Luke Dale Roberts, owner of the Test Kitchen has set up house in the Saxon in Johannesburg which I was lucky enough to experience. Having never eaten at The Test Kitchen or visited the Saxon this was the perfect opportunity to do both. Upon making the reservation last year I hadn’t realized that I would go to Cape Town and eat at the number 4 and number 6 restaurants in the country making it quite an expensive fine dining year. I had expected us to be chauffeured from the entrance but we drove to the hotel where the car was valet parked.
A two staircase entrance hall greets you open entering the hotel. There was a little too much beige, cream and brown colours everywhere for my liking.
I loved the unusual light fittings in this small bar area.
The hotel is decorated with an African theme in plenty of shades of brown. I expected to be wowed but I honestly can’t see the big deal. It didn’t look pretty and felt too big and impersonal.
We arrived just in time to catch the lingering remnants of sunset over the massive pool.
After my visit I learnt that Luke Dale Roberts x The Saxon is to have a permanent home here. The restaurant will be closed for renovations and reopen in May.
It was interesting to watch the chefs cook and prepare in the open kitchen. I expected more cooking from Chef Candice Philip but I guess her role is to oversee and check that the dishes are cooked and presented properly.
Since this was a pop up, the dark décor is that of restaurant Five Hundred. The glass windows offer a chance to catch a view of a sunset skyline if you are seated early enough.
An eight course tasting menu costs R1330 / R1600 for tea pairing/ R1900 for local wines / R2100 for international wines. Four courses are compulsory and four have a choice of two dishes. There is also a vegetarian tasting menu. You know you are at a fancy restaurant when the menu has its own plate for decorative purposes.
We started off with a variety of delicious bread to choose from served with beetroot pesto, butter and garlic aioli.
I loved the signature elderflower and rhubarb cosmopolitan for R85.
This picture was taken quite early in the dinner before we were more than sufficiently stuffed.
Course 1: Pea mousse. Morel jelly, pickled walnut, toasted brick pastry. I loved the flavours, which included truffle as well the smooth consistency of this first course amuse bouche.
We both opted for the tea pairing. I think it’s great to be provided with a drinks pairing that doesn’t only involve alcohol/wine.
Course 2: Sea bass ceviche. Charred broccoli, spiced hazelnut salsa, lemon miso aioli. This was a light and deliciously flavoured dish with a lovely use of different textures. I would never have dreamt up this unique ingredient combination which works so well together.
Course 3: Heirloom tomatoes. Smoked tomato dashi jelly, light parmesan custard. My favourite course which had me licking the bowl clean. I love parmesan but parmesan custard takes it to another level. A really clever and delicious dish.
Course 4: Flash grilled salmon. Grapefruit and Korean chilli dressing, sour cream and buckwheat crisp. I didn’t like this dish which tasted just of raw salmon. The flavours didn’t work for me and I would have rather preferred a cooked piece of fish.
Course 4: Lamb Tataki. Pickled mushrooms, soaked lentils, garlic catalan and parsley pesto. I liked this better than the salmon as it had more flavour coming through. Raw lamb is a weird concept for me and I wasn’t entirely sold on it.
Course 5: Woodview farm wagyu beef carpaccio. Soy braised sweet potato, burnt aurbergine and macadamia purée. I don’t have a picture of this as we both opted for the crayfish.
Course 5: Crayfish in concrete ball. Braised sushi rice, Thai style foam, Luke’s XO. The wow factor of this dish is the waiter presenting you with a smoked crayfish in a concrete ball before returning with the plated final dish. The crayfish was perfectly cooked although I found it difficult to eat in a bowl with a blunt knife. Luke’s XO sauce is something you will either love or hate, I found it a little too overpowering.
Course 6: Pork belly. Blue cheese and parsley compressed apples. This was a really good dish that was prepared well. The meat was super soft and sliding off the fat.
Course 6: Pan seared springbok loin. Liver and sage stuffing, beetroot emulsion. This heavy rich dish screamed to be served in winter. The flavours in the stuffing and overall dish was amazing.
Course 7: Pan seared duck breast. Confit duck leg, duck liver, figs, BBQ meringue. A beautifully cooked duck breast with other elements that didn’t complement it. I ended up eating the duck breast on its own.
Litchi sorbet palate cleanser was deliciously refreshing.
Course 8: Fennel, lime, coconut. Fennel curd, lime sponge, coconut sorbet. The lime overpowered all other elements of the dish and the coconut flavour didn’t do it for me.
Course 8: Rhubarb and strawberry salad. Elderflower granita, clotted cream. I really loved this dessert. The combination of strawberry and clotted cream was magical.
Hot cross bun petit fours provided the perfect sweet ending to the meal.
All the dishes were great dishes but I preferred some to others. It’s easy to see why Luke is the chef with the top restaurant in SA and ranked 28th in the world. I personally prefer a smaller 5/6 course tasting menu as these portion sizes were very generous. We were also quite surprised that the menu didn’t seem seasonal with its inclusion of quite heavy and rich dishes not suited to the hot Autumn weather.
At 4k for two people the dinner does not come cheap. I think we can all also agree that charging R75 for water is ridiculous. The service from the waiters was faultlessly impeccable. I found the overall experience missing a little magic, there was nothing to distinguish it from any other fine dining establishment. The food was great but none blew me away as expected. I didn’t see any crazy plating or showmanship or food that shocked and tantalized my taste buds. What you see on the menu was exactly what you get. I think my disappointment stems from comparing to the most amazing dinner at The Greenhouse for half the price of this. It is worth trying once if only to experience the Saxon and Luke Dale Roberts dishes, but once is more than enough.
Ring: (011) 292 6000
Hop: 36 Saxon Road, Sandhurst
Fine & Dining,