Around the World – The Test Kitchen – Cape Town, South Africa (May 2016)

The third stop and highlight in our culinary journey in South Africa was lunch at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town.

With yesterday’s announcement of the 2016 San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants, I thought it was only suitable to post this review now 😎.

Luke Dale-Roberts started The Test Kitchen located in The Old Biscuit Mill (375 Albert Road, Woodstock) late 2010 after he left La Colombe in Constantia Uitsig. His 4 year stint as executive chef there already culminated in winning the title of Acqua Panna Best Restaurant in Africa and Middle East 2010 and an amazing 12th place in the 2010 San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

However, the palmares of The Test Kitchen are also quite formidable:
– Eat Out Chef of the Year 2011
Eat Out Restaurant of the Year: #2 in 2011 and winner in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015
San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants: #74 (2012), #61 and One to Watch Award (2013), #48 (2014) #28 (2015), #20 (2016) but dropping to #63 in 2017, but taking the Best Restaurant in Africa in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Dale-Roberts has not been sitting on his laurels and is rapidly expanding his emporium. There are 2 other restaurants in The Old Biscuit Mill: The Pot Luck Club (opened in 2011 and took the #9 spot in the 2015 Eat Out Restaurant of the Year Awards) and Naturalis (the lunch restaurant / food lab opened in December 2015). In May 2016 Luke Dale Roberts X The Saxon was opened; the pop-up restaurant of The Test Kitchen at The Saxon hotel in Johannesburg became a permanent restaurant and the end of this month will see the opening of The Shortmarket Club in the Cape Town City Bowl.

Koen and I were lucky enough to have a Gourmand dinner here in 2013. Having one of the few kitchen-bar seats, we had a stunning view of the kitchen’ operations. We were amazed by the combinations of ingredients that you’d think would never go together as well as the fact that the dishes were exceptionally balanced. All of the components of the dishes paired well together, but also individually with each other. This time it was no different.

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It pays being early as the table near the entrance where we were originally seated proved too low as my legs were already stuck before I was able to draw up to the table. We got a different table towards the other end of the restaurant with an even better view on the kitchen, so in between our dishes we could witness what a well-oiled machine the kitchen and front of house brigades form. The service was generally very friendly and knowledgable as well as attentive and quite informal.

Besides a vegetarian or regular 5-course there is choice of a wine pairing, an extra cheese course and a Chef’s special (basically a limited dish of whatever special ingredient(s) Luke happens to bring in that morning). An interesting point was that the wine pairing was the exactly the same for the regular and vegetarian dishes. Obviously, these dishes were more similar than we had in other restaurants, but still the wine pairings were excellent with both.

After venturing further in our exploration of MCC bubblies, we started off with a magnificent Claudia Brut MCC 2009, a 90/10 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Domaine des Dieux, a boutique wine producer in the Hemel en Aarde Valley near Hermanus. It was rightfully crowned as South Africa’s best Cap Classique Brut Blend at 2014’s Amorim Cap Classique Challenge!

3 types of home made bread and butter. All were delicious, but the burnt leek and cheese roll was to die for!
3 types of home-made bread and butter. All were delicious, but the burnt leek and cheese roll was to die for!

This starter was the perfect exponent of Luke's adagium “The most important thing is flavour, and layers of flavour”. Among others miso, mushrooms and parmesan cheese gave a umami burst kickstarting your tastebuds as a proper preparation for the things to come.
This starter was the epitome of Luke’s adagium “The most important thing is flavour, and layers of flavour”. Among others miso, mushrooms and parmesan cheese gave an incredible umami burst to these brick pastry wafers. A proper kickstart for our taste buds to prepare them for the things to come…

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1a. “Home Smoked Trout” Beetroot, crème fraîche, parsley jellies, saffron pickled onions, buttermilk trout crème
Neil Ellis Amica Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Stellenbosch) Platter’s 4⭐️

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1b. “Roasted Beets” Beetroot, crème fraîche, saffron pickled onions

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2a. “Scallop” Naturalis bacon, cauliflower salad, black garlic; caper & pine nut salsa, cauliflower cheese foam
Fable Mountain Jackal Bird 2013 (Western Cape), an amazing Chenin Blanc based white blend

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👍2b. “Cauliflower” Cauliflower salad, black garlic; caper & pine nut salsa, cauliflower cheese foam

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👍3a “Light Curry Glazed Kingklip” Carrot and cashew purée, carrot beurre noisette
Lammershoek Chenin Blanc 2013 (Swartland)

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3b. “Butter Roasted Carrots” Carrot and cashew purée, carrot and curried beurre noisette

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4a. “Springbok” Char-grilled loin, ember roasted red cabbage, almond cream, red cabbage emulsion, pine oil
Kleinood Tamboerskloof Syrah 2012 (Franschhoek) Platter’s 4⭐️

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4b. “Beetroot” Ember roasted red cabbage, almond cream, red cabbage emulsion, pine oil

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 The extra course for me: Pan fried quail’s leg with sautéed kale, black garlic paste and porcini cream sauce

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The pre-dessert: Golden sunflower seeds, honeycomb, brown butter & chamomile

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5. “Guava, Rose & Pistachio” Guava tart, yogurt and guava panna cotta, fig leaf granita, guava and rose jellies
Bon Courage’s Jacques Bruére Blanc de Blancs MMC 2010 (Robertson)

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The extra cheese course of Chantal: “South African Cheeses” – with fruit preserve and walnuts and two types of bread. Luckily, the portion was enough to serve two… A thing that has struck us as odd during our holidays in South Africa is that waiters in the restaurants generally don’t offer the possibility of a digestif to go with after-dinner coffee/tea or a wine or port to go with cheese boards. I think we kinda startled our waiter with our request for a local port wine to pair with the cheeses: it was served, not even explained, but also didn’t appear on our bill…
Well, as one was to expect, The Test Kitchen never ceases to amaze and it is an exceptional experience: totally worth planning 5 months ahead to get a table for lunch!!

Their 5 course tasting lunch menu itself is R525 / R625 depending on the vegetarian or regular option. You need to add R300 for the wine pairings, so the food and wine will set you back R825/R925 per person. The entire lunch, including the extra quail and cheese courses at R90 and R120 respectively, coffee/tea and gratuity, added up to R2.550 (EUR 155 / USD 175).

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