In May, earlier this year, the world sat up and took notice when Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’s The Test Kitchen was given the Cacao Barry One To Watch Award at The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards, held in London.
Those managing to secure a table in the restaurant or a (desirable) seat at the kitchen counter will understand exactly what all the fuss is about.
And what they should be indulging in, is the Gourmand Menu. This is where you see Luke Dale-Roberts at his best with an ever-changing culmination of what happens when an extraordinary talented chef gives his imagination free reign.
This menu is about how far one can go in terms of flavour and where each dish is a conceptual culinary masterpiece.
Luke Dale-Roberts not only wants you to eat, he also wants you to think.
This year, Luke wanted to do something completely different, so, he looked closer to home for inspiration. To Africa.
To African produce, to African customs.
Pigs head and blue cheese, it reads on the menu. A bit harsh, some would say, couldn’t he have softened the name? Just a little bit? But Luke chose the name deliberately, he likes the controversy, the likes the slight shock element of showing diners the entire (cooked) pig’s head before serving them a delicious, beautifully plated dish of pork cheek.
The dish Flash cured Blesbok, springbok parfait, eland marrow and morels is served with a sprig of wild rosemary, and a sun-bleached bone on the black plate.
It makes you think about meat, its origins, what the animal eats, and how you eat it. Eating this dish is a cerebral experience as well as a gustatory one.
According to Luke, he wanted this dish to be primeval. ‘It needed to be about the animal. This dish is about honouring what you eat.’
There is a splendid rhythm to the menu, the likes of a light, subtle Pan fried line fish, charred spring onion and fennel salad, roasted fish velouté is followed by a rich ‘Slow & fast’ duck.
Luke Dale-Roberts is a showman. An unashamed showman. He likes to impress but he holds fast to three ideals. Originality. Respect. Perfection.
His latest Gourmand Menu embodies all of that. And then some.
So who does Luke Dale-Roberts entrust The Test Kitchen to when he’s away, or when his head is elsewhere? The person who shares his passion for originality, respect and perfection?
The answer is the charming, 26 year-old Ivor Jones who has worked alongside him for 7 years, since the day, Jones, stepped fresh out of chef’s schoo.
Recently promoted to Head Chef of The Test Kitchen, Ivor is tasked with running the show and keeping tight control of the kitchen. He is also Luke’s partner in creativity.
Like for all great chefs, food is an obsession for Jones. After a hard 12-hour shift in the kitchen, he is still compelled to research a culinary challenge into the early hours of the morning.
According to Ivor, ‘Luke and I play off each other’s creativity. He’ll come up with a brilliant idea, and then I’ll be his do-man. I’ll figure things out.’
And Luke values Ivor’s originality, his talent, his disciplined approach to his work and his lack of arrogance.
The grill and the sauce section, often regarded as the most difficult stations in a restaurant kitchen is where Ivor loves to be.
‘I like it because it is hard, because it is challenging. I still get nervous in the kitchen but I regard that as a good thing.'
Because, like his mentor Luke Dale-Roberts, Ivor Jones will always keep on pushing himself, will always strive for perfection.