Winter Menu Part III: Test Kitchen

If there was ever any question as to who the most innovative chef in the country is right now, the answer would have to be Luke Dale-Roberts of the Test Kitchen. His 11-course Gourmand Menu is deliciously trippy. And it’s aptly named The Autumn/Winter Collection.

The introduction to the menu reads: “Autumn brings fungus, deep golden’s, reds, yellows, trees shedding leaves, the comfort of an open fire. The sea is colder than ever, its moist, foggy aroma drifts across, pushed by gigantic waves. My new menu is about a feeling that autumn and winter bring. I have tried to create dishes that are light, pure and sing of what they are.” Well if THAT doesn’t get the creative juices going…

‘Plates’ arrive one ofter the other served on bamboo, glass, tiles, ceramicware, wood. A clever little quirk is the amuse, which looks completely identical in every way to the finale served after the 11th course. Except this first taster is savoury and the last sweet. Tiny-looking petit-four type treats are layered mushroom served with a savoury stuffed gougere (choux-pastry ball) and a tasty wafer.

This is what Tall Paul and I ate.

1. Salmon sashimi red cabbage three ways, apple dressing with horseradish emulsion. Paired with Sequillo White Blend 2011.
The salmon was deliciously melting and served with liquorice dust – possibly my most favourite of all the courses.

2. Lightly cooked Francshhoek trout, aubergine nitsuke, tamarind dressing, lime puree. Paul Cluver Riesling 2010.
A mesmerising dish to look at, the trout is topped with Bonito flakes. Also known as hanakatsuo, these fish flakes are the thinnest form of shaved dried bonito (katsuobushi), the skipjack tuna ubiquitous in Japanese cooking. As the steam rises from the hot aubergine, the paper-thin fish flakes twirl and dance like they’re alive.

3. Rare cooked fillet of beef, blue cheese catalan, pear and pecans, liver and apple glacage. Bosman Dolce Primitivo.
Here, the wine was the star (obviously enhanced by the perfectly paired plate of food). A wine with Noble Rot character made from Primitivo grapes in Wellington – a sweet wine with lovely acidity.

4.Crayfish scottati, Lukes XO dressing, crayfish braised rice. Alemnkerk Chardonnay 2011.
Another perfectly paired dish and a wine I’ve never tried before: Alemnkerk Chardonnay 2011 is a flinty, almost sauvignon-like unwooded chardonnay.

5. Slow-cooked organic sweet potato, short rib and maple braising liquor, roasted bone marrow, and compressed eringi mushroom. Raats Family Red Jasper 2010.
Served under a smoking glass dome, this dish makes another grand entrance. Trust me.

6. “A bitter walk through the orange groves”.
The palate cleanser. Naartjie sorbet served inside the skin. Our lovely waiter Ivan spritzed us with orange essence as we sipped on orange bitters.

7. Wild mushroom and duck liver chawanmushi, morel glazed sweetbreads, variety of onions, burnt thyme soubise. Plum sake.
Chawanmushi is an egg custard that uses the seeds of Ginkgo flavoured with soy, dash and mirin.And soubise is an onion sauce. The sweetbreads glazed in morel? Heaven.

8. Slow clam extraction, green tea pasta, oysters. Domaine William Fevre Chablis.
The perfect breather before we hit the mains, the clam was Per. Fect. And it had to be, as I notice Luke asked his line chef to bin the first one – so I knew his next attempt would be spot-on. (Our table was right next to the open kitchen, which is theatre to behold.)
Course number eight is a choice of two dishes, so I went with the clam extraction and Tall Paul had the Fricasse of langoustine and smoked quail, corn and miso veloute. Springfield Wild Yeast 2009.
This was Luke’s signature dish at La Colombe and one I’ve missed on going back there.

9. Pan-seared local duck, sake steamed foie gras, kumquats, turnip puree, jasmine consommé, herbs. Paul Cluver Pinot Noir 2009.
By now I’m only just starting to feel as if I’ve eaten (clearly, the portions are just right.) But I manage to eat my foie gras – and Tall Paul’s. Yes, I did. Sorry.

10. Lemon chawanmushi, lemon and apple foam, meringues, almond and lemon powder. Lemon-infuse sake.
Lemon heaven! But I don’t like sake. Never will!

11. Butternut and orange semifreddo, chocolate pretzel crumble, Bourbon buttered apples and nutmeg milk. Paul Cluver Riesling NHL 2011.
This dish was surprisingly light… not too sure how, but it is. Autumn on a plate.

The finale is a repeat of the amuse, except this time the tiny-looking petit fours are chocolate and salted caramel with a custard-filled choux pastry and a sweet wafer. Genius.

The Gourmand Menu is R700 without wine or R950 with the wine pairing (totally worth spoiling). Bookings in this diminutive eatery – where line chefs outnumber patrons – are essential. Test Kitchen 021 447 2337

Unfortunately no food pics as they did the plates no justice whatsoever – you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

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