What to expect at chef Luke Dale Roberts' trendy Test Kitchen Carbon eatery

Fine dining steps up a notch as the well-known Cape Town eatery comes to Gauteng

17 March 2022 - 11:04
By Hilary Biller
Chef Luke Dale Roberts, right, with the Test Kitchen Carbon brigade.
Image: Hilary Biller Chef Luke Dale Roberts, right, with the Test Kitchen Carbon brigade.

When one of the country’s top chefs makes a decision to move his award-winning restaurant from the tourism hotspot of Cape Town to the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg, it’s definitely one-upmanship for the city whose fine dining scene is considered, by some, to be second rate when compared to the offering of its coastal cousins.

It was the dire impact of lengthy lockdowns and other restrictions due to Covid-19 that brought the hospitality industry to its knees and affected chef Luke Dale Roberts’ bold move. He told me it was the realisation during lockdown that the restaurant could no longer solely rely on tourism to keep the business afloat that prompted his move to find a space where they could build on local support.

So Cape Town’s loss is certainly Joburg’s gain. His Test Kitchen Carbon restaurant situated in the new Oxford Parks development on a busy corner in Rosebank is set to become a popular and bustling new hub as it is joined by a selection of other eateries — a great investment and thumbs-up for Egoli diners.

With a glass of bubbly in hand I mingled with the crowd outside the new restaurant at the much-anticipated opening last Saturday. The mood was buoyant as we watched the team, a large brigade - a mixed group of incredible local talent - put the final flourishes together for the opening.

Upside down lemon tart and purple shiso sorbet served with Mullineaux Staw Wine 2020.
Image: Hilary Biller Upside down lemon tart and purple shiso sorbet served with Mullineaux Staw Wine 2020.

It’s a smaller eatery than the previous one at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock in Cape Town. This one is modern and edgy, it’s dark and moody with interesting burnt timber artworks running along one wall. There’s even a larger than life one of chef Luke himself.

It's a simple design but so evocative with light wooden floors and to one side a bar with an old yellowwood counter blending old and new so well. Chef Luke’s wife Sandalene is responsible for the interior design. She’s played her trump card here. What strikes one is the open kitchen. A smaller replica of the one in Woodstock, it’s just the ticket for the theatre of food.

And what a spectacular 12-course tasting menu it was. Kicking off with decadent mouthfuls, the delights kept rolling — like the blue cheese rosemary and shallot puffs served with an olive martini; paper thin crisp slices of pork scratchings with a clever beer foam to dip them in; smoked quail leg pancake with plum hoisin and lamb rib and white anchovy Saam.

With each course came excellent wines, the waiters working like wizards making the experience seamless yet sensational. Highlights, there were so many: the Japanese gazpacho with crème fraîche sorbet brought gasps of deliciousness, the paella style risotto, crayfish carpaccio, sizzling lemon and calamari oil together with the Almenkerk chardonnay 2016 memorable, and it just kept coming. For those who prefer no alcohol, each course is matched with an interesting array of teas.

It was a really sweet ending to a gastronomic journey — one we foodies at one table haven't experienced before in Joburg, as we savoured the velvety melt-in-the-mouth upside down lemon tart with pretty purple shiso sorbet, the best rendition ever. This was no test, it was fine dining at its very best.