Tag Archives | luke dale roberts

2015. Best of.

There is a lot to look forward to for 2016. Young, new owners that have bought Woodlands Eatery and will be stamping their own mark on it. Jason and Brigitte Lilley (of Jason Bakery fame) branching out with a second concept store. A new addition to the Shortmarket Street makeover/facelift/upliftment. And yes, naturally, I am pumped about Ash Heeger opening her jam inside our newly-renovated premises. She is a huge talent and we are lucky to have her. Before we get there, I have taken a look back at some stand-outs of 2015. I have limited these to Cape Town (with one exception), mainly because I didn’t really get to the winelands much at all over the past 12 months. And I definitely didn’t get to Jozi. I have ignored fine dining. I did that because…well because I just don’t like it. Have a read. And let’s try and keep the comments section civil…

Best breakthrough restaurant:

Bronze: Sexy Foods

When a butcher votes a vegetarian restaurant as one of his best of the year, you should pay attention. I will admit, I was VERY skeptical about this one. I didn’t like the name (I still don’t) and I wasn’t crazy about the decor. But I was intrigued. Organic vegetables, with an emphasis on sprouts. That’s a punchline, not a business model. Turns out it’s actually a pretty inspirational business model. On my first trip I was greeted with a menu listing ingredients I had mostly never heard of, combined in ways I would definitely not have thought of. But what hit me when I got around to eating was that everything was oddly delicious. Every dish had been skilfully plated and those whacky ingredients had been used sparingly and with excellent balance. There is a remarkable story behind this brand, and its owner, and I encourage you to go in order to hear it. Go with an open mind and be willing to hear things like “we want you to have the patience of a great tree.” They might also tell you to be “a radiant blue monkey”. Do not laugh. Okay, laugh a little. But do not leave. These guys are hippies but they are unashamedly hippies. It’s infectious. A whacky bunch serving nutritious food that just happens to taste sensational, this is undeniably interesting and it deserves to be celebrated for its willingness to be different.

Silver: The General Store.

Fresh ingredients, prepped and cooked on the day? Check. Good coffee? Yessir. (Rosetta). Attention to detail? You bet. Is the owner on site? Of course.  Throw in the fact that after you’ve enjoyed your meal you can leave with anything ranging from placemats to lemonade to a massive frozen lasagne and we are talking about a place worth going to. The General Store wins best brunch but it could easily win best lunch too. Choose from a host of salads, enjoy them in one of the coolest hole-in-the-wall spaces you’re likely to see, or load up a take away container. It’s hard not to compare this style of food to Ottolenghi. So I will. Guys, it’s like Ottolenghi. 

Gold: The Hog House Brewery.

Opening a BBQ-themed restaurant is risky. Doing it in an industrial park is riskier. Doing it in an industrial park in Ndabeni is basically career suicide. Somehow, PJ Vadas has made it work. It might have something to do with the enormous amount of research he did on smoking meat. It might have something to do with the crack squad team he assembled. It might have something to do with the attention to detail within the space. I don’t really care. The end result is a masterclass in unpretentious food, escalated to a level that still feels like an experience. The beer being brewed on site is excellent (the porter being particularly impressive) and this, coupled with the recent addition of Hog House Cafe on Spier’s premises, has catapulted this start-up to a serious player in the space of 12 months.

Honourable mention: Outrage of Modesty

Yeah, I know. It’s not a restaurant. But there is a small amount of food on offer and, well, this is my page so just deal with it. Serving cocktails that are north of R80 was always going to be a push. Doing it through a reservation system was also pretty ballsy. But the same team that brought you The House of Machines has nailed it again. A clean, minimalist bar with absolutely zero branding is the first change you’ll notice. (Actually, you won’t notice; that’s the point). The second thing you might pick up on (or not?) is each cocktail being vague about what spirit is actually in there. That’s not a cagey tactic so that they can sneak some KWV in there while you’re not looking. That’s also deliberate. The idea here is that people just choose flavours they enjoy. Don’t overthink it. Trust the professionals to be the professionals. Trust the fact that the menu has been meticulously developed. Because it has. I love this place for the courage in their actions. Pushing boundaries and forcing people to re-examine their ideas of cocktails and the environment they’re supposed to be drinking them in.

