SOUTH AFRICA’S TOP RESTAURANT REINVENTS ITSELF
Luke Dale-Roberts, owner and chef of Cape Town’s acclaimed restaurant The Test Kitchen, is not one to rest on his laurels.
South Africa’s respected EatOut magazine has hailed The Test Kitchen as the top restaurant in the country for the past four years running, while in 2016 the San Pellegrino The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list pegged it at #22. A remarkable feat for a restaurant that has only been open six short years.
But for ever-ambitious Dale-Roberts, the sixth anniversary marked the time for a change.
“The restaurant originally opened as a project to see how far I could take my food,” explains Dale-Roberts, who says that runaway success soon saw it serving 60 to 65 guests lunch and dinner five days a week, taking away the focus on pushing the kitchen’s culinary boundaries. “I wanted to bring it back to what it was originally meant to be. I wanted to refocus and reset the parameters of what we are doing.”
That meant a complete reimagination of what The Test Kitchen stands for. While demand had seen the ‘Kitchen’ keeping hundreds of diners happy each week, it was time for the ‘Test’ to return. Time to up the creativity, to push the boundaries of what fine dining on the southern tip of Africa is all about.
Yet while the recreated Test Kitchen is rooted in Africa, its influences and ambitions are global. Ignore the omnipresent Table Mountain towering above the up-and-coming suburb of Woodstock and the gourmet experience on offer wouldn’t feel out of place in London or New York.
And experience is key to the new venue, now divided into two distinct yet inter-connected halves.
The ‘Dark’ room makes a moody start to dinner, a sultry space where guests ease into the evening with cocktails and conversation. There’s plenty to talk about too, from Hannelie Coetzee’s striking burnt wood gravure dubbed ‘Sibling Portrait 2016’, to the edgy reworking of the space by Luke’s wife Sandalene and architect/designer Maurice Paliaga.
In the Dark room guests enjoy bespoke cocktails and the first seven courses of the tasting menu; bite-sized introductions to the revamped culinary journey. That could mean liquorice-cured Wagyu biltong, or the signature Billionaire’s Shortbread of porcini shortbread and foie gras parfait, fittingly presented in a silver trinket box. Pork crackling dusted with celeriac salt, dipped into a tankard of Guinness foam, is another highlight.
Then it’s out of the darkness, and after the seven introductory courses diners move into the ‘Light’ room where the airiness and modern formality are a welcome change. Repeat guests will recognise the open kitchen here, even if the bar counter seating is no longer available. It’ a more formal experience this time around: white linen tablecloths make an appearance, the padded seats are more plush than before, and elegant touches abound in the crockery, cutlery and stemware.
On the plate the standard of artistry has been raised too. Dale-Roberts jokingly calls his kitchen crew ‘Tweezer Chefs’ due to the detail and precision in each dish, although few diners will complain about the perfection that is the pan-seared duck breast with orange emulsion and cashew pureé. There’s herb-fired tuna loin on the menu too, a 12-hour smoked seabass, and a memorable ‘Cauliflower Cheese’ with black garlic and truffle.
And on the gourmet journey goes through 21 courses expertly chosen to leave the diner feeling elated and energised, not over-indulged. Courses in the Light room are paired with wines selected by talented sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka, and the meal ends off with a ‘Brandy Trolley’ trundling by to showcase South Africa’s award-winning brandies.
“I’m cooking more than I’ve ever cooked before and I feel like I’m indulging my first love again,” enthuses Dale-Roberts.
On the plate that new energy is evident, and the striking new look for this acclaimed Cape Town eatery makes a repeat visit all the more worthwhile this summer. If you can get a table, that is.
Online bookings only, via www.thetestkitchen.co.za
Tasting menu options range from R1600-R2650pp.
The Test Kitchen, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa