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First taste: The Pop Luck Club in Maboneng

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The Pop Luck Club in Joburg is offering Gauteng foodies a taste of Luke Dale-Roberts’s inspired tapas. Eat Out critic Kate Liquorish takes the menu for a test-drive.

The fish tacos. Photo supplied.

The fish tacos. Photo supplied.

Fast facts

Best for: An exciting jazz-fuelled taste experience
Cost: R80-R150 per small plate
Serves: Modern fusion
Star rating: Food and drink 4, service 4, ambience 4

Food

The original The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town emerged out of Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’s love of experimentation and modern fusion cuisine; it was a chance for him and his chefs to try and test new concepts and ideas. The Cape Town menu is made up of 25 sharing plates divided into five taste categories: salty, sour, sweet, umami and bitter, whilst the Johannesburg pop-up menu is a condensed version, offering approximately half of that, in an order that ranges from lightest to richest.

Chinese-style pork rib with dark beer and doenjang glaze. Photo supplied.

Chinese-style pork rib with dark beer and doenjang glaze. Photo supplied.

For the most part, each dish showcases complex flavours balanced with sophistication, elegant plating and delicate textural play.

Unfortunately, the first dish of signature fish tacos, promising ceviche, black-bean purée, avocado and sour cream sandwiched between wafer-thin, crisped taco discs, is the exception on the night of my visit. It contains a ceviche drenched in purée, and the tacos are not crisped to perfection, but rather a bit stiff.

The remaining dishes, I’m delighted to say, are on point. The pork belly with Luke’s XO dressing, miso apples and soy-mirin cabbage slaw is a triumph of sweet, sour and salty. Other wonders include the dark beer and doenjang braised short rib that slides off the bone with one stroke of the knife, and the signature smoked beef fillet with a truffle café au lait – a sauce that defines umami – that is simply outstanding. To be honest, the fillet is a mere vessel for the creamy, peppery, smoked and coffee-tinged silk of a sauce, and you’ll find yourself asking for either a spoon or a R25 bread roll to soak up what’s left on your plate.

The smoked beef fillet with Cafe au Lait sauce. Photo supplied.

The smoked beef fillet with Cafe au Lait sauce. Photo supplied.

For dessert you’ll choose between the Pot Luck churros and ‘heaven bacon’, an almond-and-apple tart with burnt peanut butter, popcorn ice cream and maple-glazed bacon.

Whilst the food is delectable, it is very pricey. You’re looking at R400–R500 per person on food alone. Also, calling the dishes ‘sharing plates’ works for two people, but no more than that, as most dishes comprise either two or four morsels.

Drinks

A fanciful selection of cocktails echoes the menu’s eccentricity. Look forward to smoked and spiced Old Fashioneds, Thai green curry martinis, and winter-melon margaritas, to name a few. (There are also some classics intermingled throughout for the traditionalists). The wine menu is boutique and serious for the most part, with a few casual options for those on a budget. Beers, ciders, gins, vodkas and especially whiskeys are abundant and varied.

Churros with tonka and melted chocolate popcorn shake and miso-and-orange cheesecake with pretzel crumb. Photo supplied.

Churros with tonka and melted chocolate popcorn shake and miso-and-orange cheesecake with pretzel crumb. Photo supplied.

Service

A valet parking service and doormen to help you out of your Uber at the entrance is such a special touch, and so rare outside of the five-star hotel environment. Waiters are slick, confident and on their toes. The dining experience is explained in detail, with expansion on each dish if you ask.

Crispy duck spring rolls, prawn samoosa, kimchi salad and crispy pork belly. Photo supplied.

Crispy duck spring rolls, prawn samoosa, kimchi salad and crispy pork belly. Photo supplied.

Ambience

If you’ve been to The Pot Luck Club in Cape Town, the first thing that stands out is the view. (On the top floor of the silo of the Old Biscuit Mill on Albert Road, you’ll marvel at the scenic atmosphere and revel in the theatrics of the open-plan kitchen.) In Johannesburg there’s a very different feel. The pop-up forms part of the Marabi Jazz Club; it’s dark and sultry, but the jazz and accompanying moody blue lighting, whilst being very cool and alluring, detract from the experience of such intricate and delicate cuisine. The music dictates the pace of the experience, making the atmosphere quite charged, which may work against your ability to savour each morsel.

Head chef Freddie Dias with Luke Dale-Roberts. Photo supplied.

Head chef Freddie Dias with Luke Dale-Roberts. Photo supplied.

And…

The jazz heats up as the dinner service winds down, so if you’re in the mood for some great music, stay a while longer.

Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their own way. Read our full editorial policy here.

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