The Test Kitchen faces no drought of opportunities despite water crisis
Luke Dale Roberts' flagship restaurant in Cape Town, The Test Kitchen, introduces Drought Kitchen, a pop-up offering a sumptuous reduced-water dining experience, writes Allison Foat
It's no surprise that Luke Dale-Roberts, South Africa's most celebrated chef, has devised a novel way to tackle Cape Town's water crisis by creating a drought kitchen initiative scheduled to run from April through June, after which, all going to plan and prayer, the heavens will open up and Cape Town will breathe a collective sigh of relief.
Ironically it rained, albeit briefly, on the day I sat down to lunch at The Test Kitchen (TTK) for a reduced-water dining experience that showcased a sensitively curated and stylishly presented menu, the only one that will be available at the award-winning restaurant over the designated period.
The six-course offering, thus far exceptionally well received, is uncompromising in quality and runs the gamut of flavour, texture and unique combinations. This is water-fasting with flair.
This exercise in sustainability has not been without stress. Talking to media at the Drought Kitchen launch, Dale-Roberts mentioned how the last time he felt this anxious was when, contrary to expectation, he opened The Test Kitchen in 2010 in the heart of Woodstock, a suburb not quite perceived as a destination for fine diners.
"I feel nervous again now as we embark on a short new journey," he said as he explained his re-evaluation of plating, service, cleaning up and all that lies in between. "Everything is impacted by using less water," he added, "it's been an eye-opener."
He has introduced disposable napkins, dispensed with tablecloths and all but closed his laundry. Maintaining jobs, however, is crucial to the team and the women who assisted with the latter have been trained to assist in other aspects of the business, both at TTK and The Pot Luck Club, also situated at the Old Biscuit Mill.
Ceramic plates have made way for interchangeable bio-degradable paper cards placed cleverly within compostable wooden picture frames, and grey water collected from aircon units, and ice buckets are used to mop floors.
Each dish, adapted from TTK's original menu, is delicate and satisfying, the portions just right, and all are smartly paired with wines selected by in-house sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka, who also introduced guests to his own fine 2016 chenin semillon blend, Kumusha.
The Marianne Sauvignon Blanc was a divine match with the 12-hour hot smoked trout with watercress veloute and yoghurt snow, as was Klein Constantia's iconic Vin de Constance 2011 selected for the "Peaches and Lavender" dessert. Aromatic TWG teas were offered as well, a refreshing option for those less inclined to a boozy lunch.
The Test Kitchen has set an excellent example to industry peers.
• The Test Kitchen's Drought Kitchen dinner menu will be served Tuesdays to Saturdays from April 1 to May 31. Prices vary depending on the choice of pairings. Visit thetestkitchen.co.za