Luke Dale-Roberts is South Africa’s most famous chef, who has been making waves way beyond his adopted home city of Cape Town for over a decade. He first rose to international stardom at La Colombe, where his unique fusion cooking style saw the restaurant climb to number 12 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
But it’s since launching his own restaurant, The Test Kitchen, in 2010 that the British-born chef’s career has really taken off. The Test Kitchen has won just about every award there is in South Africa, and internationally it is the only African restaurant to be featured in the World’s 50 Best.
But in Cape Town it’s not just The Test Kitchen that draws in the punters and Dale-Roberts’ second venture, The Pot Luck Club, has enjoyed equal perennial success. It first started in 2012 as an extension of The Test Kitchen serving up more casual dishes less fitting to the flagship’s tasting menu and more suitable for sharing. So popular was the concept that it quickly outgrew its initial home and soon relocated to an entirely new location within the same development, the Old Biscuit Mill.
Housed within a sensational loft space perched 18m high atop the Silo of the previously industrial site that is now a hipster hub of independent shops, galleries and restaurants, it’s one of Cape Town’s most spectacular dining rooms commanding breath-taking views of Table Mountain. Accessed via a private elevator, with a bar on the one end and an open kitchen complete with chef counter on the other, its design combines industrial and organic materials in a whimsical way that reflects the playfulness of the food.
The Pot Luck Club offers a menu of tapas-style dishes, which present Dale-Roberts’ eclectic cuisine of international flavours, ingredients and techniques in a more fun and unpretentious way than The Test Kitchen. It’s all about cocktails and sharing plates rather than wine flights and tasting menus.
That said under the guidance of head chef Wesley Randles, erstwhile sous chef of The Test Kitchen, the food offer has gradually been elevated to fine dining heights – something Dale-Roberts admits he plans to scale back on. “It’s not meant to be fancy,” he insists.
The menu is arranged according to the five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami; as well as sweet endings. In the name of research, we began with a round of signature cocktails – rooibos and pomegranate, and Thai green curry martinis – before signing ourselves over to Randles and his team.
Things kicked off with a salty dish: ciabatta made from masa (a Mexican corn flour dough, also used to make tortillas) served with chimichurri and burnt baba ghanoush. Rustic, simple and comforting, the warm, crusty, aromatic bread with its spicy-sweet and smoky accompaniments is a level above the average white bread and butter you usually get in Cape Town.
From the sour section we had yellowtail ceviche. Cape yellowtail is a seasonal fish from the Atlantic with a firm texture and a gamey taste. Marinated in jalapeno tiger’s milk (the lime juice giving the dish its underlying sour taste) and served with red quinoa and a corn crisp, it’s a beautiful and delicate dish that combines the flavours of Peru with one of South Africa’s best-loved fish, perfectly illustrating Dale-Roberts’ unique take on fusion cooking.
One of a series of umami dishes was a wonderful vegetarian course of rainbow carrots with house made goat’s milk ricotta. Randles turns the goat’s milk into a labneh with fresh lemon juice so that the curd splits from the whey. He then cooks the carrots in the whey with fresh honey comb, olive oil and thyme.
The carrots are finished on the kitchen’s open braai (barbeque), and rolled in roasted poppy seeds. They are served with tarragon oil, the goat labneh and salted roasted sunflower seed and honey comb crumble. Simple but full of flavour, earthy and subtly sweet, it was one of the unexpected highlights of the night and a dish I wouldn’t be surprised to find on a menu in California.
Also from the umami section and one of the Pot Luck Club’s signature dishes is smoked beef filet with black pepper and truffle café au lait. The beef is smoked with American oak barrels, while the sauce combines caramelised black pepper and truffle. It’s a dish so moreish – the beef so tender and smoky and the sauce so powerfully rich in umami – it will leave you cleaning your bowl.
From the sweet section came a dish of robata lamb (cured in sumac and lemon, then cooked sous vide for nine hours and finished on the open fire) served with walnut and date puree and white bean tabbouleh with a coriander, mint and Amasi dressing. Again it’s a dish that deftly combines international flavours with a South African ingredient – Amasi being a fermented milk beverage that forms a nutritional staple for most native South Africans.
Onto desserts and the Pot Luck Club’s take on a lemon meringue pie reminded me of a dessert I’d had at the Test Kitchen two years prior: a “poached egg” comprising a yolk of lemon curd and a soft white meringue. It’s a light and refreshing, and cleverly constructed creation that sticks in the mind.
The front of house team at the Pot Luck Club is young, the service casual yet informed and slick and our waiter had the relaxed and friendly South African charm down to a tee.
The Pot Luck Club showcases Dale-Roberts’ very personal style of food in a more accessible light. The cooking is as bold and inventive as it is intelligent and skilful, confidently marrying imaginative flavour combinations that result in delicious and thrilling dishes. It’s world-class cooking in Cape Town.
The Pot Luck Club
Silo Top Floor, The Old Biscuit Mill
373 – 375 Albert Road Woodstock, Cape Town
This article was first published by The Staff Canteen.