Luke Dale-Roberts’s Joburg outpost is headed up by Candice Philip, who led the restaurant to a nomination at the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Awards. The food is beautifully sculpted but without any fuss. Ingredients are seasonal, and there are no extraneous garnishes or techniques.
The meal kicks off with a combined bread and amuse-bouche course: salmon mousse served with croissant truffle bread, potato-and-onion wafers, winter leek butter, milk bread and dried kale. Next comes sea bass tartare served with pickled shimeji, lovage pesto and a delicious garlic catalan, and a white bean potage served tableside with sweet potato, smoked mussel, quinoa and wild garlic oil.
The seared beef with radish, tatsoi, apple mustard and mustard crème is so delicious, you’ll be tempted to mop up your plate with nuggets of bread.
Mains offer a choice between baby chicken with langoustine, parsnip and toasted parmesan ‘risotto’ or venison with coffee flavours, butternut and marigold. It is followed by a delightful grapefruit sorbet with grapefruit cells and liquid liquorice. Dessert presented a choice between a dish called Dill and Coconut or a guava delice, with white chocolate fondant and halva ice cream.
Those who are lucky enough to have eaten at The Test Kitchen will notice echoes in the smoked lamb dish and the Pot Luck tataki, but the ambience here is a little more modern
One can choose between three different beverage pairings with the two menus: a tea pairing, a local wine pairing or an international wine pairing. The wines are extremely competently chosen to complement the food, and sommelier William Riffel is extremely knowledgeable about the pairings.
As expected, waiters are competent and friendly, and look good in their floral shirts, bow ties and suspenders. Menus are two narrow cards on clipboards and all the serving staff members are very much engaged in the menu options and the various aspects of service and presentation.
The new look of Luke Dale Roberts X The Saxon is warm, inviting and all-around engaging. Large windows overlook the dark canopy of trees and you can easily imagine yourself being on the 30th floor of a stylish New York or Hong Kong restaurant. Wood panelling, sea-green carpets, upholstered chairs and framed botanicals create an elegant but comfortable ambience. It’s a pleasure to watch Candice Philip comfortable and in charge behind the large open serving table that runs almost the entire length of the restaurant.
There is a private room behind the kitchen in which you can book a large table, which creates the feeling of dining in the kitchen. The large glass-walled wine cellar also operates from here, and the kitchen has the ability to be slightly more engaged with diners.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay their own way. Read our full editorial policy here.
Luke Dale Roberts has taken the dining experience in the elite and special dining room at The Saxon to the next level. The establishment offers a set tasting menu of eight courses, which are all seasonal and eclectic.
The kitchen, headed up by The Saxon’s Candice Philip, utilises exceptionally high-quality seasonal and local produce, as well as a variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables, which are grown on site in order to recreate Luke Dale-Roberts’s imaginative and detailed dishes.
Plating is clever, clean and simple, drawing the eye to the main components of the creations, with garnishes that complement and balance the dishes. Creative thought processes and attention to detail pull the meal off. There’s an element of food theatre that takes the dining experience to the next level, with aesthetic appeal and a sensory element to many courses.
In the sweet courses, however, many of the same ingredients are used multiple times, which can tire the palate. If you could end with dishes as strong as the appetisers and entrées, diners would be in for a meal of a lifetime.
Highlights of the winter menu include those perfect appetisers comprised of perfectly cooked flans, shellfish and mushroom broths; the sea-bass ceviche, served with charred broccoli, hazelnut salsa and miso aioli; and the foie gras mi-cuit, which is picture perfect, with superb depth of flavour and balanced textures. Other dishes to keep an eye out for are the pork belly with blue cheese and compressed apples and the springbok loin with black-garlic salsa. The use of different cooking methods and cuts of meat make for an interesting and diverse meal.
The beverages are sublime. There’s a choice of carefully compiled local or international wine pairings as part of the tasting menu, as well as a tea pairing, which is absolutely brilliant. Subtle teas are infused with fruit and herbs to create magical beverages that take guests on a real flavour journey.
For those interested in something more, The Saxon has one of the country's most extensive wine lists, with everything one could imagine on offer. The sommelier is extremely well educated and will be able to assist with a perfect choice. The hotel is also known for cocktails; ask the barmen to create a signature beverage for you.
The attention to detail is excellent from a team of well trained, perfectly polite and informed staff. The booking process is best done telephonically, as email reservations seem to get lost. The only downfall is that the waitrons might be a touch too casual and easy going, compared with international restaurants of this calibre. There’s nothing wrong with being friendly and fun, as long as it remains professional.
The dining room is well thought-out and not over the top, with elegant furnishings. The environment is intimate, yet spacious, with the background music creating a friendly and unpretentious air.
The open kitchen is well organised and extremely calm; it offers fabulous food theatre and adds to the overall look and feel. Cutlery, crockery and glassware are well appointed and suit the cuisine and dining experience perfectly.
The overall experience is brilliant. This is dining at the top level in the country.
Eat Out critics arrive unannounced and pay their way in full. Read our editorial policy here.
Luke Dale-Roberts has taken the dining experience in the elite and special dining room at The Saxon to the next level. The establishment offers a set tasting menu of eight courses which are all seasonal and internationally eclectic. The kitchen, headed up by The Saxon’s Candice Phillip, utilises exceptionally high quality seasonal and local produce as well as a variety of herbs, fruits and vegetables which are grown on site in order to recreate Luke Dale-Robert’s imaginative and detailed dishes.
