On Monday evening a friend and I ate dinner at Pot Luck Club in the Biscuit Mill, it being one of very few quality restaurants which are open on Monday evenings. He challenged me to leave my note book at home, to just enjoy the evening, and to have fun. This was my first review written from memory, and the photographs were sourced from the restaurant’s website, and the internet. Very few photographs of the dishes we ate could be found.

When one books a Luke Dale-Roberts restaurant (he has four: The Test Kitchen, Shortmarket Club, and Luke Dale-Roberts at The Saxon, in addition to The Pot Luck Club) one has to pay a deposit, efficiently done via the Dineplan reservation system. When I booked I only had the option of a table at 18h00 and only in the restaurant section, and not at the open kitchen counter. 

Annoying was when the system announced a reservation time change from 18h00 to 20h30, without a request from us, and less convenient to us.  We had already paid a R250 deposit per head by credit card. We were offered the opportunity to cancel the reservation, but decided to keep it anyway, as the other Monday evening dinner options were unexciting. The system required dietary information a few days ahead of our booking, and these were easy to communicate via email. When we had to telephonically cancel the attendance by one of our party, due to illness, on the same day as our reservation, the information was received sympathetically, and the deposit we paid for her was deducted from our bill total, not being charged a cancellation fee. 

On arrival, we were shown to a kitchen counter table. We preferred something more private, and were lucky to get a table alongside the kitchen counter, facing Head Chef Freddy Dias. He told us that he had studied at the Prue Leith Academy in Johannesburg, and had moved from Pretoria to Cape Town to start working at The Pot Luck Club two and a half years ago. He was Sous Chef to Chef Wesley Randles, who was moved to The Shortmarket Club last year, and Chef Freddy stepped into Chef Wesley’s shoes. 

It was by chance that I asked the charming waitress Laura Kropman her surname, and could not believe how small the world is, her aunt Margolite being the best friend of my sister Bettina, having been in the same class at Huguenot High School in Wellington. Laura had an excellent sense of humour, being joked with by my friend throughout the evening. She was sharp in giving him some attitude back, always with charm and never with disrespect. She had been to school with some of the children of my friend, so the world became even smaller! 

I hadn’t been to the restaurant since January 2012, and those dishes still on the menu have doubled in price roughly.

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

Little appears to have changed since then, except for the reservation system, and the lack of a Manager to welcome one on arrival.  The uniforms were designed by Sandalene Dale-Roberts, and are still the silly frilly tops for the waitresses, and they themselves seem to dislike them. A hostess showed us to the kitchen counter, put down all the beverage-related documents, and then when we moved to the table, we received the menu too. The menu is an A3 fold into A4, printed onto a floppy page fold. Laura brought a jug with water, and topped it up throughout the evening. Once in a while I had to ask for more. The wine prices seemed to be on the expensive side, judging by our favorite Le Lude sparkling wine (R560). As we had shared a Le Lude at home, we ordered Kleinood Tamboerskloof Shiraz 2013, at R415 a bottle. Very few wines are available by the glass.

Laura had pre-prepared a list of dishes which would suit my dietary requirements completely, and others which could be amended, a very organized gesture. My friend and I shared all eight dishes, making it a small portion of each small plate for each.  The menu is divided into six sections, reflecting the :

#   Salty offers ciabatta by Woodstock Bakery, with chimichurri, and carrot hummus (R60); marinated olives (R40); peri peri chicken (R95); chickpea, goats cheese and Parmesan fries with aioli,  and tomato ketchup (R65); and miso cured aubergine, goats cheese, carrot dressing, blueberry wine reduction, and umami purée (R70). We did not order any of these dishes. 

#.  Sweet has four dishes: liquorice-glazed sweet breads, pancetta, tahini and lemon cream, pine nut gremolata (R100); beef tataki, hoisin dressing, coriander pesto, and ponzu mayonnaise (R120); Springbok rump, beetroot ketchup, ash baked beets, tomato XO dressing (R150); and Burrata cheese, grilled nectarines, rose water and verjuice dressing, and pistachio dukkah (R90). We ordered Beef Tataki, the biggest disappointment of all the dishes, that of Bistro 1682 at Steenberg being the benchmark for me. The beef was thinly sliced, and dry, making it almost like cured meat, and the dressing and mayonnaise barely tasteable. At the price of R120 it offered the worst value for money of all the dishes we tried. The Burrata dish no longer has nectarines, and these were replaced with butternut, not as interesting a contrast with the mozzarella as the nectarines would have been. One would have thought that the menu could have been changed to reflect the seasonal change. We were told about it verbally by Laura however. This dish disappointed too, not offering much Burrata. 