Underrated restaurant of the year: 

Bronze: The Culture Club.

This should ruffle a few feathers. I can almost feel the collective eye roll from here. I mean, The Culture Club? That place that sells cheese? Yes. That place. “But how? They aren’t even a restaurant!” They are, in fact. Considering the process(es) that are involved with cheese making, I feel that a small cafe that proudly puts the end products on a pedestal deserves recognition. On top of making their own, the owners source the best – and I do mean THE BEST – cheese in the country. And some from further afield. If you like produce-driven menus and seasonality you will like this place. If you like fermented foods, you will like this place. It does have toasted cheeses, yes, (and they are magnificent) but it is also a place to enjoy duck rillettes on toast. Or a pulled lamb shoulder mixed into a salad with pomegranates. Or a mac ‘n cheese. Or a pulled pork sandwich.

Silver: A Tavola.

Call me old fashioned, but every now and then there’s something I like about sitting at a table with a white table cloth and a thick red carpet. I like an interesting wine list. I like having internal Goodfellas dialogues. I like attentive, friendly service. And I really like Italian food, done well. This place has all of that. Yes, when you arrive the average age of the room will drop to about 82. Just go with it. You won’t have a view. You won’t have fancy stemware and unusual cocktails. But sometimes you just want to eat a bowl of pasta.

Gold: The Table at de Meye

The fact that this, for me, is the most underrated restaurant in the Cape, is important. Important because it is, in fact, highly rated. Just not highly enough. It should be winning awards every year on platforms with a much bigger audience than this. Owners Luke and Jess are the perfect hosts and form the ultimate partnership, albeit one that is slightly quirky. Their casual approach absolutely adds to the entire experience and I have often described this restaurant as “a place that feels like you are just going to a friend’s house for lunch”. (A friend that can wipe the floor with more “illustrious” chefs.) The Table is more committed to sourcing ethically-reared, seasonal and sustainable produce than any of the more celebrated restaurants on our eating scene and the way Jess cooks and presents the end dish is unique, beautiful and highly memorable. Throw in Luke’s front of house ability and the fact that you literally sit at tables beneath trees on a huge lawn and this is a very special place. The catch? It’s only open on the weekends. Book in advance and take a drive. Eat too much. Drink too much. Lie on the lawn.

Comeback restaurant of the year: 

Clarke’s

A few years ago I Tweeted about the Clarke’s burger. At the time people were calling it the best in town. I ate it. It tasted like a vetkoek. It was so greasy I actually just wanted to go home and take a shower. One or two equally underwhelming meals led me to write this iconic spot off as a food option. I continued to go there, but mainly for the Bloody Mary and the Friday beers. Last year, something happened. Something changed. I braved the burger again and it was brilliant. A new bun, a different grind and an altogether knock out hamburger. I went back for lunch the next day and tried a salad. A beautiful bowl of fresh and balanced ingredients floored me. I was pleasantly surprised and washed it down with some pineapple-infused kefir water, which was another sign of the work being done behind the scenes. Maybe the ultimate tipping point came when my wife and I settled in on a random weekday and decided to try the R10 oysters. Salty, briny, perfectly sized. And tasty. Served straight up with Tabasco, lemon juice and a mignonette, these might be the single greatest food discovery of 2015. I mean, TEN RAND? Are you kidding me? I tried everything at Clarke’s last year. Saturday brunches, Sunday breakfasts, weekday lunches, boozy dinners, quick coffee breaks. They nailed it all. I’m not saying Clarke’s ever became unpopular (it pumps) but it has won me back in a massive way.