The plating of each dish is clever, clean and simple, drawing the eye to the main components of the creations and the garnishes complement and balance the dishes. Creative thought processes and attention to detail pull the meal off – there is an element of food theatre included in the meal which takes the dining experience to the next level and adds aesthetic appeal and a sensory element to many courses. The only elements of the menu that need work are the pastry, sweet courses and the fact that many of the same ingredients are used multiple times on the menu, which tires the palate. The dessert elements let down the savoury dishes – if one could end with dishes as strong as the appetizers and entrées, you'd be in for the meal of a lifetime.
Highlights of the winter menu include the perfect appetisers comprised of perfectly cook flans, shellfish and mushroom broths. The sea bass ceviche is served with charred broccoli, hazelnut salsa and a miso aioli. The foie gras mi cuit is perfectly balanced and has a superb depth of flavour, balanced textures and is picture perfect. Other dishes to keep your eyes open for are the pork belly with blue cheese and compressed apples, springbok loin with black garlic salsa.
The obvious use of different cooking methods and cuts of meat make for an interesting and diverse meal.
The beverages offered at LDRS are sublime. The choice of a local or international wine pairing is offered as part of the tasting menu and those not partial to wine may have a tea pairing. The careful thought that goes into these pairings is obvious. The wine pairings allow the diner to experience some of the best local and international wines available, each of which complements the dishes perfectly. The tea pairing is absolutely brilliant. Subtle teas are infused with fruit and herbs to create magical beverages which work incredibly with the meal and take one on a flavour journey.
For those interested in something more, The Saxon has one of the country's most extensive wine lists with everything one could imagine on offer. The sommelier is extremely well educated and will be able to assist with a perfect choice.
The Saxon is also well known for their cocktails. For something special ask what is on offer or ask the barmen to create a signature beverage for you.
The attention to detail is excellent with the team of well-trained, perfectly polite and informed staff. The booking process is best done telephonically directly to the restaurant, as email reservations seem to get lost.
The only downfall in the service at LDRS is that the waitrons are too casual with patrons and try too hard to be friends with the diners.
The dining room was refurbished for the opening of LDRS and, in comparison to the formal 500, is well thought out and not over the top. The finishings and furnishings are classy and well-appointed, fitting in perfectly with the dining experience. The environment is intimate yet spacious. Adding to that, the background music is well thought out to create a friendly and unpretentious air.
The open kitchen is well organised and extremely calm – it creates fabulous food theatre as well as adding to the overall look and feel of the dining room.
Cutlery, crockery and glassware are well-appointed and suit the cuisine and dining experience perfectly.
The overall experience of LDRS is brilliant. If you can deal with the steep bill by keeping in mind that you are experiencing dining at the top level in the country, then it is definitely worth a visit.
Eat Out reviewers dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Click here to read our editorial policy.
Globally celebrated chef Luke Dale-Roberts has finally brought his international flair to Johannesburg. His pop-up of The Test Kitchen at exclusive boutique hotel and spa, The Saxon, is located in the venue previously used by Five Hundred, which was run by the acclaimed chef David Higgs. (David has gone on to open his own live-fire restaurant called Marble.)
The experience is more formal than Luke’s award-winning Cape Town restaurant, The Test Kitchen, but offers an equally impressive menu with strong Asian influences and intricate art on a plate. The opulence and luxury of The Saxon is enhanced by this dining establishment. The entrance is grand: a glass lift take you up to the dimly lit, cosy dining space with its showcase kitchen and walls adorned with carefully selected artwork. Luke’s menu is an elaborate affair, featuring an eight-course tasting menu paired with an option of local wines, international wines or tea. We enjoy the local wine pairing, which includes superb choices by a seasoned palate.
To begin, my taste buds are tantalised with a creamy pea mousse with morel mushroom jelly, pickled walnut and wafers of toasted brick pastry (Tunisian-style pastry). Spoon-tender Wagyu beef carpaccio follows, in a masterful combination with soy-braised sweet potato, burnt aubergine and macadamia purée. A dish of heirloom tomatoes with smoked-tomato dashi jelly and light parmesan custard is the final starter on this journey of unusual combinations of exotic and everyday ingredients.
The next course is an option of flash-grilled salmon with whispers of Korean chilli and a grapefruit salad topped with a nest of buckwheat crisps, or lamb tataki with picked enoki mushrooms and garlic catalan, finished off with a lovage pesto. While our waiter cannot explain the meaning of ‘flash grilled’, the salmon still makes for an outstanding dish.
A bit of theatre follows. A concrete ball is brought to the table and opened by the waiter with a flourish, releasing white smoke. When the smoke settles, a sizzling crayfish tail on hot coals is revealed in the centre. The theatre, unfortunately, ends there, as the ball is taken back to the kitchen for the plating of the crayfish along with braised sushi rice and Thai-style foam.
The pork belly with blue cheese, parsley and compressed apple completely steals the show from its opponent, the ragout of octopus, which lacks inspiration and finesse despite the exotic ingredient. Tender pan-seared duck with an incredible smoked meringue shard with cherry jus and foie gras is a moreish finale to the savoury courses.
Finally, the rhubarb-and-strawberry salad with real clotted cream, elderflower granita and shortbread provided a memorable ending to the four-hour dining experience.
When enjoying a fine-dining experience from an acclaimed chef like Luke, expectations are, almost unfairly, extremely high. The meal is evaluated against a combination of factors like service, food and value. While the food, presentation and flavour delivers, the experience is marred by keen but inexperienced service. This is a shame as ‘the experience’ is what makes fine dining special. However, this factor can be easily corrected to match the truly magnificent food. The meal costs R1330 per person; R1900 paired with local wines; or R2100 with international wines.