Razzmatazz, that’s what comes through at The Shortmarket Club. Judging from the obscure entrance and skinny stairs, it has the feel of a closed members’ club. That feel continues into the décor of the bar area and the main dining room with its high ceilings, comfortable booths and smart waiters. Armed with blow torches for caramelising desserts and trolleys for showing off trays of meat, the service is slick and friendly.
The restaurant is run by chef Luke Dale-Roberts, with right-hand man Wesley Randles manning the kitchen.
We start with the grass-fed beef tartare and the crispy pig cheek. The tartare (cavelo nero pesto, celeriac dashi and frozen parmesan) is what I like in a tartare, a statement of the chef’s taste as opposed to the DIY approach to tartare, which often makes you feel like you are paying to make your own dish. The crispy pig cheek, with pickled endive and an umami-soaked XO-braised quinoa is similarly satisfying, bringing flesh, fat and crackling together with sweet-and-sour lashings.
For mains, ‘The pasta dish’ (with grass-fed oxtail ragù, fennel done three ways, burnt butter and parmesan) is both visually exciting and a gustatory deep dive. A great big flap of pasta with unctuous toppings, it’s absolutely outstanding. Instead of one of the great-looking cuts of meat being displayed on trays, we opt for the roasted artichoke with a hazelnut, mint and lentil dressing, aged balsamic, celeriac, labneh and goats cheese. A rich, woody and earthy combination of flavours, it feels just as decadent as ordering the aged rib-eye.
Dessert comes in the form of a surprisingly delicate ‘For the love of baked cream’, a lavender-and-mozzarella crème brûlée. There’s also the indulgent chocolate fondant, made with 80% Valrhona chocolate, popcorn ice cream, peanut butter cookie dough, cream of burnt caramel and hazelnut.
From the plates to the platters, the celebration and elevation of seemingly simple dishes like artichokes or pasta, to headline dishes, The Shortmarket Club takes you on a decadent spin.
An interesting selection of wines that includes several rising boutique winemakers, but it’s on the pricey side.
Strong. Waiters are attentive, available and fast.
There’s no shortage of ambience. The hidden stairwell, the ritzy bar, the open kitchen, the expansive dining room, the wall of butterflies – this is where jet setters in the 50s would come to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. You’ll enter to the sound of a big band brass section and some stomping heavyweight percussion, eat to the tempo of a snare drum, and stumble out on the last triumphant peal of a trumpet solo.
They often have great prix fixe lunch specials.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their own way. Read our full editorial policy here.
When Luke Dale-Roberts revealed his plans to open a restaurant in the city bowl with his protégé Wesley Randles and restaurateur Simon Widdison from The Pot Luck Club, we could barely contain our excitement. Eat Out critic Katharine Jacobs nabbed a table on opening night for a first taste.
If you’re expecting the Asian-style tapas served at The Pot Luck Club, think again. At first glance, The Shortmarket Club menu is slightly more conventional and bistro inspired. There are some Asian touches, but there’s also steak, duck-fat potatoes and a chocolate soufflé. So does it still deliver that wow factor?
We begin with the grass-fed beef carpaccio, which is served with a miso-cured egg yolk, dashi and a small snowdrift of grated parmesan. The egg yolk is a revelation – a real umami hit that pairs beautifully with the wild mushrooms scattered about. It’s a winner of a dish.
The prettily plated trout tataki is full of sweet, zingy flavours, the buttery soft morsels of very lightly seared trout nestled between radish slivers, teriyaki-braised sweet potato and little matchsticks of Granny Smith apples.
For mains – or entrées as they’re referred to here – we sample the petit poussin, which arrives for a viewing on a smoking bed of prickly chestnuts, before being whisked back to the kitchen for plating. The sweet, nutty smell of the smoke permeates the meat, along with a wonderful, luscious juiciness. Exotic as it looks though, this is essentially very succulent chicken. It comes with a little copper pot of sourdough sauce – a play on the traditional bread sauce accompaniment – but we have also ordered the potato churros as a precaution. These are exactly as amazing as they sound: Crispy golden piped outsides, with sweet, creamy mash inside. The duck-fat potatoes, too, are glorious.
The lamb rump is a slightly less successful dish – a little dry, and not as powerful in flavour. But this is still week one, after all.
The rib-eye on the bone, meanwhile, is excellent. The bone imparts smokiness to the meat, and die-hard Pot Luck fans will be thrilled to learn that it can be ordered with a café au lait sauce.
For pud, the chocolate soufflé looks the part, puffed up in a mini copper pot, with a scoop of hazelnut and Grand Marnier parfait sinking into the centre, but our favourite is the beautiful, sweet and zingy rhubarb mess, hiding beneath broken shards of meringue, baked in a paper thin sheet.
The winelist has some unusual and delicious options; try Thorne & Daughters Rocking Horse blend, the delicious Shannon Vineyards Sanctuary Peak sauvignon blanc, or a bottle of the AA Badenhorst Family Wines white or red blend. There’s a limited selection available by the glass, and the mark-ups are a little steep – for journalist’s shallow pockets, at least. There’s also a cocktail menu featuring the classics.
The Shortmarket Club has got atmosphere in spades. A long corridor lined with metal screens leads up the staircase, which opens, with plenty of drama, to the restaurant. There’s a relaxed seating area, a bustling open kitchen, a small but beautiful bar, and then stained glass doors lead into a second dining space. Here, a pitched room with skylights creates a cosy, enclosed attic feeling. Booths with scalloped black-and-grey leather and gold-and-glass dividers, along with white table linen, recall the kind of understated glamour of a steakhouse in the fifties. It’s perfect for a celebratory meal, or for a post-work drink and snack at the kitchen and bar end of the space.
Staff are eager to please, and things go fairly smoothly, despite the fact that they have been open less than a week.
In addition to lunch and dinner, The Shortmarket Club is open for breakfast. The morning menu is cunningly printed at the top of the general menu, and – with dishes like egg and soldiers made with artichoke brioche, and hot-smoked trout with miso butter and poached eggs – we’re sorely tempted to nap on the banquettes until breakfast time.
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Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.
The Shortmarket Club’s three-course prix fixe winter lunch menu returns once more this winter. Priced at R280 per person, or R380 per person including a carafe of wine, it is available at lunchtime from Mondays to Saturdays until 30 September.