The day Woodstock officially became Cape Town's hottest district can be dated to Nov. 24, 2010 when Luke Dale-Roberts opened the Test Kitchen there.
Dale-Roberts is the chef who took South Africa's most venerable restaurant, La Colombe in Constantia, and, by adding Asian spice to its French cuisine, propelled it to the 12th spot on the 2010 S. Pellegrino list of the world's 50 best restaurants. By taking his latest venture to Woodstock, just east of downtown, he set seal to a process of local trendification that has seen the area of Victorian cottages and old factories become home to artists' ateliers and designers' studios.
Woodstock used to be a forgotten zone between two highways heading out of town, and for years there was good reason to drive by. Once a thriving business district, and for a while a proud apartheid-era rebel where races defiantly mixed, it fell into economic decline by the 1990s. The factories folded and the area swarmed with muggers and junkies.
In 2003, that began to change. A local business alliance, backed by Cape Town's mayor, set about cleaning and beautifying the area, and slowly the old warehouses filled up with creative types in need of cheap and centrally located loft space. Giant murals and cool cafés began to line the streets, and a weekend farmers' market in the artsy-craftsy Old Biscuit Mill, theoldbiscuitmill.co.za became the city's foodie mecca. The arrival of the city's top chef amply confirms that status.
Dale-Roberts had known the area for some time. Confined to La Colombe in Cape Town's southern vineyards during the week, he would, come Saturday, head up to the farmers' market and sell rösti to hungry shoppers. When a small, bare room became available at the Old Biscuit Mill, he knew he had found "the perfect blank canvas" on which to create a restaurant dedicated to creative experimentation. After a refit involving local craftsmen, designers and artists, the 30-seat venue opened last year to spectacular reviews and long waiting lists sometimes up to two months in advance.
Diners can order à la carte or choose from three-, five- or eight-course tasting menus, priced at about $50, $65 and $80 respectively. The dishes change almost every night, but the formula is constant: highly creative cooking that mixes the likes of lamb rack with dark beer, or tomato and mozzarella with gooseberry, vanilla and pepper syrup. The combinations are not always to everyone's taste, but in their blend of the exquisite and the quirky they perfectly capture the flavor of the rejuvenated Woodstock itself.
For information and reservations, see thetestkitchen.co.za.