Four Seasons Restaurant & Caterers, located on the new road between Haya-hulet and Bole, specialises in Japanese cuisine, a first for Addis Abeba. While there are many Oriental restaurants in the capital and some establishments offering sushi, a restaurant dedicated primarily to serving the range of Japanese food has been absent.
“On a previous visit to the city, I noticed that there was no Japanese restaurant,” Hameed Abdul, co-owner and chef, told Fortune on Thursday, March 31, 2011.
While he is from Pakistan, Abdul has spent almost his entire career in Japanese restaurants, and the used to own one in Pakistan before moving to Addis.
“The other reasons for opting to open a Japanese restaurant are that it is not available in the city, while the local Pakistani community is small and the food is similar to Indian, of which there is an abundance of eateries,” he told Fortune the day after Pakistan’s defeat by bitter rivals India in the semi-final of the ICC Cricket World Cup.
While the restaurant, being upmarket, does not broadcast sports, there is no lack of entertainment, as the kitchen is open and those sitting at any of the tables in the front room can watch Abdul prepare their lunch (between 12:00pm and 3:00pm) or dinner (from 6:00pm to 10:00pm) alongside Yosuf Sajadmensur, another chef, also from Pakistan.
The partition that forms the kitchen counter is made from bamboo, which has economic and cultural significance in East and Southeast Asia where it is used as a building material, food source, and versatile raw product. The ceiling, which is seemingly made from canvas bags, forms an interesting contrast with the traditionally Japanese paper lanterns hanging from it as well as the massive paper fans, adorned with Japanese style paintings, hanging above the kitchen partition.
The bamboo is reflected in the place mats on the tables, which are laid with large cloth serviettes and forks, knives, and spoons.
The restaurant is waiting for wooden chopsticks with its logo printed on the paper cover to arrive, which is why the sticks are not laid on the table, according to Surafel Betremariam, restaurant manager, who has worked in the hospitality industry for six years.
Also on each table are comment cards for patrons to rate the fare and service and write general comments on.
While there is also only one small room with the traditional Japanese low table and cushions for seats, the “ambience and setting” certainly “met expectations;” instead of the red rose on each table and Andrew Lloyd Webber songs in the background creating any cheesiness, it was classy and warm.
This was largely added to by the superb service from the bow tied waiters who are friendly and prompt, not only in taking orders but serving one with a hot hand towel almost upon being seated and refilling half-empty glasses. One’s serviette is even laid on one’s lap by the waiter once the food is served and replaced, once discarded, for the next course. They even offer baby feeding chairs.
The “friendliness and accuracy of the service” thus “exceeded expectations” by a mile.
However, the “quality of the beverages” was a bit below expectations.
There is a drinks menu, but as it is still incomplete, it is not dispersed to customers, according to Surafel.
“We are planning to add sake [the English name for a rice based alcoholic beverage of Japanese origin] but we are still waiting for the supplier,” he told Fortune.
At the moment the only Japanese drink available is green tea, alongside mineral water (15 Br), soft drinks (15 Br), local beer (30 Br), and imported wine
On the other hand, the “quality of the food” “exceeded expectations.” From the teppanyaki grill come lobster (475 Br), prawns (225 Br), fish (135 Br), chicken (105 Br), or beef (105 Br) cooked on a hot iron plate.
Lightly battered, deep-fried dishes (tempura) are prawns (225 Br), fish (135 Br), vegetables (110 Br), and a mix of the above (185 Br), which comprises shrimp and fish with onion and peppers perfectly fried.
There are also chicken or beef katsu (105 Br), deep-fired breaded pieces of meat. Garlic (50 Br), fried with egg (50 Br), or steamed rice (40 Br) can be ordered on the side.
The vegetable sushi was fresh and tasty and beautifully served with a new set of chopsticks.
It is only available for dinner as the ingredients are limited, according to Surafel.
A total of six maki rolls can be had with crab (130 Br); salmon (120 Br); cucumber (100 Br); oshinko, a pickled radish (110 Br); or futo (160 Br), a combination of prawns, cucumber, and oshinko.
There are also varieties that are rolled inside-out, such as California rolls (180 Br) with crab, cucumber, and avocado as well as caviar on the outside; and dragons (170 Br) with deep-fried shrimp and cucumber as well as sesame seeds on the outside.
The sushi is very popular among the international community, according to Abdul, who has seen customers return for it, despite his restaurant only being open since March 1.
Yet, the treats do not stop.
“When I opened the restaurant, I did not know how large the Japanese community was,” Abdul told Fortune. “I wanted to keep something familiar, so we offer a little Thai food as well.”
Most of the kitchen staff are relatively new to Asian food, according to the owner.
“We started slowly, with Japanese food only,” Abdul told Fortune. “We only started serving Thai food a few days ago.”
Shrimp (95 Br) or chicken soup (75 Br) with coconut milk, a staple in Southeast Asian cooking, serve as an interlude to the Thai menu, which is not at all insubstantial. Traditional favourites geang keaw wan (green curry) and geang phed (red curry) with either chicken or beef (each 75 Br), or prawns (150 Br) lead the main dishes.
The green curry was spicy and served with chilli and bright red Thai sauces on the side resulted in quite the runt nose.
Eaters also have a choice between pla laad prik, fish with chilli sauce (130 Br); choo che goong, prawns with chilli sauce (155 Br); goong phad phong garlee, prawns with curry (165 Br); nua phad prik, spicy fried beef (145 Br); and goong pao, grilled prawns (210 Br).
Fried Thai style noodles (135 Br) or steamed jasmine (40 Br), fried (55 Br), and pineapple fried rice (75 Br) can be ordered on the side, shared, or eaten as a meal on its own, given the portion sizes.
These are likewise spicy and filled with peppers and green onions for a colourful burn.
Dessert, such as fried banana and ice-cream, fried ice-cream, as well as banana in coconut milk (all 65 Br), was much cooler. There is also a chocolate fountain with fruit and marshmallows (100 Br).
However, adding a 10pc service charge and 15pc VAT to these prices make for a pricey meal.
What the service does not account for can be ascribed to most of the ingredients being imported. While dry foods like sauces and dried seaweed can be stored for a long time, importing fresh fish, an integral part of sushi, poses a problem.
“You must use it within two days and then throw it away, which will significantly raise costs if it is imported,” Abdul told Fortune. “For the moment, we are sticking to smoked salmon and locally procured fresh fish.”
Some of these materials are on sale for interested customers. Four Seasons also takes its service outside its restaurant by offering catering service for outside functions.
“The importation of ingredients is something everyone who wants to open an authentic traditional restaurant must think twice about,” Abdul told Fortune. “It takes a lot of money and effort.”