BRILLIANT. Pushing culinary boundaries, setting new parameters – all the clichés apply. To dine with Luke Dale-Roberts is both a joyous occasion and an intellectual experience. Intellectual? Yes, because it challenges your mind as well as your tastebuds. Makes you aware of what can be done with ingredients, brought together in unexpected, perfectly balanced combinations that sing on the palate.
But be warned. This foodie hot-spot in the Biscuit Mill premises, expanded to fill the space previously occupied by the Pot Luck Club, which is moving to a tower block now under construction directly opposite, is not for those who know what they like and mistrust what they don’t know.
You could be confronted with ingredients waving at you from your plate. So my foodie friend says, though I attribute the action to the aircon. She had to steel herself to take a bite, but pronounced it delicious.
The very name embodies excitement. This is a restaurant that tests food in all guises, shapes or forms. And, if you know Luke personally, you could be offered a titbit from a new recipe under testing.
His enthusiasm permeates the enlarged premises, which offer more of the same: the Test Kitchen flows seamlessly into the enlarged area, carrying through open plan kitchen, counter seating, and simple Japanese-style decor.
It’s a young, vibrant space, where superbly trained staff enthuse about “our menu” and “our wine”, engaging happily in discussions on alternatives to the suggested wines.
Wine pairing is excellent, with even plum and lemon-infused Sake featuring in the line-up, and as a local touch, both own-label red and white appear on the winelist, complete with perky Test Kitchen logo. Just one word of advice. Unless you’re strong, think twice about attempting the gourmand menu. You might be overwhelmed by the 14 courses.
Though accustomed to tasting menus, we struggled, suggesting to Luke that two courses (including pre-dessert) could be dropped. While memories of individual flavours linger with you, they become blurred as you progress. We reached the stage of counting courses, needing a break from richness, however enticing.
When I go back, I’ll settle for the five course menu option – on the condition I can include the best palate cleanser that it’s been my privilege to taste: “A bitter walk through the citrus groves”. Translated, this is a delectable presentation of a scooped out mandarin orange filled with citrus sorbet and served with bitter orange liqueur. After relishing the tangy sorbet I poured the liqueur into the frozen rind “cup” and toasted the chef.
Among a litany of delights I’d single out the following combinations, each contributing to a tantalising, perfectly plated dish. Try to imagine the ingredients as you read (take it slowly) and you’ll understand why I term the food challenging.
Lightly-cooked Franschhoek trout, aubergine netsuke, tamarind dressing and lime purée/Crayfish scottati, Luke’s XO dressing, crayfish braised rice/slow-cooked organic sweet potatoes, shortrib and maple braising liqueur, roasted bone marrow and compressed eringi mushroom/slow clam extraction, green tea pasta and oysters.