Considered by many to be the country’s greatest sushi restaurant, Willoughby’s and Co. wouldn’t be much without its head chef. Sam Wong’s humble demeanour belies his steadfast approach to making Cape Town’s adored eatery a pilgrimage for food lovers
Sam’s hands delicately measure every petal and crease of the rose. He then studies its colour. Satisfied, he drops a dollop of mayo in the middle and moves on. The process lasts no more than a minute, but it’s seeped in experience and artistic perfection. This is Sam’s approach to the salmon rose.
When Sam Wong is finally done, he places them on the plate. And as if for the first time, he begins again. For him, food is not just sustenance, it is life and it is art -and like both, they have beginnings and endings.
This underlying philosophy is probably one of the main reasons why customers keep flocking to Willoughby & Co; every plate of sushi is a creation, a new experience, and with any new experience, you cannot help but indulge.
Sam is the kitchen’s life-force, unshakeable and alert, gently overseeing all the craftsmanship. He is almost immune to the sound of the plates banging, the waiters barking, and the general to-ing and fro-ing. His zen posture within the charged atmosphere makes his presence almost something of a hallucination.
Great preparation creates the space for spontaneity - that’s what keeps Willoughby & Co. at the top and makes it “the only restaurant in the city that The Telegraph is prepared to queue for.”
“Sam’s been with me for 20 years; he's the best thing to that ever happened to this business,” says Jens Tibshraeny, owner and friend. “He’s innovative and unbelievable, he’s such a wonderful person. So even tempered… Honestly? He’s one of the best you can get.”