When you eat out a lot and are trying not to be a twat about it, there is only one real defining line between a good meal and a great meal. A good meal makes you happy, but a great meal makes you bop up and down in your chair with happiness and wonder.
It doesn’t happen very often, but when someone gets a flavour balance so right you have to resist the urge to squeal... all of a sudden you realise what many of the ‘good’ meals in your past were trying to achieve.
At The Test Kitchen, Luke-Dale Roberts not only made me do my chair dance of delight at least 8 times while sampling 10 courses, but by choosing such a small open plan venue, so dominated by his kitchen, he somehow made my date and I feel part of his art.
We got to watch Luke himself plate up all our dishes, a meter away from our table. (And believe me, watching him grate halva over your pork belly is pretty sexy).We watched a surly Tank Girl whip up sublime sauces, while occasionally swearing quietly enough not to alert the German tourists sitting 20cm from her station. Another chef, responsible for many gorgeous pans of sizzling meatiness being thrust at Luke as he sauced and garnished plate after plate, had an elbow graze which suggested a recent bike tumble and a slightly inflamed itchy bite on his forearm.
I’ll never be able to use the word ‘intimate’ in a restaurant review again.
For dinner at The Test Kitchen, you can choose between a 3, 5 or 7 course meal. We went with 5 courses, and shared each dish, as well as opting for the wine pairing option, which upped the cost from R440 per person to R600.
There’s a little wait between courses, but I really liked that because that’s when we got our dinner conversation in. When eating food this incredible, my partner Andreas and I are rarely capable of more than guppy noises and affirming little hand gestures.
We started with trout tartare, plated delicately with green apple, lime, crème fraiche and miso-cured aubergine, as well as a plate of quail done 3 ways with langoustine and a liquorice jus, corn and ginger emulsion and lime gremolata.
Yup. That was simply the first of 5 courses.
Scallops with broad bean and pea puree, beef tataki, linefish with a carrot and ginger emulsion (‘best sauce EVER’ proclaimed Andreas), pork belly with soy roasted sweet potatoes, duck breast with mineloa glaçage , lamb fillets with a beetroot and Jagermeister jus (‘No, no... THIS is the best sauce ever!’ burbled Andreas) and a Chalmar beef fillet and milk stout risotto... readers? We were broken but happy people at this point. (Actually, I was a little pissed off. I’ve made Andreas hundreds of risottos, but just one from The Test Kitchen and his eyes go all misty, the bastard.)
We ended with a lemon tart, a little belt unbuckling and I had to wrestle a plate from the waiter so that I could scoop up the very last dregs of sauce that completed my favourite meal of the year.
If you can afford one serious night out in Cape Town this season... this is it. I promise.
The Test Kitchen was reviewed by Sam Wilson, follow her on twitter.