I visited The Test Kitchen for the first time little more than a year ago (after making a reservation about six months in advance) and from the moment we sat down to our first taster, until we licked the last bit of dessert off our spoons, it was absolutely mindblowing.
They have pretty much been raking in the awards since they opened, claiming Restaurant of the Year at the Eat Out Awards since 2012 and being listed as 22nd on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. This year, however, I’ve been curious to see how they were planning to stay ahead of the pack. Many restaurants in South Africa have been pushing boundaries and coming up with magnificent, creative dishes.
But it seems they’ve just raised the bar even further. Now guests won’t just be treated to incredible gastronomy, but also to an entire sensorial experience that will transport them from one world to another.
The Test Kitchen has been reinvented with a new design consisting of a Dark Room and a Light Room. They will only take a maximum of 40 guests per evening (so good luck trying to get a table), making the entire experience more intimate and magical.
Why make the change?
According to Luke they had come to a junction. “It had been 6 years since we opened The Test Kitchen. The restaurant originally opened as a project to see how far I could take my food and it became a very busy restaurant serving 60-65 guests lunch and dinner 5 days a week. I wanted to bring it back to what it was originally meant to be. I wanted to refocus and reset the parameters of what we are doing.
I wanted to bring it back to what it was originally meant to be. I wanted to refocus and reset the parameters of what we are doing.
“My team and I can spend the whole day creating. I told them that we can only be the best that we can be if we analyse everything that we do. If your job is to peel onions or sweet potatoes then think about how you can peel them differently. And if everyone does that, if everyone takes responsibility for their own creativity, then we can grow.”
The Test Kitchen retains its signature ambiance but now the restaurant has been divided into two parts, the Dark Room and the Light Room.
Luke worked very closely with architect and designer Maurice Paliaga and his wife Sandalene, who designed and made all the furniture and curated all the soft furnishings, tableware, linen and carpets. Hannelie Coetzee’s striking Sibling Portrait 2016, a burnt wood gravure, dominates the wooden wall in the dark room while Egon Tania, working with Peter Forbes, created the jurassic metal pull down platforms that throw sinister shadows on the wood clad walls.
The Dark Room is a luxuriously dark space where guests will gather in an intimate setting to share plates of beautiful finger food, indulge in cocktails and tuck into the first 7 courses of the tasting menu.
The space has been designed in such a way that guests feel a distinct change of pace from the outside world. The idea is to create an atmosphere inspiring you to lower your voice, breathe deeply and focus on food and conversation. It is this darkened space that creates a soft landing for the diner in preparation for the transition into the Light Room.
The idea is to create an atmosphere inspiring you to lower your voice, breathe deeply and focus on food and conversation
The Light Room is airier, poised and more formal. For the first time there are tablecloths on the tables that create a sense of occasion. Rose Geranium infused water is served with rose petal ice cubes upon entering to create a division between the edgier Dark Room and the light floral freshness of the Light Room. Here where guests will enjoy the remainder of the beautifully plated tasting menu, presented in a more formal setting.
Luke jokes that they have all become ‘Tweezer Chefs’ (think of George Calombaris in Masterchef Australia) because of the detail and dedication required of each dish. Each plate needs to have its own style; needs to stand alone; needs to visually reflect the flavours on the plate. The robustness of sweet bread, pine smokes pancetta, pine nut milk and ox heart stuffing needs to contrast visually with the lightness of the next dish of chamomile ice cream, cardamom and brown butter sponge with toasted sunflower seeds.
Luke has said that the revised Test Kitchen makes him happy. And he has every reason to be. “I’m cooking more than I’ve ever cooked before and I feel like I’m indulging my first love again.” And it shows. On every plate in every dark corner and in every ray of light.
Personally I can’t wait to experience it all again.
The Tasting Menus range between R1600 and R2650, with options to try the dishes alone, or paired with local wines or with international wines. The price also includes cocktails, a glass of MCC, coffee and after-dinner brandy. Trust me, it is well worth the spend.
For more, head over to thetestkitchen.co.za