Fine Dining Cape Town: Top of the Pops

Previously published on the Luxury Safaris blog.

Over time, four spots have established them as the trendiest fine dining spots in Cape Town. In trendy industrial Woodstock at the Old Biscuit Mill, Luke Dale Roberts has established the iconic Pot Luck Club and Test Kitchen. On the other side of the mountain in lush Constantia, La Colombe and the Green House are the traditional favourites.

I tend to run, cycle and chase my dog around a lot just to burn off the calories from all this good eating. I have personally tried all four spots with the missus this last year, and here’s my cheat sheet to help you decide which ones you want to shoot for during your holiday in Cape Town.

I have rated the four of them 1 to 5 on the following key criteria:

  1. Risk of narcolepsy
  2. I like my extras
  3. I don’t know what I’m eating
  4. I come here often
  5. I want to take pictures of this food
  6. I’m fancy but I’m also kinda tight
  7. This place is harder to get into than Augusta
  8. I’m a vegetarian
  9. I want to show up in shorts
  10. Where the hell did my waiter go?

Ready? Here we go. Notes to follow:

ITEM La Colombe Test Kitchen Pot Luck Club Green House
1.       Narco 3 1 5 3
2.       Extras 4 5 1 4
3.       What? 4 5 3 4
4.       Return 3 1 5 1
5.       Pics 5 5 3 5
6.       $$$ 2 1 5 3
7.       Booking 5 1 3 5
8.       Fussy 3 3 5 3
9.       Casual 1 1 5 1
10.   Service 5 5 4 5
TOTAL 35 28 39 34

Importantly, everyone except Pot Luck do set menus with tasting options as a standard. Pot Luck wins hands down in terms of access, vibe and flexible menu. But it depends on what your goal is. Test Kitchen might be top of the ratings, but it’s the one of the four that I’ll only go back to in a couple of years. Just takes too long…  In terms of the other criteria, let me elaborate:

NARCOLEPSY:

TO the chagrin of my girlfriend, I like to take power naps in the middle of conversations. This is a very detrimental quality when you are in the middle of a 4 hour dining extravaganza at the Test Kitchen, but can be somewhat better managed at the tapas style dining at Pot Luck. You can be in and out of there relatively quickly, usually about 2 hours.

EXTRAS:

I didn’t even know what an Amuse-bouche was before I started hitting these high-end places. All of the spots do the little bits and pieces well, but Test Kitchen knocks the lights out with their two-room-lets-do-cocktails-we-serve-almost-everything-with-foam-now approach. Its more a show than a dinner. At Pot Luck you get what you pay for. The Constantia spots do it well, but less of a production than Test Kitchen.

I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M EATING:

If we assume the goal is to give you a heavenly meal made up of ingredients you’ve never heard of and starring a bird or a fish caught in some obscure rockpool in southern Denmark and crossbred with a local trout, then Test Kitchen comes out on tops. As the night progresses and the tasting menu kicks in, and depending on the amount of foam you get hit with, it becomes harder to even remember what you were eating. La Colombe consistently does basics well, Green House and Test Kitchen are more challenging for the journeyman. Pot Luck is less intimidating, but they still do chickpea fries instead of just chips. Delicious though.

I COME HERE OFTEN:

Pot Luck sees me a lot. But the I suffer from massive food envy, and it doesn’t matter what I’m eating, I always want your meal. So tapas style dining works for me. Also, it’s the only one of the four with that trendy-city-lights-have-a-craft-beer-while-you-wait vibe. Elevated on the 6th floor it offers more of a view, which is always something I look for. La Colombe is where I will take the missus on the anniversary, Test Kitchen and Green House sees me about once every two years just so I can check out their latest menu.

I LIKE TO TAKE PICTURES OF MY FOOD:

Yep, in the age of Instagram, twits and tweets and Facebook bloggers, we now whip out the smartphone to capture the magnificence of our meal so our mates can be jealous.

I sometimes want to just go print out 10 pics of my beautifully presented port shavings with foam starter and hand deliver it to a few mates. Would make more sense, but they’d probably slap me.

This is a hard one. Everyone does it well, but the standard of presentation is so high at the others that Pot Luck does fall short.

I’M FANCY BUT I’M ALSO KINDA TIGHT:

Look, if you’re jetting in from the Big Apple you will probably still giggle at the quality/pricing ratio and order another bottle of champers. For us mere mortal South Africans, the Test Kitchen including tip equates to minimum wage for a month in this country. La Colombe and Green House tasting menus are about 40% less, and Pot Luck is the most affordable. But it does depend on how heavy handed you are on the vino, I suppose.

If you want to have some great food but aren’t that hungry, Pot Luck or La Colombe (you can also do a la carte here). Pot Luck, due to the nature of the menu, will be your cheapest date.

pot-luck-club
THIS PLACE IS HARDER TO GET INTO THAN AUGUSTA

One day I will tee off on the hallowed fairways of distant Georgia. In the meantime, I am prepping for that mission by trying to regularly get a booking at the Test Kitchen for clients.

This is the way it works: At 8am sharp on the 1st of the month, you hit the online booking engine with all your resources. You get your consultants, your friends, your retired mother and the dog to all jump online and try to secure bookings, because the Test Kitchen sells out for the next month within 5 minutes. You can only book one month in advance. And of course because everyone in the world and Cape Town wants to get themselves or their clients into the number 22 rated restaurant in the world (no 1 in South Africa) the site keeps crashing. You get a booking you put down some cash by credit card.

The others all have booking systems as well- but Green House and La Colombe you can book way in advance, and Pot Luck has two seatings in the evening so generally more availability.

I’M A VEGETARIAN

I’m a carnivore, but lots of my clients are not. I’ve checked in with my veggie friend Chantelle, and we’re on the same page here: Pot Luck is the best for this. The others with set menus do a good job of accommodating vegetarians, but you do feel like you miss out.

I WANT TO SHOW UP IN SHORTS

Cape Town is generally quite a casual place, and for lunch you could probably wing it at all of them. But for dinner, the only one of these spots I would dare to show up with anything less than my skinny jeans is Pot Luck. And even there, I generally err on the side of caution.

Having said that, the guys aren’t strict on this. The St Anton mafia were my guests a few years ago, and these chaps have long since passed the point of caring what people think of them. So yeah… you can show up in shorts…

WHERE THE HELL DID MY WAITER GO?

Service is sharp at all of these spots. Pot Luck I had an average server experience the other day, but this was just a slight anomaly. To their credit, the manager saw our guy was struggling and stepped in.

CONCLUSION:

If I had to recommend one, I still favour La Colombe for pure dining pleasure and bang for your buck. If you want full experiential, Test Kitchen is quite special. But Pot Luck comes out on top in terms of my points criteria, simply because the food is delicious, you have more flexibility in options and the view is spectacular.

lacolombe189

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