Tag Archives: Sandalene

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

Restaurant Review: The Test Kitchen by Luke Dale-Roberts is down to earth, the food a heavenly feast!

I did not know what to expect from our dinner at The Test Kitchen by Luke Dale-Roberts, Chef Luke’s new restaurant at the Old Biscuit Mill, which opened about a month ago.   I had never made it to La Colombe to try his hand there, where he reached the heights of La Colombe being named 12th best Restaurant in the world on the S.Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurants list, and number 1 restaurant in the Eat Out Top 10 restaurant lists in 2008 and 2009.   I was surprised at how unpretentious Chef Luke was, dressed in a casual T-shirt and shorts, this in a kitchen that is totally exposed to its 35 or so diners.   The Test Kitchen is about preparing the most heavenly food possible – nothing else matters.

The restaurant was previously a shop at the Old Biscuit Mill, and has a bit of a science classroom feel to it – a simple kitchen centre, with tables and chairs alongside and filling up the rest of the space.   The tables have a metal top, and the chairs are made from an interesting ‘patchwork’ stitched-look brown leather.  Six kitchen staff, including Chef Luke, do their thing in the tiny preparation space, and another two work along the shelving unit – not once did I hear anything drop nor any cross word spoken, with all of us so close by.   Chef Luke seems a very relaxed kind of guy, and his asset in the business no doubt is his wife Sandalene, who is helping him run the restaurant.  She is the link to chef Luke and his kitchen, with three red-shirted waitresses, and also is completely relaxed, friendly and welcoming.   Sandalene met Luke at the Bali Sugar restaurant in London, and he is the one who brought her back to South Africa, not the other way round, she laughed.   The waitresses were sweet, and all but one stretched in front of us in replacing cutlery for new courses to come.  Otherwise they were perfect.

I loved the black slate-look ceramics used by The Test Kitchen, made by the nearby pottery Imizo to the design of Chef Luke, and everything is brought to the tables on this ceramicware.  Good quality silverware and glassware, as well as material serviettes, is on the table.  The surprise centrepiece is also made by Imizo – a ceramic 6-egg box with two ‘eggs’, one for salt and the other for pepper!   So clever!   This is the only design indulgence.

The menus are printed on a cream board, one for the eight-course Gourmand menu, and the other offers the three- or five-course options, while a third page contains the winelist.   The menu recommends a wine per course.   Three courses cost R345, five courses R440 (R600 with a wine per course), and eight courses cost R550/R750.   Before we could even choose the number of courses or which to have, an amuse bouche arrived at the table, a tempura sushi roll with shitake mushroom and ginger centre, served with a miso sauce.  I recall eating something similar at The Test Kitchen launch function, but it was not as beautifully presented that night as it was for our dinner.   We ordered the only sparkling wine by the glass on the winelist, which was the Jacques Bruere Blanc (R45 per glass/R195 per bottle) made by Bon Courage in Robertson.   A slate plate of bread and butter was brought to the table too.   While I do not want to do The Test Kitchen out of business, it is advisable to order the three-course menu, as there are so many surprise extras arriving at the table that it is almost impossible to eat them all.  

The second surprise amuse bouche was one of the starter options, being the “beetroot mousse, slow cooked baby beets, lemon and thyme pure (sic), horseradish and mixed nut crumble, fennel confit, puff shards”, served with a parmesan crisp, a lovely pink/red contrast to Chef Luke’s black bowl.   Then the first starter was served, my choice having been the foie gras served with rosemary streussel, thinly sliced chestnuts, and a quail egg salad drizzled with truffle oil on the side, this starter carrying a R50 surcharge.  The foie gras was presented as a long two-tone band across the plate, served with the thinnest round toasted slice of wholewheat bread.   My partner had the Beef Tataki, which we had tasted at Bistro Sixteen82 for the first time.  The Test Kitchen’s is less marinated, less moist, but still was excellent.   The highlight of the evening for me was the apple sorbet dessert, which chef Luke offered us as a complimentary palate cleanser, with fresh finely chopped apples, apple sorbet, gin and tonic jelly and shiso cress, ice cold, one of the most refreshing and definitely the most unusual cleansers I have ever tasted.  It was served in an ostrich egg-looking ceramic holder made by Imizo as well, and the lid is taken off when served. 

The main course choice of my partner was Chalmar beef fillet, the most tender beef I have tasted in a long time, served with milk stout risotto and black pepper ‘café au lait’ (a cream and meat sauce, we were told), with crunchy asparagus under the steak.   My kingklip was served with a carrot and ginger emulsion, giving the dish a strong white and orange visual contrast on the black bowl, and with it was served a rock shrimp and yuzu (Japanese lemon juice, we were told) salsa with sushi rice.   The kingklip was heavenly, but the sauce was too salty for my taste.   No fish knife was served with the kingklip.    Then we shared a cheese plate of gorgonzola and La Petite France camembert, served with peach chutney and toasted baguette slices, which were so hard that one heard each bite and one feared for one’s teeth, and was decorated with aloe flowers.    For dessert we were persuaded to try the lemon tart with nectarine sorbet, bits of summer berries and rhubarb, a large portion after all the lovely tastes preceding it, and a refreshing end to a wonderful food feast. 

The winelist is divided into varieties, without vintages nor region of origin specified.   Very few wines by the glass are offered, and certainly not for Shiraz.   But then one can order a glass of wine per course.  Pol Roger is the only champagne offered, at R950, while MCC sparkling wines available are Silverthorne The Green Man and The Genie (both at R300), and Allee Bleue Brut Rosé (R225).   Sauvignon Blancs start at R105 for Kleine Zalze, and peak at R210 for the Kleine Zalze Family Reserve.   Shiraz options start at R190 for Kleinood Tamboerskloof, up to R455 for Luddite.

I asked Chef Luke after dinner why he had chosen the name, and he said that it gives him flexibility to develop in any direction, and to innovate.  He already has some new dishes up his sleeve, which he will roll out after the Christmas break.   The menu at The Test Kitchen has so many nuances, and the descriptions on the menu do not do justice to all the dishes and their ingredients.  I would recommend sitting at the kitchen counter, so that one can chat to Chef Luke and his staff to get direct input and explanation as to what is in each heavenly dish one is eating.   In ordering a three-course tasting meal, we had two surprise amuse bouches, the apple palate cleanser and the shared cheese dish as extras, making it a 7 course meal in fact.  I do not know how anyone can cope ordering a 5-course or 8-course meal at The Test Kitchen.   I could not help think of the parallels with Aubergine Restaurant, which I had visited recently, which has a similar price for a 3-course meal, and also has chef’s extras, but I found chef Luke’s dishes to be far more tasty and unique.   Chef Luke lost out on a Eat Out Top 10 ranking this year, for starting his new restaurant, but he will without a doubt be in the 2011 Eat Out Top 10 line-up! 

The Test Kitchen by Luke Dale-Roberts, The Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock, Cape Town.   Tel (021) 447-2337  www.thetestkitchen.co.za.  (The website lists all suppliers used in setting up the restaurant, background to Luke Dale-Roberts, and the menu.  There is no Image Gallery to show off the beautiful dishes).  Open Tuesday – Saturday lunch and dinner.  The lunch menu is simpler and less expensive.   It is advisable to book well ahead.

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