It wouldn’t be too leftfield to label Cape Town the culinary capital of Africa. It has stiff competition, of course, but the rise of the dining scene here in recent years has catapulted the city into the limelight as one of the up-and-coming culinary destinations worldwide.
There’s something about the culture that has developed in the city that shows a serious foodie commitment. A whole host of trendy markets, original food trucks, plus a serious coffee culture and craft beer community all offer an array of foodie activities year round. If that’s the background, what has really drawn the world’s attention to Cape Town is something all the more prestigious.
Among a number of entries in the renowned San Pellegrino ‘World’s 50 Best’ restaurants coming from the Cape Town gourmet scene in recent years, the most notable is The Test Kitchen. Run by chef Luke Dale Roberts, the restaurant has real hype behind it.
Indeed, Dale Roberts was named the ‘One to Watch’ as part of the San Pellegrino ceremony in 2013. A native of Britain, it’s fair to say the chef’s culinary background has a degree of variety. Trained in Switzerland, the world’s premiere hospitality management destination, thereafter he had two spells in London, via a stint in Australia. Next came a five year tour of Asia, from Singapore to Seoul, before moving to South Africa.
He was first head chef at another of the restaurants casting a spotlight on Cape Town – La Colombe. In the same year it was named the twelfth best restaurant on the planet, Dale Roberts decided the time was right to open his own place.
The Test Kitchen, as the name might suggest, began as a lab to experiment with different flavours. Within a year, he had opened a more casual dining spot – Pot Luck – which now also has a popup in Verbier, Switzerland. It’s pretty clear what makes Dale Roberts tick.
“I’m all about flavour,” he told Fine Dining Lovers. “Test Kitchen is very conceptual, there’s a feeling, a story and a multi-sensory element to most dishes. Pot Luck is simpler but delicious. I keep experimenting with a dish until it’s perfect to me. I find myself losing the layers and getting more primal and natural with the dishes.”
His commitment to flavour isn’t hard to see when you dine at the restaurant. The World’s 50 Best highlight the ‘TK Concrete Ball’ as one of the finest dishes. A concrete ball is brought to the table, in which Mozambican langoustine is cooked, over burning star anise. It is then served with herbed Nicola potato and mussel salad, scallops, Spanish cucumber medley and champagne velouté. An eclectic mix of ingredients indeed, demanding “exceptional skill” which is achieved “with confidence and flair”.
And what of his previous posting at La Colombe? Head chef now is Scot Kerton, and the restaurant has maintained its quality. With a commitment to the freshest in-season ingredients, Kerton has stamped his own authority on the inventive menu.
Those two aren’t the only restaurants causing a bit of a stir around Cape Town, though. The Roundhouse offers rather a fine setting for fine dining. It’s set on a UNESCO World Heritage site, meaning the location is just as characterful as the innovative cuisine.
A word on the wine too. South African vino is now revered the world over. With good reason. The climate of the Cape matches that of a Mediterranean country – providing for perfect wine-making conditions. That, combined with the varied soils of the region, ensure the artful vintner is able to produce excellent results.
The best wines can be found in the Franschhoek and Stellenbosch regions. The towns were founded by Huguenot settlers from France in the late seventeenth century, quickly becoming the centre of the country’s winemaking industry. Franschhoek, as well as its wonderful wine, features the revered Le Quartier Français, where chef Margot Janse creates unique modern African cuisine to match the fine wines.
With so much great cuisine to indulge in, the only issue can be getting a reservation. The Test Kitchen is often booked out weeks in advance. The CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy, is hardly surprised. “As the original port city in South Africa we have been influenced by food and flavour for many years. Today this has culminated in an extraordinary food scene.”