The Test Kitchen experience

After Eat Out magazine named Luke Dale-Roberts the best chef in SA and his Test Kitchen restaurant at the Old Biscuit Mill as the 2nd best restaurant in SA, I was dead keen to go and check it out.

Sadly though, the rest of Cape Town had the exact same idea, so when we tried to get a booking back in early Jan, the first available option was 1 Mar!  Hectic stuff as I don’t normally plan anything that far in advance. But we figured it would be well worth the wait…

Finally arriving there last Thu eve, I was absolutely starving.  You see I had decided not too eat – luckily not from the point we made the booking, but just for that day in preparation for their 8 course Gourmand taster menu (going for R600 – R850 if you opt for the wine pairing as well).

I really loved the interior detailing, check it out:

The Test Kitchen is actually housed in the same premises as The Pot Luck Club – another Luke Dale-Roberts baby.  Apparently the idea is that they try stuff out there and if diners approve, it makes it’s way onto the Test Kitchen menu.  The menu changes constantly, hence the term “pot luck” – as you pretty much get whatever’s available on the day.

It was slightly strange because our seats were actually more on the Pot Luck Club side. There was a room divider behind our tables to show the “separation”, but the divider had holes in it.  This meant we could still see them and they could still see us.

Helloooooo... I can see you!!! I did feel a bit like a stalker...

I thought the wine list prices were a bit overinflated.  For example a bottle of Springfield Life From Stone 2011 set you back R180, where most other places I’ve seen it it’s more around the R140 mark.  This was also the cheapest Sauvignon option.  If you are into Chardonnay, your cheapest option was Elgin Ridge 2010 for R200, going up to a bottle of Hamilton Russel 2011 for R520.  We eventually settled for the Haute Cabriere Unwooded Pinot Noir (2011) at R165 a bottle.  But don’t think we just went for the cheapest option, I did spot a Joostenburg 2010 white blend for R120 a bottle – which I think was the cheapest option on the wine list.  So we were safely above that. ;)

Now down to the food.  Before the kick off of the massive 8 course extravaganza – we were given some snacky things and bread for the table.  All simple sounding, yet amazing in it’s own right.  Then we had some “Egg on Toast”:

Quail egg on small crostini, drizzled with truffle oil

They could’ve brought me a bloody platter of those babies and I would have been a happy chappy.  Seriously, it was delish!  But this wasn’t even course # 1 yet, it was only a teaser…

For course # 1 you had  two options, I went for the:

  • Home dried tomato, picked tomato, miso cream cheese, wood fired aubergine dressing and jalapeno and apple puree.

Course # 2 also had two options.   I went for the:

  • “Scottati” of beef fillet and smoked bone marrow, Luke’s walnut XO dressing and crispy salad.  The presentation of this dish was quite impressive, it came in a glass dome type thing and as they lifted it up you got an absolutely intoxicating whiff of smoky beef…  Mmmmmm…

After course # 2 I decided to stretch my legs a bit (I mean we still had a far way to go here people – I needed to keep the circulation going).  In the main dining area you get to see all the action up close and personal with the kitchen right in the middle for everyone to see:

Everyone hard at work on my course # 3 of course

Back at the table things got a bit interesting… seems I made a very very bad choice for course # 3.  The menu mentioned “sweet breads” – which my Afrikaans brain directly translated to “soet broodjies” which took me back to a childhood memory where I enjoyed a deliciously sweet type of bread my grandma made for me.  Little did I know that sweet breads actually refer to a mix of various nasty animal parts, like the pancreas and various types of glands, including testicles.  Did you read that…. TESTICLES!   As I was eating it, I kept digging around trying to find this bread element that they had referred to.  My friends kept making loose references to “ballz”, but I didn’t get it because I HAD NO IDEA.  Anyhoo, they assumed I knew what it was, but when they realised that I really did not… they thoroughly enjoyed ripping me to pieces. (In fact – it’s been about 4 days now of non-stop ball jokes. Awesomeness.)

Morel glazed sweet breads, duck liver & morel "royale" with various onions, lardo, burnt thyme & onion soubise... ie. ballz with fancy sauces.

For the record – even the waitress laughed at me.  And my friend David noted that, and I quote, “this is the best moment of my life”.  For those who have not had the pleasure of trying “sweet breads” – it just tasted like chicken liver to me.  I’m not a huge fan of chicken liver.

The correct option for course # 3 would have been what David had opted for:

  • Wood fired sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts in two ways, porcini and sherry reduction, polenta tuile.

A ha.... sad face for me...

Anyhoo, moving on to course # 4 (after washing down that little surprise with lots of wine) – one option:

  • Salmon sashimi, red cabbage three ways, apple dressing & horse radish.

Shaped like seaweed... ag sweet man...

Course # 5 had two options, both containing foie gras.  I went for the:

  • Porcini potato risotto with slow poached foie gras.

Next there was a little palate cleanser break – we got an apple, gin & jelly sorbet which was heavenly:

Course # 6: had only one option again:

  • Pan seared linefish, wood fired fricassee or corn and baby onions, toasted garlic & ginger foam, TK sieu mai.

Course # 7 was a choice between pork and lamb  (I’m not a lamb lover, so I opted for the pork):

Test kitchen black forest pork.

Here’s what the lamb option looked like though.  I must admit – I did think afterwards that I shouldn’ve gone with that instead:

Slow cooked "breast" of lamb, harief glaze, white bean humus, ewe's milk labneh with dry fig and cinnamon jus.

Time for another palate cleanser before heading into dessert – watermelon marinated in sake with a mango sorbet and some other yummy tasting goodies I can’t remember now:

Finally, course # 8:

  • Frozen cashew and cinnamon parfait, pistachio butter, pistachio and olive oil cake with a saffron lassi foam and pineapple tarte tartin.


AND as if all of that wasn’t enough, we even got a little platter of sweet treats after this for the table, including home made chocolate, coconut biscuits and Turkish delight.  All ‘n all, dinner took about 4 hours to complete.   So you basically have to book out an entire evening for this one.

Now let’s get down to my thoughts on the food.   Was it worth the price tag of R600?  I’m still on the fence about it to be honest.   Yes, Luke Dale-Roberts’ food is truly like little pieces of art on the plate.  He combines flavours that you will probably never come across again and I am very glad that I got to experience it.  But then again, I’m a huge fan of the Myoga 7 course taster menu -  which last time I did it was only R195, but I see the 2012 price has gone up to R225.   The food there is unbelievable and they also change the menu each season, so you get to try some seriously inventive things.  The almost R400 difference in price is what’s bugging me somewhat.   Noted: Test Kitchen does have one extra course, plus all those additional palate cleanser treats.  And Mr Dale-Roberts has just won quite a prestigious award and with his level of expertise, one would expect a certain price bracket.  I get it.  And I really don’t mind paying for quality food.   But I can’t say that I felt it was quite worth what I had to fork out.  (And don’t worry – I’m not holding the whole “ballz” incident against them in any way. ;) )  I think if I had paid R450 I would have been smiling all the way.

But listen, I’d say if you have the money – by all means, do it.  For food quality, taste & uniqueness, I give them a Miss K Kiss-o-Meter ratings of:

Just to note: They also have a 3 course or 5 course option which will cost you less.  But I think if you’re going to be spending money in any case, go for the 8 course as you get to try a much wider variety of things.

Will I go again – yes, if someone else is paying! :)

PS:  The menu prices on their website are outdated...