Cape Town is the culinary capital of South Africa. My advice to anyone travelling here is not to make the same mistake as we did. Allow more than three days for this beautiful city, particularly if you’re a foodie. Trust me, its bursting at the seams with incredible restaurants and we barely scratched the surface.
Place to eat in Cape Town
Like so many others before me, the failure of bagging a table at innovative chef Luke Dale-Robert’s Test Kitchen wasn’t for the lack of trying. I was so close it hurt. I’d earmarked the day when the reservations would open for the following three months. Set my alarm for 6.45am to ensure I’d be poised ready for the booking system opening at 8am South African time (one hour ahead you see!). And there it was in plain english ‘The Test Kitchen is closed for product development’. What?! Yes, the one week we were in Cape Town the restaurant was closed. I mean can you believe it? Why that week? Utterly gutting to see free slots for the week after. A quick bout of expletives later, I got back on the horse and booked its sister restaurant The Pot Luck Club.
Located only a glass lift ride away from the Test Kitchen on the sixth floor of the Old Biscuit Mill complex in Woodstock, it serves a more casual menu focused on small plates.
There are only two evening sittings at The Pot Luck Club. The early 6pm – 8.30pm was unfortunately fully booked. So very quickly with a slight apprehensive wince I pressed confirm to the 8.30pm until late sitting. Why so unsure? Well I would be taking my two little ladies with me too.
Now my kids have been practically bought up in restaurants (to the horror of my mother), so have become well versed in some dos and don’ts of restaurant etiquette. Admittedly, I was slightly worried about the lateness of the evening after a full day of sightseeing. Tired, hungry kids in a trendy, edgy restaurant – Fingers crossed hey!
As soon as we stepped out of the lift we were bowled over by the spectacular 360 degrees views across the city. A blanket of twinkling lights over the harbour and city kept the girls mesmerised. During the day you’d be able to enjoy dramatic views of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head.
The chic, modern and functional interior is accentuated by the leather banquettes, wooden tables and steel supports zigzagging across the roof space. An open plan kitchen means your gaze always goes towards the chefs at work. Or in our case a serious game of noughts and crosses.
The menu adopts the tapas small plates formula and is divided into taste categories: sour, bitter, sweet, salty and umami with a sweet ending for desserts. Inspiration comes from all corners of the globe for the dishes. It’s quite an eclectic mix with a heavy influence from the Far East. Handed my very own vegetarian menu. A joyous smile slowly spread – The choice of dishes were fantastic!
Armed with a pencil and a sheet of paper to jot down our tapas wish list, we ordered between three to four dishes as advised. Dishes arrive in the order the kitchen recommends. The aim is to avoid clashes of strong and delicate flavours. There are no set starters or mains and it’s all about the sharing (which I’m all over).
Most of our dishes came from the ‘salty’ section, I suppose mirroring my day-to-day tastes – Oops! First up was the Woodstock Bakery ciabatta served with chimichurri and carrot hummus. The steaming hot crusty corn bread was a delight, add to it the smoky, salty accompaniments. By the end there wasn’t a crumb to be seen on the board.
Chosen by the girls the chickpea fries with alioli and tomato ketchup are served takeaway style in a cardboard box. The soft, creamy texture inside against the crispy outer was delicious. They didn’t last long on our table.
The third ‘salty’ number was the miso cured aubergine served with a goats cheese, carrot dressing, a blueberry wine reduction and umami purée. Probably one of my least favourite dishes. Apart from the fact that Asha turned round and said it looked like sick – Thanks love! It began the downfall of the dish. The flavours didn’t marry well for me and the chewy texture of the aubergine certainly didn’t agree.
In the ‘sweet’ section two plates had our mouths salivating on overdrive. The first, burrata cheese with grilled nectarines, rose water, verjuice dressing and pistaschio dukkah. The burrata practically melted in my mouth and the nectarines were grilled to perfection. Simply sublime.
Goldenballs? I absolutely loved these! From our second ‘sweet’ dish came the parmesan and buffalo mozzarella arancini. Laid on a bed of the most delicious smoked garlic and apple mayo, aged balsamic and burnt leek. The creamy rice morsels had a nutty flavour which complimented the sweetness from the drizzled mayo and balsamic.
We’re all fans of the fifth taste. Inherent savouriness – Umami! A fair few of our plates came from this part of the menu too.
The crispy calamari, with yuzu compressed watermelon, black sesame emulsion and fermented peanut chilli dressing received a huge thumbs up from Radha. Even with her penchant for calamari, I was slightly concerned at the extent of the flavour combinations for an eight and five year old. I shouldn’t have worried – Even Mr S had to fight his way in.
Our second umami delight was the wok fried egg, black garlic and mushroom purée, tenderstem broccoli and szechuan dressing. Ohh the oozing egg with crunchy texture of the broccoli, smooth purée and the hit of heat from the dressing at the end was amazing.
The final one from the selection was the Pot Luck fish sliders. The mini fish burgers served on smashed pieces of plates were a huge hit with my pescatarian family.
The ‘sour’ came in the form of a trip to Mexico with the Pot Luck bean tacos. Two crisp little discs of fried tortilla sandwiched a filling of refried beans, avocado and pepper. Clearly I wasn’t quick enough for the little fingers that stole the hat from the middle taco!
Before long it was time for our ‘sweet endings’, the first a Cocoafair chocolate tart with Bourbon ice-cream and lemon, lavender and coffee powder. The flavours were incredible…..
And lastly a childhood favourite amongst the complex, flavoursome dishes. The Pot Luck Club S’mores. The huge frozen marshmallow squares came with a dollop of peanut butter ice cream. I think the face says it all really.
The unique and innovative flavour combinations are incredible and you can clearly see the complex techniques involved for each dish. For the carnivores out there you have treats on the menu such as pork belly in pho orange master stock with kimchi turnips and sriracha daikon. Or Springbok rump served with beetroot ketchup, ash baked beets and tomato xo dressing. Perhaps the smoked beef fillet with black pepper and truffle cafe au lait would tickle your fancy. You’ll be spoilt for choice for sure.
It was a wonderful experience to introduce the girls to the creative and inventive combination of flavours. Definitely a family meal like no other. Next time we’ll make it to the Test Kitchen – I promise!
Have you ever been blown away by a restaurant? What were the stand out dishes? Let me know in the comments box below.
The Pot Luck Club | Silo Top Floor | The Old Biscuit Mill | 373-375 Albert Road | Woodstock | Cape Town
Below are more posts from my South African adventures:
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