#   Umami has five dishes, its fish sliders (R70) not described; Parmesan and Buffalo mozzarella arancini, smoked garlic and apple mayonnaise, aged balsamic, and burnt leek (R90); Crispy calamari, Yuzu compressed watermelon, black sesame emulsion, and fermented peanut chili dressing (R110); Wok fried egg, black garlic and mushroom purée, charred asparagus, and Szechuan dressing (R100); and smoked beef fillet with black pepper, and truffle cafe au lait (R130). The calamari was crispy as described, but the other ingredients served with it did not add to the dish. The dressing added a bite with its chili content. The beef fillet was the highlight of all dishes, simple in its presentation of steak and sauce, the beef perfectly rare, and the sauce moreish. 

 #.   Sour offers four options, the fish tacos served with fresh fish ceviche, black bean purée, avocado, and sour cream (R65); fresh fish tartare, pickled kombu, egg dashi, and miso Tuiles (R90); shredded confit duck leg, plum vinaigrette, plum hoisin, and Chinese five spice crisp (R120); and pork belly with orange Master stock, kimchi turnips, and sriracha daikon (R150). We ordered the tiny fish tacos, as well as the confit duck leg, and both dishes were unmemorable. The fish tacos dish we were served looked nothing like the one I found a photograph of on the internet. The Pork belly dish consisted of four small bites, expensive at R150!

 #   Bitter only has one dish, Grapefruit Margarita sorbet with Caperitif jelly and burnt grapefruit salsa (R80). We did not order this dish. 

#    Sweet Ending offers four choices, being roasted frozen marshmallow, peanut butter ice cream, and cacao nib biscuit (R80); Hibiscus poached peach, summer berries, black olive honeycomb, and peach granita (R80); Heaven’s Bacon, with almond and apple tart, burnt peanut butter, popcorn ice cream, apple gummies, and maple glazed bacon (R85). A special dessert last night was an ice cream sandwich, cut into two small triangles, costing R80, which we ordered. We shared the Heaven’s Bacon too, and I loved the popcorn and ice cream in it. I could not find any dessert photographs on the internet. The cheapest item on the bill was the cappuccino, which costs a mere R18! A South African cheese platter costs R160. 

The menu has a lengthy disclaimer, which I did not see on the menu at all, as the restaurant is not well lit at night. It warns that the dishes may inadvertently ‘contain traces of allergens’, including shellfish, dairy, nuts, eggs, wheat, and soy products. 

The bill had the service charge of 12% added without permission. Laura shared honestly that the deposit deduction from the total bill had caused confusion, and that customers had calculated the tip on the amount balance rather than on the full bill total. The menu does not state the service charge nor its percentage, as would do menus in top international restaurants. One can hardly question the service charge in front of guests, so a smart strategy. Laura was worth every cent of the service charge, and she did declare it when she presented the bill, but the lack of choice and tip amounts restricts  flexibility. Misleading was that despite automatically adding the service charge, the bill still had a space for a Gratuity! 

Overall, we were disappointed with our dinner, despite the good service received from Laura. The Pot Luck Club is exceptionally expensive, the food alone costing about R600 per head for eight very small shared Tapas dishes, compared to Chefs Warehouse at Beau Constantia, which charges R620 for eight shared reasonably sized dishes (without a choice however), and which I have been told are far better than those we experienced at The Pot Luck Club on Monday evening. Despite initial reassurances on opening that Chef Luke would also be seen at The Pot Luck Club, those no longer hold.

The Pot Luck Club, Silo Top Floor, The Old Biscuit Mill, 373 – 375 Albert Road, Woodstock. Tel (021) 447-0804 www.thepotluckclub.co.za Twitter: @potluckclubCT Instagram: @thepotluckclubct

Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter: @Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein