Luke Dale-Roberts of The Test Kitchen fame has partnered in a joint venture with his wife, Sandalene Dale-Roberts, his top chef Wesley Randles and manager Simon Widdison to open The Shortmarket Club in a heritage building just off vibey Bree Street. The excitement around the food and the venue is palpable, and The Shortmarket Club has already created a buzz in the Mother City ahead of its opening on 27 June.
Dale-Roberts is justifiably proud of this new venture: “I’m extremely excited about what this will bring to the City Bowl,” he says. He further explains that his involvement of more a supporting role, as his focus remains on The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club in Woodstock. “The restaurant is unique in its design and it’s a place to relax and really lap up the feeling of luxury that surrounds you – and the delicious food of course!” And that delicious food comes courtesy of head chef Wesley Randles, who has worked closely with Dale-Roberts since the opening of The Test Kitchen. Randles is clearly having fun with this big new project: “It’s very challenging but exciting at the same time,” he says.The restaurant will be serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and, in keeping with its opulent old-world feel, many of the dishes are modern interpretations of classics. Breakfast will herald a new trend for the City Bowl with the likes of shiitake brioche toast soldiers with boiled eggs, quinoa granola made in-house and classic Arnold Bennett omelette.
For lunch, “We’ll start you off with perfect West Coast oysters with Asian accompaniments or beef carpaccio with a miso-cured egg yolk,” Randles enthuses. “It’s the type of place where we want people to linger, have fun; where lunch turns into drinks at the bar, or an after-work get-together turns into a languid dinner.”
The open kitchen will also feature a braai barbecue section, Randles says, and you can expect the likes of kingklip with tamarind and palm sugar or crayfish with smoked sweetcorn coming off the grill. “We’ll be serving perfect tomahawk steaks, fillet and ribeye from our grill section,” Randles explains about the menu, “and we’re getting really creative with the sauces and sides – think savoury churros, chips in duck fat and our signature café au lait sauce of The Pot Luck Club fame.” The stuffed petit poussin will be roast to order and carved at the table, adding flair to the whole dining experience. That’s also where front-of-house manager Simon Widdison will come to the fore with his years of experience on the floor. For him, simple, efficient and personable service is at the core of the diner experience.
The restaurant space has been conceptualised and designed by Sandalene Dale-Roberts, Luke’s wife, and her vision is a powerful one creating an uncompromisingly opulent feel. She designed the vast banquettes that form the centrepiece of the dining area. “The space has the feeling of a club, and we’ve used leather and wood extensively,” she explains. The striking blacks and deep aubergine colours form a suitable backdrop to the moody space where two vast skylights pour in light. Accents such as stained glass made by local craftsmen in sliding doors from Argentina separating the dining and bar areas have been kept as a nod to feel of history and craftsmanship the space evokes, while leather-covered tables add to the appeal.
Guests enter the restaurant from a staircase to the first floor where the open kitchen is the first thing you see. Here the bar area will be a perfect place for a pre-dinner drink, watching the chefs in action. Artist Peter Eastman who has contributed to the décor elements at The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club, has created wooden cut-out panels for the space too. Sandalene Dale-Roberts has also added a strong vintage touch with military lamps above the pass and copper lamps in the dining area, yet the overall effect remains welcoming and seriously swanky. The centrepiece of a wall of framed butterflies, conceptualised by artist Mark Rautenbach whose work features strongly at The Test Kitchen, creates a striking visual focus. Made from documents about The Test Kitchen and The Pot Luck Club it is a testament to the success of those restaurants and welcomes diners to what is set to be another highlight in the restaurant world.