Shocking, I know. I’m probably the only person in the whole universe, let alone Cape Town, who didn’t have their socks blown off by the Test Kitchen. “But it’s the 22nd best restaurant in the world!” “But it’s the best restaurant in Africa!” I know. I really do know. Which is also why I expected it to be the meal of a lifetime with zero objections. Unfortunately, I can’t say that. And, SURELY, if you’re number 22 in the world and the BEST restaurant in Africa, then 100% of all patrons should walk away TOTALLY satisfied? After all, there are 7 billion people on the planet and if you’re number 22 then you’re in the top, like, 5000 cooks on the planet? So the fault must lie with me? Maybe.
Before my full review, here are 3 things I didn’t like…
3 Things That Didn’t Impress Me About the Test Kitchen
1. EMPTY TABLES.
Oh no they didn’t! They did. ALL NIGHT there was an empty table next to us. I can’t tell you how much I’ve mulled this over in my mind. Why would a restaurant with a 7 month waiting list have an empty table?! If they had put it on social media, or had a closed waiting list that they could have rung a couple to come in soon, that table would have been gone in 2 SECONDS! Maybe they did try, maybe they like to have a space or two open for celebrity walk ins, maybe they like the mystery. I really don’t know. But I felt super let down by this. If you want people to support you, don’t be snooty and have open tables. It didn’t sit well with me, kinda feels like we’re being taken for granted.
2. TOO MUCH WINE.
I know this hardly seems like the kind of thing that I’m likely to complain about!!! And the Test Kitchen is a lot of money, so it’s good that they give us a lot of wine. But after a few courses I just started sending my wine glass back as I couldn’t drink as much wine as they were serving with the course. Considering you pay for it as one price (it doesn’t get cheaper if you don’t have a few of the wines), it felt like a total waste of money. I don’t need 8 glasses of wine on a Wednesday night. I didn’t go there to get drunk, I went to have the food. My recommendation is to go on the weekend where you can sit all night and savour every drop. Or don’t bother with the pairing, just buy a glass or two of wine separately.
3. TOO MUCH SEAFOOD!
GAHD! Vegetarian courses are not a good substitute. I felt this menu was unbalanced. In their defence, I have documented how many courses there really were and there were many, it’s just a pity the mains ones relied so heavily on seafood when some of us (read me) don’t eat seafood. We’re spending a fortune on a meal and wishing the course would be over! Not cool. Here’s my full review:
The Test Kitchen Review 2016
The Test Kitchen resides in the Old Biscuit Mill, with a very unassuming front door. Black, touch of gold, warm and modern. No penguins, no classical music. We were kindly shown to our seats – my friend had booked a number of months in advance. Whenever she goes there she books again since the waiting list is 7 months long, a testament to the restaurant’s service.
I was immediately impressed by the warm staff and elegant, but modern branding. The table settings were simple, practical and tasteful. But my excitement was soon replaced by panic when the menu’s front cover says ‘with wine pairing R2200.’ GULP. Enter panic mode. What happened to the menu everyone told me about for R1400?! Luckily, there are a few options. The courses don’t change, but the ‘level’ of experience is your choice. Keep it simple without wine or go the full hog and get the best wines in the house. Your call.
I want to be frank about the cost, because I did get a fright when I saw the price. I have no problem with restaurants of this calibre being expensive, they’re skilled and it’s an experience, I’m all for that. BUT, I’d been saving to go on honeymoon to Europe and it REALLY hurt spending R2k on a meal! But because the Test Kitchen only comes around every 7 months, I felt obliged to do the wine pairing and not skimp. So my point is – be warned. Zomato have not updated their menus. Understand the prices have increased, so read them nicely to pick the one you want so that you can fully enjoy the experience without feeling over extended.
So here’s what we had – I must say that I have tried my best to remember what it all was but, to be honest, I don’t remember half the stuff which, again, is a minus in my book. Surely I’d remember every details of the best meal of my life? I have tried my best:
The Test Kitchen Setting
Let me start on a positive note and say that it was TOTALLY different to what I thought it would be – in a good way. I thought it would be all penguins, white clothes, tea towels over the arms, French moustaches and classical music. It just goes to show how far food experiences have come. It was NOTHING like that – thank God! My worry about being on my best behaviour was immediately abated when I entered the cool, modern venue with friendly staff and comfortable personal space.
Pre-Starters – The Test Kitchen Bread
The Test Kitchen gave us a truly wonderful selection of breads. I know some people would prefer to stick their nose up at breads, but not me. I know that 90% of the people reading this blog don’t know how to make bread, yet eat it every day. Bread is a special thing and when it’s done well, it’s one of the best things to have on earth. The Test Kitchen didn’t disappoint with their selection of breads for the table. Also, people constantly bitch about being hungry after having gourmet, so HERE! Here is your big plate of bread now be quiet! The butter was yummy too.
The pre-starters that we were given were delicious and exciting. This Pollock type beetroot tempura and goats milk cheese mousse was fun. The millionaire’s shortbread is modelled on the English dessert (the head chef is from the UK), but savoury. In my notes I’ve written truffle and mushroom shortbread, but I think the crisp may have been the truffle and parmesan combo and they were my favourite bites. Super crispy and flavourful. This was served with some bubbly, a Brut that was delicious and not too dry.