Restaurant of The Year:

Bronze: Hallelujah

The lobster rolls are nice. The pickled vegetables are nice. But the duck tacos are better than nice. On a recent visit, where I was introduced to a new dish built around the delicate flavours of angelfish and shaved coconut, I really sat up and took notice. This place is getting more and more ambitious. Pickled octopus is now on there too (served with soba noodles), along with the already popular classics. If you want a place to get some delicious, fun and consistently good food this is it. Choose from a small but well-curated wine list or enjoy it all with an ice cold beer. Hallelujah remains a restaurant that I would gladly go to for an anniversary dinner, a boozy dinner with mates, or to celebrate the big deal you’ve been working on for months. Arrive in slops. Arrive in sneakers. Arrive in a bowtie. They will not care. Long live the flamingo.

(FYI: this is also winner of Best Website by a country mile)

Silver: Pot Luck Club

Two years ago if a friend from out of town was visiting, I would take them to The Pot Luck Club. Today, nothing has changed. I still do. The reasons have changed, however. Slightly. Back then I was going for the “wowness”. The crazy views. The open-plan kitchen. The theatre of certain dishes. The all-out vibe of the place. If I’m honest – and I mean really honest – I think there was a hint of style over substance. The food was good but it wasn’t amazing. Today it is amazing. It is flat-out delicious food which showcases interesting and unusual techniques. I would eat this food in the basement of an office park. In Joburg. Oh, it still has those views by the way. They aren’t going anywhere.

Gold: Chef’s Warehouse

By now, you’re probably halfway through compiling a reply to this post. It could disagree with plenty of things I’ve had to say here. In fact, it should. I accept that. These are just normal opinions from a normal dude. One thing I won’t accept easily is an argument against Chef’s Warehouse cooking the tastiest food in the city. Bite-for-bite, mouthful-for-mouthful I just haven’t found anything better. And if you tell me you have, I’m going to have a hard time accepting that. I’m not the only one either. Ask a decent chef in this town where he/she eats on their day off and 9 out of 10 will say Chef’s Warehouse. There are a lot of cool things happening in 2016 but this tiny restaurant remains the benchmark.

Most influential person of the year:

Luke Dale-Roberts.

Look guys, I’d like to say there’s a new face dominating the scene. There isn’t. Just the same face, kicking arse and constantly reinventing his offerings. Test Kitchen is the best fine dining restaurant in the country. That’s a fact. Pot Luck Club is cooking the best food it ever has. That’s a fact. The new baby, Naturalis, is set to add something different to the stable and breathe some fresh air into The Biscuit Mill. Throw in a pop-up at The Saxon, plans for a Shortmarket Street concept and one or two other projects that are already doing the rounds in the rumour mill and it’s hard to even nominate a local chef with as much pulling power. When Luke talks, people listen.

Chef of the year:

Wes Randles.

I know I said there wasn’t a new face dominating the scene. But there could be. Wes Randles will be in charge of the new Shortmarket project and I expect big things. At Pot Luck Club, Wes has emerged from his mentor’s (fairly daunting) shadow and is cooking his own style of food with so much confidence and authority and technique that it is now a serious restaurant that could draw the crowds even without the jaw-dropping views. With recent Eat Out accolades, Wes has put Pot Luck Club in the same category as the country’s most serious restaurants. And he is done it by not taking things too seriously. The past year saw some obvious growth in the offering at Pot Luck, as well as the guy doing the cooking. He has the momentum and 2016 should be another big year.

That’s it. Some highlights of the past 12 months. I’m sure you have some of your own. Let’s have a chat?

Go forth and eat,

Andy.

 

 

 

 

. . . . . . . . .

Food by others | Comments { 2 }

Pot Luck Club brunch

 

This is not a restaurant review. Me telling you that The Pot Luck Club is awesome would be a bit like Barry Ronge telling you to go watch Wolf of Wall Street. (Except that I’m not old, grey and – let’s face it – a little bit fruity.) This post is more to tell you how you should plan your next visit to one of Cape Town’s best.

Two words:

Sunday

brunch.

