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Number 1: The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen was named the Restaurant of the Year for an unprecedented sixth consecutive year. You might ask how a restaurant could honestly beat all the other incredible nominees to number one yet again. Spend an evening there and any misgivings will instantly disappear. In the meantime, watch the video and read the review to get a taste of what to expect.

Food

The unstoppable Luke Dale-Roberts triumphs for the sixth consecutive year, with Ryan Cole alongside him in the kitchen and food that’s better than ever.

While the idea of dining at The Test Kitchen might be intimidating for some, guests will be delighted to discover, however, that it’s not over-the-top nor excessively elaborate. It feels like the easiest thing in the world, and that’s what makes The Test Kitchen the best.

Top: Smoked lamb, barley and toasted ginger wafer, and XO dressing. Bottom: Quail sandwich. Photo supplied.

Entering the first ‘dark’ room, you might wonder if you’re still in the bar area, so casual and effortless it all feels. Low chairs, wood-clad walls and dim lighting all contribute to a comfortable beginning to the experience. And what an experience it is.

A map is presented as a scroll, showing the culinary journey you’re about to make, from Peru to Japan and back down to South Africa. Think ceviche with the chef’s trademark stamp and a herbaceous stinging-nettle granita that you are sure to yearn for come the height of summer; a savoury billionaire’s shortbread made with chilli, dark chocolate and duck; and baby garden veg that you grasp by their green tails and dip into a creamy ssamjang paste sprinkled with crispy onion dust. Pork scratchings are dipped into milk stout foam atop a silver tankard; slivers of buttery Wagyu biltong are speared by a cinnamon stick. These amuse-bouche bites wrap up with lamb with XO sauce, and tandoori quail on a poppapadom-like crisp. Flavours both simple and complex abound as you eat with your hands. To complete the superlative opening act, you are invited to choose from a handful of cocktails, such as a rhubarb-and-custard negroni (with a sherbetty rim) and a smoky old fashioned made with lapsang souchong.

A knock at the brass portal admits you into the ‘light’ room, which is where the magic continues. You might start on another amuse-bouche of goat’s cheese rolled in charred leek dust, before moving on to a sweet seared scallop atop ‘cauliflower and cheese’, pine nuts, capers and sweet black garlic, all paired with the best jasmine tea of your life. Alternatively, there’s the crab-and-corn risotto with a smoky tea redolent of brown rice, or a beautiful semillon.

Crisp pork belly, wood-roasted sweet potato, and orange dashi at The Test Kitchen. Photo supplied.

Seasonal mushrooms steal the show, first on a tray making its way around the room to show off the pearly folds, ripples and gills of the season’s bounty. Then they’re presented in a neat bowl after being lightly touched with butter and garlic in a hot pan, with broth poured over from a cast-iron kettle. Silver trays, tagines and earthenware bowls share space in an eclectic line-up of inter-continental flavours.

Good luck choosing between the seared beef sweetbreads with asparagus, morel mushrooms, porcini Hollandaise (paired with gorgeous vanilla tea), and the pork belly with smoked chestnut, wood-roasted sweet potato, and orange dashi. (Although the aroma of the sweetbreads being seared might convince you…)

The pre-dessert is one of the standouts, with individually piped berry caviar spheres (strawberry, blueberry, raspberry and blackberry), meringue shards, rhubarb-butter-poached strawberries, amasi-and-lime snow, and a quenelle of fresh dill ice cream. In the final dish, subtle floral lavender ice cream pairs beautifully with rusk, peach jellies and caramel tea.

For a parting gift of petit fours, look out for the gummy bears (earl grey, liquorice and lemongrass); billionaire’s shortbreads that make another appearance, this time flavoured with ginger and cardamom; and a mind-blowing ending of a toasted turmeric marshmallow, still warm from the flames.

A sweet Belvedere flower cocktail. Photo supplied.

Drinks

If you can’t drink – or even if you can – the tea pairing adds yet another layer to the almost-unthinkably layered meal. Allow smooth sommelier Tinashe Nyamudoka to guide you if you’re a wine lover, but then why aren’t you having the iconic wine pairing? You will not forget – nor regret – it.

Service

Friendly and personable (and with personality), the staff allow you to be quite laid-back as they look after your every whim.

The light room. Photo supplied.

Ambience

Wooden counters, touches of copper and brass, and felts make the world of The Test Kitchen feel at once urban-industrial (appropriate, given its location) and comfortable. The open kitchen is a stage on which chefs do their intense but fluid dance, often intuiting what is needed without words.

And…

If you’re Ubering home, you will be escorted out to the car.

See all 30 of the nominees for the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards here and the rest of the Top 10 here.

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