The first course was the “heirloom tomato”, which was really a crayfish dish. Considering I grew up crayfishing in Namibia, I was happy to have this – even though I don’t eat seafood. It was beautifully presented with a parmesan crisp, fresh watercress (would be my guess) and delicate crayfish which was not overpowered, on a bed of roasted aubergine (eggplants) with basil oil. This was paired with the Restless River Chardonnay 2013.
The second course was a home smoked trout. Again, I don’t eat seafood so I asked to have the vegetarian option. It came on shallow cylindrical ‘plates’, so when you scooped out the mousse, the colour of the plate shone through and created a lovely illusion. Mine was pretty average, pretty but average. Cream cheese in a bowl with a nice lawn on the top. This was served with the Steenberg Magna Carta, keeping it local, good one Test Kitchen.
Alternative Second Course
This is a course I nearly forgot to tell you about! It was made of the same beetroot elements used earlier on, same jellies; a fresh little salad with a ‘soup’ and crisp. I think it was the Beetroot, creme fraiche, parsley jellies, saffron pickled onions, buttermilk trout crema which I ordered in place of the trout.
At this point a lovely surprise course was squeezed in. It was thyme, quail egg, onion soup with crispy noodles. This was delicious, not a big portion but delicious none the less (it wasn’t a soup bowl filled to the brim is what I’m saying). I wish I could tell you more about it, but what really comes to mind was the texture. Deep in flavour, yet still so soft in the mouth. Delicious.
More seafood. Scallops, which again, I don’t really mind as it’s more like crayfish than fish-fish. This time it was served with a cauliflower salad, caper and pinenut salad (honestly it sounds amazing but it really wasn’t that memorable – I had to google the menu!) and a cauliflower cheese foam. This was served with the Fable Mountain Jackal Bird.
The fourth course was, you guessed it, MORE seafood!!! ARG! Now you can understand why at this point I was getting a little bit of ants in my pants. I wanted the good stuff! Chicken, lamb, beef even some kind of game, whatever! But not fishes from the sea! None the less, we had curry glazed kingklip with a carrot and cashew puree. This was presented in a super cool way, inside a stone egg! They then take it away and plate it. It was an excellently cooked fish, just for the record. And if you love seafood, I’m sure you’d be in heaven.
Praise be! This was the duck course. BEAUTIFULLY presented against a charcoal plate with a dark cherry glaze and beautiful Catherine Marshall wine. The texture of the duck was unlike anything I’d had before, super soft, but firm almost sponge like. Suvee could it be? I think the puree was the foie gras (I stopped taking notes at this point), it was really delicious and I would give this plate 10/10.
Spoiling Us Course
This was another surprise bite, they gave us weird marshmallow type things on coffee beans! Unexpected, but good. I’d love to tell you more (and maybe I’m starting to realise that lack of info might be doing the restaurant a disservice because I don’t understand all the cool stuff they’re doing when really that’s where the focus could go) but I can’t.
The next course was rhubarb and summer berries. How British! Served with a gremolata, I can’t remember the flavour now (maybe elderberries?) and a pistachio crisp, jellies, this was fun. But it wasn’t the best dessert. It was the next dessert! I wish I could tell you what it was, but I can’t! It had a dark crunchy crumb (kinda like oreos), rose water ice and a toasted coconut something! I did try to write down the menu but there were so many details I couldn’t keep up. Eventually I gave up to try and focus on the food. I wish I had the details though as this was really delicious, refreshing and TASTY!
The service on the evening was EXCELLENT. Very relaxed, but our server was professional, friendly, chatted to us, which was lovely as we’re chatty types. I think she judged this for each table so don’t expect to get locked into a convo if you don’t want to be. I left thinking, “What a nice person!” Which technically isn’t even what she’s meant to do, but that’s how welcome she made us feel.
One thing that’s very cool about the Test Kitchen is that it’s totally open. You are able to see what the chefs are doing and it’s fun to watch. Chef Luke Dale Roberts did come out to the “audience”, but he greeted with such confidence, I felt like I couldn’t really be honest and say I wasn’t really digging it. That was my mistake. I should have just been honest. But when there’s SO much hype you feel like you don’t know anything and you shouldn’t argue with the professionals. For me, that’s not what I really believe food should be about so I only let myself down there. Food, for me, is about sharing, communicating, nostalgia, not about being cool. (As it were, I see the menu online now has dropped one of the fish courses for springbok, yay! So maybe someone did say something as some point!).
When I left the Test Kitchen I felt a bit let down. So much hype and all through the meal I kept waiting for it to launch, and I didn’t feel like it ever really did. It sorta got to 80% and then started fading out. I must be honest and say it felt like every course was a fish course, but that’s not true – clearly. But they were vegetarian courses so I think I really missed the regular meats. A menu full of seafood and veg just wasn’t for me.
I think it’s very important to go to a restaurant twice, so I think I will return, just to see what I think. Because sometimes restaurants have off nights. I don’t think that should apply to a restaurant like this, but hey, we’re all human.
(My dear friend of over 20 years, G and me – bending down so we’re the same height but the lady didn’t get a close up, LOL!)
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to leave a comment below (or on the Facebook post) and let me know what you thought of it?