05 June 2012 by Sarah Came

International recognition for South African restaurants

Two South African restaurants have been listed as among the top 100 restaurants in the world.

Courtesy of The Test Kitchen
Margot Janse. Courtesy of The Tasting Room

This year, 2 South African restaurants earned a place on the prestigious S Pellegrino & Acqua Panna list of the 100 best restaurants in the world. The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek is on the list for the 8th year running, while The Test Kitchen in Cape Town makes its name as a new entry.

When she began working at The Tasting Room as sous-chef in 1995, Margot Janse had not planned on running the kitchen in the then near future – but within six months the head chef at the time left, and she was asked to take over.

Janse tries to give diners an experience of South (and southern) Africa. At The Tasting Room, there is a quintessentially African 'storytelling' way of serving, and the dishes are created like stories rather than as additions and subtractions of flavours.

Janse says 'fine dining is about an experience', and at The Tasting Room she is able to provide that.

She tries to make guests comfortable, and doesn’t take herself too seriously. For example, a meal at The Tasting Room does not start with a bread basket, but with a miniature loaf of homemade bread in a sardine tin. This spirit of fun continues throughout the meal  – for example, diners no longer receive a menu ahead of eating. Instead, they are given the menu at the end of the meal as a memento

There is a quintessentially African ‘storytelling’ way of serving, and the dishes are created like stories rather than as additions and subtractions of flavours.

Janse says this creates expectations she has to fulfil. The guest doesn’t know what is coming next, so Janse has to make sure it is magnificent.

When asked if she has had any celebrity diners, Janse simply says, 'Everyone is equally important.'

Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen is excited about the restaurant’s ranking. He says it is good for him, the South African culinary scene and the country to have The Test Kitchen receive such recognition. Before The Test Kitchen, Dale-Roberts worked in a restaurant that ranked number 12 in the world on the S Pellegrino & Acqua Panna list, and he says for The Test Kitchen to have come in the top 100 this year is a huge achievement, considering it only opened in November 2010.

Luke Dale-Roberts. Courtesy of The Test Kitchen

When he opened The Test Kitchen, Dale-Roberts wanted to provide a creative space where a person could explore flavours and food in an edgy, urban environment.

He believes that going to his restaurant should be an adventure.

He wants to 'do something that makes [the diner] smile'. The combination of food, décor and service should all create an experience that the diner finds entertaining and exciting. And judging by The Test Kitchen’s rapid success, this has happened.

South Africa is known for its friendly people and hospitable cultures – and at The Test Kitchen and The Tasting Room the guest is welcomed home like a long-lost cousin.

Fine dining in these South African restaurants is not austere or aloof, but generous, fun and exciting.

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Written by Sarah Came

One of the unique dishes at The Tasting Room. Courtesy of The Tasting Room

Category: Food & Wine

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