Restaurant Review: More than potluck at Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ The Pot Luck Club

Top Eat Out Chef Luke Dale-Roberts, owner of the second ranked Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant The Test Kitchen, has opened The Pot Luck Club, another winning restaurant next door to his existing restaurant.  One need not worry that Chef Luke will only be seen at The Test Kitchen, where he has always been very hands-on, or that one has to bring one’s own ingredients to cook one’s meal, or has to share one’s fabulous food if one does not want to!

The word ‘potluck’ is almost 500 years old, and refers to providing food for an unexpected guest, offering him or her the ‘luck of the pot’, states Wikipedia.  Over time the term evolved to become a gathering of persons, each bringing a dish, to be shared and eaten communally by the group.  In Ireland the potluck practice was for women to share the ingredients they had available, and cook them together in one pot.  At The Pot Luck Club one is encouraged to order different dishes, and to share them with others at the table. At the restaurant the term has a creative interpretation, in that four The Pot Luck Club chefs have a dish each included in the menu, while the rest of the dishes probably have been a team effort devised with Chef Luke.

The Pot Luck Club venue is almost equal in size to The Test Kitchen, but the space is better utilised in that less space is used for the food preparation, being set against the back wall, dedicated to this restaurant only. Running into the food preparation area is the bar, which serves both restaurants, and this is only noticeable as The Test Kitchen staff, with different uniforms, are visible in The Pot Luck Club when they collect drinks. A part of the space has been cordoned off by means of a hanging Peter Eastman resin artwork ‘screen’, and two tables can cater for a larger group booking for The Test Kitchen.  The artwork is for sale, but no prices are indicated, and the staff do not know them, one being connected with the artist if one wants to purchase something. The ‘private’ section has colourful lampshades, which shine through the screen cut-outs, and add character to The Pot Luck Club.  It is hot in the restaurant, with no airconditioning, even if the door is open. Downlighters are well placed on metal beams high above, lighting up the black artwork, not all visible against the black and plum walls, and focusing on the tables. Tables have milled steel tops, as they do at The Test Kitchen, with light wood chairs, and counters running against the left wall and alongside the bar. The tables are laid with ceramic plates, in grey and in a light brown, the latter looking as if it is a piece of wood, and the ceramic water mugs have a similar look, and have probably been made by Imizo, which made The Test Kitchen tableware too.  The cutlery is comfortable to hold and unusual in its design, imported from Europe Chef Luke said, but the brand name is not visible in the logo on the cutlery.  Chopsticks are also on the table. Two tiny glass containers contain coarse salt and ground peppercorns.  Felt-covered glass bowls hold a tealight candle. The music was odd, an eclectic mix of unidentifiable bands and some South American music, with no Asian music at all.  I loved the long rectangular serviettes, long enough to cover one’s lap properly, probably the work of Chef Luke’s fashion designer wife Sandalene, who also designed the staff uniforms, floral for The Test Kitchen, and grey tops with a plum pocket for the male waiters, and dresses for the lady waiters at The Pot Luck Club. The restaurant can seat about 45 guests.  A new door links the two restaurants, and Chef Luke was visible, regularly overseeing the food preparation at The Pot Luck Club.

The menu and winelist are printed on a cream board, with The Pot Luck Club name and wild boar logo.  Chef Luke could not explain exactly how he and Sandalene had got to the logo, but it had evolved from a discussion of where they wanted to take the restaurant, and to give it a visual identity.  All dishes are served on square wooden boards or on the ceramic plates in the same cream and plum colours. There are no headings or sections on the menu, but small space differences allow one to identify ‘snacks’ to order whilst waiting for drinks (such as crispy curried celery leaves, steamed Edamame beans with miso and toasted garlic salt, shaved parsnips with Madagascan black pepper salt, and Chrisna olives, a whole garlic, with red pepper pesto and artisan bread, which we selected, disappointingly boring, yet the smoked olives had an exceptional taste. All of these cost between R20 – R30).   A salad section includes Claus’ Coconut Calamari Salad (the coconut taste was not evident, and it was served with lime, coriander, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, green beans and daikon), Ash’s Tuna Tartare, and Pot Luck Club Tartare, served in both Asian and classic style, each costing R60, as well as a mixed green and tomato salad at R25.  A third section did not appear to have anything in common, being mushrooms on toast (R55), blue cheese mousse with an apple and parsley salad and walnuts (R50), and an excellent rich and creamy foie gras ‘au torchon’ (prepared in a cloth bag in the traditional poached method, we were told), with brioche, sprinkled with grated walnuts and truffle, and served with a most delicious nectarine, grape and champagne chutney, at R120, the most expensive dish on the menu.

The fourth section contained the largest number of dishes, and could be seen to be the main courses, even though the prices were reasonable in ranging between R30 – R80.  My son had Ivor’s crispy duck spring roll, served with daikon and a hoisin dressing, unfortunately with a bone inside. The best dish we tried was the smoked Chalmar beef fillet which was served with a heavenly black pepper and truffle café au lait sauce (with port, brandy and cream).  Other options are steamed queen scallops, crispy pork belly with Luke’s XO dressing, fried prawns, Chinese style pork rib, and smoked and fried quail, served as per the menu description with no extras. Baby potato wedges with smoked paprika salt can be ordered, for R25.  A choice of two desserts is available: Wesley’s Tapioca served with passion fruit sorbet and toasted coconut (R45), and fresh summer berries served with fig leaf ice cream (R50), which we declined.

From the cocktail list we were invited to choose a complimentary drink in honour of my son’s birthday, and we both chose the Summer Berry Kir, with blackberries, raspberries and elderflower, to which Sauvignon Blanc had been added. The bar list has a wide range of liqueurs, beers (including four from &Union), and a good selection of reasonably priced wines, about five per variety.  Commendable is that about 25 wines are offered by the glass, out of a total of about 80 wines, a good selection at very reasonable prices.  Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV costs R950, while local MCC’s range from R40/R195 for Pongracz, to R450 for Pongracz Desiderius 2001.  Shiraz starts at R50/R230 for Kleinood Tamboerskloof 2007, with Luddite being the most expensive at R480. Adam Mason’s Kaboom! already was not available, but his Shazam! was offered as an alternative, a Shiraz Pinotage blend.

The website invites one to pop in at The Pot Luck Club after work for an early bite or a late dinner.  We booked yesterday morning, and while the restaurant was fully booked, Jeanine made a plan for us, showing that booking is advisable.  Eating at The Pot Luck Club is quicker (the dishes arrived rapidly), and far less expensive than at The Test Kitchen, meaning that one can have an affordable taste of Chef Luke’s craft.  On the website he motivates why he created a new restaurant, and did not just expand The Test Kitchen: “…I’m a chef and I like to cook and develop recipes and make new discoveries and The Pot Luck Club will offer both myself and the chefs working here exactly those opportunities”. The open plan nature of The Pot Luck Club places a huge responsibility on all the staff on show behind the counters, and one of the bar chaps eating crisps out of a packet while on service probably wasn’t appropriate.   The service from Manager Simon and Deputy Manager Marcus was attentive and friendly, and Chef Luke coming to chat at our table despite his restaurants being full and busy was a treat.  The Pot Luck Club menu will evolve, with new dishes already having been added in the past two weeks.  Whilst based on the principle of serving small dishes, The Pot Luck Club is far beyond a tapas restaurant.

The Pot Luck Club, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock.  Tel (021)  447-0804.   www.thepotluckclub.co.za Tuesday – Saturday dinners.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage

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