I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to fully appreciating Sundays. I’m not sure if it’s because I work most Saturdays nowadays, but lately I am very much on board with Sundays. They are my new Fridays. Fact: there is not a nightclub or a bar in Cape Town that can compare to a boozy lunch. And Sundays are the day for these affairs. Up until very recently this would mean The Queen and I heading out to the winelands. Places like Camphors, The Table at De Meye, Overture, Jordan etc. were all ticked off. Bread & Wine was hit. And hit often. La Motte. Maison. Delaire Graff. These are all likely candidates. And – don’t get me wrong – they are all brilliant. But I’m here to tell you that arguably the best venue for a Sunday brunch/lunch is sitting in the heart of Woodstock. Waiting for you. Let me break it down for you: we live in one of the greatest cities in the world. That’s not an overstatement. Cape Town was voted number 1 in a New York Times piece, “52 Places to go in 2014″. The Guardian also released a list of “International Hotspots” and, again, Cape Town came in at Number 1. Throw in the fact that we are hosting the World Design Capital and we are talking about a world-class city. But maybe that’s another post entirely for another day entirely.

Back to Pot Luck Club. The reason I love going there on a Sunday is because it’s light. The 360 degree views that are so special during dinner at the same venue are – arguably – even cooler at 11am on a Sunday morning. Views of the mountain. Views of the harbour. But, more importantly, views of the actual city. The city we love. It’s gritty and real and brilliant. When you sit in Pot Luck Club during the light of day you can’t help but feel proud to be Capetonian. Anyway, back to the food.

R350 gets you an absolute feast. Seriously. Eggs Arnold Bennett, smoked salmon wrapped around sour cream and served on rye, mushrooms on toast, oysters with perfect seasonings, popcorn milkshakes, Korean BBQ chicken, fish tacos, bowls of churros, smoked beef fillet with cafe au lait sauce. It’s a ton of food. Throw in the fact that for R150 more you get bottomless (yes, bottomless) bubbly and you’ll understand the levels of excitement we’re dealing with here. R500 a head for a meal like this is serious value. Oh, did I mention the DIY Bloody Mary Station? I didn’t? Forgive me. Get your head around a Consol jar packed with your choice of bacon, pepper or jalapeno-infused vodka. Throw in chorizo and huge sticks of celery. Crispy bacon stirrers. Stuffed olives. Sriracha sauce. It’s mental.

Luke Dale-Roberts is the one you’ll see in the magazines, but chef Wesley Randles is very much the man in charge here. He sticks to his guns of walking guests through sweet, salty, sour, bitter and Umami experiences. And he does it so, so well. The food is good but the experience is even better. The ideas are fresh and the service is spot on. Keep this one in mind for your next Sunday treat. Celebrate the city by staying in the city.

Go forth and eat,

Andy

. . .

Food by others | Comments { 0 }

Pot Luck Club x Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants

At FFMM we’ve been flattered to have received a few proposals from chefs looking to collaborate with pop-up style restaurants/concepts in our store. Naturally, we’ve been hesitant. Who runs the thing? Who staffs it? Where do we prep? How is point of sale organised? What is a fair split of profits? Blah blah blah. On top of that, we love our brand and are fiercely protective about who we would want to let in our doors. In short, we’ve come up with quite a few reasons NOT to do a pop-up.

But when Luke Dale-Roberts called us up to chat about a joint venture with Pot Luck Club I forgot about technicalities. He described a night of “bohemian madness” with no reservations, no pre-bought tickets and a first-come, first-served menu. Three dishes, 30 kg of meat and some barrel drums full of flames. That’s it.

Wesley Randles will be the man in charge and will be bringing some of his team to help out. With a loose theme of organised chaos expected, Simon Widdison will hopefully be bringing his calming influence to the party, as we hit the street for some fun times. The Baby-faced Dane and The Foodie have come up with some good wine pairings for the night and you can bet your ass we’ll have some cold beer too.

Go forth and eat,

Andy

 

. . .

Food By Me, Food by others | Comments { 0 }

The Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club

 

After a recent sample of the new winter tasting menu at The Test Kitchen I sent a fairly innocent Tweet announcing how much I had enjoyed it. I had eaten at the revamped The Tasting Room in Franschhoek two weeks prior to that and the Tweet basically said something along the lines of both meals being on par with anything I have experienced abroad. A fairly cynical response came back from someone with the opinion that my meals were good because “both chefs are foreign”.

