When Luke Dale-Roberts revealed his plans to open The Shortmarket Club in the Cape Town 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.
Best for: A romantic evening for two, or a celebration meal with family
Food type: Classic French bistro food, with Asian touches
The price: Mains average around R210
Parking: It’s on a narrow one-way street, so there’s precious little to be had. Take an Uber.
Star rating: Food 4, ambience 5, service 4
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 clever 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 was 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 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.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.