“The day Woodstock officially became Cape Town’s hottest district can be dated to Nov. 24, 2010 – when Luke Dale-Roberts opened The Test Kitchen there.”
– Alex Perry, Time Magazine
THE TEST KITCHEN has been reinvented. The new design consists of a Dark Room and a Light Room and is open only for dinners with a maximum of forty (40) guests per evening. It’s more impressive and magical than anyone could have imagined.
Luke Dale-Roberts is not one to rest on his laurels. He is not lulled into complacency by the prestigious awards, both local and international, which are bestowed on him annually. Since The Test Kitchen opened in 2010 it has appeared on the Eat Out Top 10 every year (Restaurant of the Year 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) and in 2012 The Test Kitchen started making its way up the rankings of the San Pellegrino The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, culminating in a very respectable 22nd position earlier this year. Dale-Roberts is a perfectionist who primarily competes against himself, and if he is not entirely happy with something, he has the courage to change it.
So what was it that made him decide to change the format of The Test Kitchen?
According to Luke they had come to a junction. “It had been 6 years since we opened The Test Kitchen. The restaurant originally opened as a project to see how far I could take my food and it became a very busy restaurant serving 60-65 guests lunch and dinner 5 days a week. I wanted to bring it back to what it was originally meant to be. I wanted to refocus and reset the parameters of what we are doing.”
Luke comments further; “My team and I can spend the whole day creating. I told them that we can only be the best that we can be if we analyse everything that we do. If your job is to peel onions or sweet potatoes then think about how you can peel them differently. And if everyone does that, if everyone takes responsibility for their own creativity, then we can grow.”
Despite its reinvention The Test Kitchen is still recognisable although the main difference now, is that the restaurant is now divided into two parts, the Dark Room and the Light Room. The vision was Luke’s who worked very closely with architect and designer Maurice Paliaga, and his wife Sandalene who designed and made all the furniture and curated all the soft furnishings, tableware, linen and carpets. Hannelie Coetzee’s striking Sibling Portrait 2016 , a burnt wood gravure dominates the wooden wall in the dark room while Egon Tania, working with Peter Forbes, created the jurassic metal pull down platforms that throw sinister shadows on the wood clad walls.
The Dark Room is a luxuriously dark space. This is where guests huddle together, engage with one another and share plates of beautiful finger food. It is here where diners indulge in cocktails and the first 7 courses of the tasting menu. It is a mysteriously atmospheric place designed in such a way that guests feel the distinct change of pace from the outside world. It is here that you want to lower your voice, breathe deeply and focus on food and conversation. It is this darkened space that creates a soft landing for the diner in preparation for the transition into the Light Room.
The Light Room is airier and poised and more formal. For the first time there are tablecloths on the tables that create a sense of occasion. Rose Geranium infused water is served with rose petal ice cubes upon entering to create a division between the edgier Dark Room and the light floral freshness of the Light Room. It is here where guests will enjoy the remainder of the beautifully plated tasting menu in a more formal setting.
Luke jokes that they have all become ‘Tweezer Chefs’ because of the detail and dedication required of each dish. Each plate needs to have its own style; needs to stand alone; needs to visually reflect the flavours on the plate. The robustness of sweet bread, pine smokes pancetta, pine nut milk and ox heart stuffing needs to contrast visually with the lightness of the next dish of chamomile ice cream, cardamom and brown butter sponge with toasted sunflower seeds.
Each of the 21 courses of the tasting menu are plated perfection, each a taste sensation.
Luke has said that the revised Test Kitchen makes him happy. And he has every reason to be. “I’m cooking more than I’ve ever cooked before and I feel like I’m indulging my first love again.” And it shows. On every plate in every dark corner and in every ray of light. It shows.