Bullshit.

For me, the success of a top kitchen has to do with a lot of people. Not just the chef with his/her name on the door. There are plenty of sets of hands involved in getting a finished dish to the table. Apparently Luke agreed, because he invited me for a coffee to chat a bit further about the whole thing.

“Cape Town can compete with most cities in the world,” is the way he sums it up. “There is plenty of talent if you know where to look. And I’m not just talking food. Art, design – this place has got it all.” When I press him further to comment on the theory that young chefs coming out of catering colleges don’t have the loyalty to stick around and earn their stripes he says simply that it “depends on the person. It’s like any industry.”

The Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club are both as good examples of this as you’re going to get. Ivor (head chef at Test Kitchen) has been with Luke for more than seven years. In other words, they’ve been sharing a kitchen since La Colombe days. Luke is full of praise for Wesley too (who heads up Pot Luck Club) and pays him the ultimate compliment by telling me that he “reminds me of myself at that age.” According to Luke both guys are always looking to push harder and “re-invent the wheel.” Something that is becoming harder and harder to do in the food scene.

The quality of the experience at both restaurants rests heavily on the service too. Which is awesome. Simon handles The Test Kitchen. Markus handles Pot Luck Club. Both nail it. They do this by giving the diner  “the choice of explanation.” In other words, if you really want a full definition of each course – and why it pairs with wine – of course you can have it. If you just want your food served quickly with a good smile and a full glass you can get that too.

Onto the winter menu. That’s why I was there in the first place after all. My overriding impression of the dinner was the ability to pack all those seasonal ingredients in without making it heavy. Beetroot, turnip, butternut, sweet potato, various mushrooms. They’re all there. I want to know how he manages to pull off an 11-course affair without rolling people out the front door. “Yeah, that was a huge challenge. But if you look closely you’ll see only one course has cream. And there’s hardly any starch. You won’t find things like a thick heavy jus either.” (Ironically the dish I enjoyed least was the “starchy” option where rice balls made an appearance)

The entire menu has strong Asian influences with ingredients, but with techniques too. A chawanmushi is basically an Asian custard and it makes an appearance in both savoury and sweet forms. A highlight to watch out for is the best palate cleanser I’ve seen in South Africa. I don’t want to give too much away but it involves: sorbet, a branch, homemade bitters and a spritzer bottle. It’s pretty neat.  Another dish involves a smoke machine and glass bulbs for presentation, while yet another utilises a test tube to hold an impossibly good sauce. In other words, there’s a lot more theatre than I can remember previously. Luke agrees and when I ask him the challenge of pulling it off without being cheesy he says the skill is to do it absolutely perfectly. “You can make the odd mistake when you’re cooking but when you do it with dishes like that you end up looking like a wanker.” Needless to say, Ivor was flawless with these. (As he was with the entire service). A notable touch is apple used as a way to introduce acidity where needed. I first saw this in a trout dish that Luke has had on previous menus and it is carried through in the winter version. It is pure class.

The wine pairings are refreshing too. I say wine pairings, but quite a few of them aren’t wine at all. “We didn’t want too many grapes,” is the seemingly obvious explanation I get. Instead, infused sake pops up more than once. And it’s superb.

When the coffee runs dry, we take a walk across the road to his bakery. Here, breads are produced from scratch daily for the restaurant. From there it’s off to the site of the new Pot Luck Club. Yup, I said new site. The Test Kitchen is expanding towards the end of the year, as Pot Luck Club re-opens atop the old seven-storey silo within The Biscuit Mill. With views of the mountain, Stellenbosch and the harbour I’m most excited by the view of the adjacent traintrack. There’s something gritty and grungy about this place. It feels raw. It feels honest. It feels…well…really, really cool. With more than 80 seats, a bar and an innovative layout allowing interaction with the chefs one thing is clear: if you think the current restaurants are good,
you ain’t seen nothing yet. In other words, they’re flying. It must be because Luke is from overseas. Pffft.

. . .

Food by others | Comments { 0 }