27 July 2014 by Denise Slabbert

Photo essay: The Test Kitchen, Cape Town

Luke Dale-Roberts is one of South Africa’s top chefs. His restaurant, The Test Kitchen, was recently voted 48th best restaurant in the world on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Here we celebrate his creativity in mouth-watering visuals.

Luke-Dale Roberts against a backdrop of his adopted home: Cape Town. Image courtesy of The Test Kitchen

Heston Blumenthal, move right over – when it comes to experimental chefs with 'rock star' status, Luke Dale-Roberts is one to watch.

An inspired Test Kitchen creation: frozen cashew and cinnamon parfait, pistachio butter and olive cake with a saffron lassi foam, and pineapple tarte tatin. Image courtesy of The Test Kitchen

South Africa has claimed Dale-Roberts as one of its own. The Britain-born celebrity chef may have trained in the United Kingdom and Switzerland before earning his stripes in the kitchens of Asia (Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines), but in 2006 he made Cape Town his home. 

He is one of the Mother City's favourite creative sons and has won loads of awards and accolades over the years, including the most recent: his Woodstock restaurant, The Test Kitchen, was voted the best in Africa and 48th overall at the 2014 World's 50 Best Restaurants awards in London earlier this year (on top of winning the accolade as the No 1 restaurant in South Africa at the 2013 Eat Out DStv Food Network Awards).

Interior at The Test Kitchen. Image courtesy of The Test Kitchen

Opened in 2010, The Test Kitchen has gained international recognition, and when it comes to what he puts out on the plate, Dale-Roberts is not what one would call a poster boy for conformity: 'I’m a non-conformist, something which has got me into a lot of trouble in the past. My vision for The Test Kitchen was to be original in every aspect of the experience. The central purpose of the restaurant is the exploration of flavour. I explore every facet of an ingredient and that philosophy has remained central to the decisions we make in all areas of the restaurant.'

Art on a plate using home-dried tomato and other delectable ingredients. Image courtesy of Jan Bartelsman

The images of his gorgeous dishes are works of art all on their own – from the Test Kitchen ‘concrete ball’ (cooked langoustine on a bed of hot rocks with cinnamon and star anise) to the elegant simplicity of his chocolate mousse with baby beets and a yoghurt curd. 

Many of his works of food art have been captured by renowned food photographer Jan Bartelsman, who is based in Amsterdam.

Test Kitchen 'concrete ball' - cooked langoustine on the rocks, with cinnamon and star anise. Image courtesy of Jan Bartelsman

Bartelsman has photographed the artistry of some of the world's finest chefs over a period of 25 years. He explains the images he took at The Test Kitchen: 'I chose to shoot his dishes on black with mysterious lighting to enhance the magic of his dishes. Luke Dale-Roberts has a great use of vibrant colour that is also functional for the taste sensations.'

Alaskan snow crab, tamarind-dressed trout, saffron gel, Parmesan katafi, lemon jelly, trout roe and fresh dill. Image courtesy of Jan Bartelsman

He points out that the dishes prepared by Dale-Roberts are layered in many aspects, and this is what makes them so interesting. 'He uses many ingredients and contrasts, creating great explosions of taste but still all in harmony, and not limited to one type of cuisine.'

Bartelsman says he enjoyed an incredible meal at The Test Kitchen: 'We had amazing lunch and really liked the casual atmosphere of the restaurant ... Michelin stars in shorts.'

Steamed langoustine, lemon purée, spring onion and fennel vierge, roasted fish bone, tomato velouté and deep fried leek. Image courtesy of Jan Bartelsman

Being relaxed and having a good time is reflected in the food. 'The Test Kitchen is serious fun,' says Dale Roberts. 'Our food is free to roam in whichever direction. If there is no immediate smile as we create a new dish then we are on the wrong track. I want guests to be surprised and delighted, to wonder what ingredients we have used and how we made it. It should be an adventure.'

Chocolate mousse, baby beets and a yoghurt curd

He attributes much of his success at his restaurants to a commitment from every single person who plays a role. 'We all want the same thing – for the diner to be blown away by the combination of flavours and the taste experience that we have put so much effort into creating.'

Clementine, calamansi and yuzu sorbet, Amaro Montenegro, Campari and orange jelly

Adventure awaits those who are prepared to be patient. The Test Kitchen is booked out for months in advance (and for good reason), as is Dale-Roberts's other venture – The Pot Luck Club (he opened this eatery in 2011). 

If you want to taste his innovative cuisine, you need to book right now.

The Test Kitchen is located at Shop 105a, The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock Cape Town. Email reservations to: reservations@thetestkitchen.co.za or book online. The Pot Luck Club is situated on the top of the old silo building at The Old Biscuit Mill; email: reservations@thepotluckclub.co.za

Luke's caprese baby Roma tomatoes and gooseberries in basil and black pepper syrup

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