This article was first published in June 2015
I AM on a roll. Last week I enjoyed the extremely fabulous Bistro Michel in Johannesburg. Then, before you could say "things are looking up for Malala", I was in Cape Town and made it into The Test Kitchen. You don’t get the full import of that statement until you realise that waiting times for a table at The Test Kitchen can be as long as six months.
The place has been rushing up the international charts of best restaurants and is now regarded as Africa’s top restaurant. This week it was rated 28th in the world.
So, as you can see, I had every right to feel like things were looking up for Mrs Malala’s little ’un.
Unfortunately one cannot say the same for the country, despite President Jacob Zuma’s standing up in parliament and telling us that we are doing well and we have a good story to tell. Bah! Maybe if we tell our story to the birds.
I am not being nasty or anything, but the Zuma administration really needs to get a wake-up call. Its denialism makes me want to eat.
So last week I landed in Cape Town and my lovely wife — also in town on business — told me to kneel and praise the Malala ancestors. Why? Well, after years of begging to get into The Test Kitchen we had made it. Someone had cancelled at the last minute and my lovely wife had called right after they had put the phone down.
And you say there is no good news in SA.
The Test Kitchen is in the trendy Old Biscuit Mill, where its newer, younger and gorgeous sister The Pot Luck Club also sits. The Test Kitchen is small, having two rooms with a bit of partitioning between them and an open-plan kitchen. It might not seem like it, but the best place in the restaurant is at the counter overlooking the kitchen where you can observe and even chat to the chefs at work. There was no shouting in the kitchen, but it was intense in there as about 15 people put together the experimental, complicated combinations chef Luke Dale-Roberts is famous for.
The Test Kitchen is all about the food. Dale-Roberts has in the past said the "central purpose of the restaurant is the exploration of flavour; I explore every facet of an ingredient."
This is clear in the incredible concoctions that are put before you. For lunch there is an à la carte menu and two set menus. For dinner there were three: the "Iconic SA Wine Pairing" — about 10 different servings paired with eight SA wines — and two others. These are the "Gourmand", which we opted for, and which is like the above without the wine, and the "Discovery", which offers various choices of starter, main and dessert.
Do not be scared by the number of courses on offer. They are pretty petite, but you do get quite full after a while.
The appetisers were a bit hit and miss — the meat servings were a touch, well, pedestrian? After that it was perfection all the way. There was the foie gras, the outstanding scallops with the foie gras dashi (this was without doubt the best dish of the evening, and showed off Dale-Roberts’ love affair with Japanese food), the succulent lamb rib and the fricassee of rabbit and langoustine. By this time we were pretty exhausted so we begged off one of the three desserts.
That is no slight on the establishment. The food was exquisite. The service was perfect (particularly the two sommeliers on duty that evening). After his triumph at La Colombe in the 2000s and his hit with The Pot Luck Club, you can see that Dale-Roberts has a good story to tell.
* * * * ½ The Test Kitchen
The Old Biscuit Mill
375 Albert Road
Tel: (021) 447-2337
* * * * * Thuli Madonsela
* * * * Excellent
* * * Good
* * Poor