Thursday, February 16, 2012

Lunch at the Test Kitchen

We were treated to lunch last week at The Test Kitchen, Luke Dale Roberts’ restaurant at the Biscuit Mill, by a good friend and we were seriously impressed. Although we work there every Saturday, we finish when the restaurant is closing, so hadn’t yet had a chance to go. We have heard almost nothing but great reports and the negatives were more about very small portions and price than criticisms about the food.

It is a small space that can seat 30, with rather an industrial look, no frills and an open kitchen where you watch many chefs working very hard creating your meal, almost as many as there are customers.

The plates look beautiful and make you want to clear them immediately. Portions are small but once you have had lunch, you feel fully satisfied. More importantly there are layers and layers of flavours in each dish as the ingredients and sauces and other accompaniments are very brilliantly combined to bring you perfect mouthfuls – which to us is what fine dining is all about and why Luke Dale Roberts is, once again, the best Chef of the Year.
You can have a Gourmand” 8 course menu for R550 (R750 if paired with Luke’s good selection of wines), but we are saving that experience for a special dinner. The description “gourmand” is, perhaps, a bit of a misnomer, because the Oxford Dictionary defines a gourmand as a glutton and this is more of a gourmet experience. Luke changes the menu according to the ingredients he finds available and in season. He also now has Pot Luck, an evening tapas style restaurant, where you order several dishes and share them with your companions.
This leads off the Test Kitchen. You do have to book for both restaurants and do book well in advance as they are very popular.
We opted to eat a la Carte for lunch and ordered three starters: for John a Trout tartare, green apple, lime, crème fraiche, caramelized cured aubergine, flat parsley, creamy miso dressing;

for our host, another John: Wood fired organic sweet potatoes, parmesan crème Catalan, crispy and blanched Brussels sprouts
and for Lynne, Salmon sashimi, red cabbage three ways, apple dressing and horse radish where the subtlety of the dressing was perfect both with the slab of rich salmon and the cabbage.
You know you are in trouble when you covet all your fellow diners’ dishes, so we were delighted when the chef sent us an extra course with his compliments – a roll of soft sweet pancake liberally stuffed with shredded duck in a sweet hoisin sauce, topped with a sliver of foie gras and sliced radish, not on the menu but scrumptious.
For mains, the lads both had to have the Pan fried beef fillet with roast root vegetables, asparagus and mushrooms with cracked black pepper “café au lait”,
which ended up like this
while Lynne was more excited by Wood Fired Pork Belly, fondant potato, black-eyed pea and Swiss chard emulsion with cherry jus and almond cream, as she has been trying out different versions of this dish lately.
The beef was as tender as it could be and had a wonderful long aged flavour and the pepper cafe au lait sauce was a serious statement. The belly of pork was crisp and soft and so well matched with the cherry jus and almond cream – not sure if one would have black eyed peas with it again, they are a bit fibrous. We enjoyed a glass of Jacques Bruére bubbly with our starters, compliments of the chef, and bought a bottle of Oak Valley 2006 red blend, because our host, who is from the UK, usually drinks Claret and prefers blends. This was a great match for what we ate.
Lynne could go no further but the two Johns ordered dessert. Marinated strawberries, Stracciatella with basil and lemon granite for one

and a selection of sorbets for the other – flavours were raspberry with Earl Grey tea, wonderful litchi and technicolor mango.
Great double espressos ended a damn near perfect lunch.
Prices were about average for a top end restaurant. Our lunch cost approx R350 a head with alcohol and service.
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