thompson playing trumpet (having also performed with the likes of the Springbok Nudies, Hog Hoggidy Hog and Freshly Ground), Jason Reolon on keys, Shane Cooper on the double bass (who I also happened to see playing with Red Earth & Rust on Saturday), Chris Engel on sax, and Kesivan Naidoo behind the drums, and the resultant blend of seductively melodic hard bop jazz from the ‘50s and ‘60s is a treat for all music lovers—the perfect aural counterpart to the decadent chocolate springrolls that were still to come!


For our second course of tapas we shared the ‘Make your own duck pancake’—a grilled Shanghai duck breast served with hoisin plum reduction, cucumber and spring onion salad and a bamboo steamer filled with mini pancakes—and also (for me, the pièce de résistance of the whole night) the garlic chilli beef fillet, grilled perfectly rare and garnished with deep-fried capers. What mouth-watering decadence; it was almost a transcendental experience. Couple that with a full-bodied red from the wonderful range of wine available (the Raka Quinary picked my fancy), and you’re literally in culinary heaven. Thank you, Asoka!

But that was not the end of a lovely evening thus far. The waitress insisted on the chocolate springrolls, which were absolutely divine, and then another cocktail each. Asoka’s flagship is the Pornstar Martini (I can’t for the life of me remember what was in it!) and the Tutti Frutti was one of the tastiest and prettiest cocktails I’ve had, consisting of passion fruit and mango purée shaken with vanilla vodka, topped with a halved passion fruit, and served with a shot of Pongraz to spice up the mix, or to drink on its own if you feel so inclined.

And then we were done. Well fed, happy (a little tipsy), invigorated by the beautiful jazz and the energetic vibe of Asoka, and already planning our next visit. Whether it’s for a light snack and drinks in the lounge, a cocktail at the bar, or dinner inside under a tree at what is really one of Cape Town’s better restaurants—do yourselves a favour and visit one of Cape Town’s best kept dining out secrets. Open every night of the week, with the jazz band on Tuesdays and resident DJs from Wednesdays to Saturdays.

www.asokabar.co.za