For my birthday, my husband treated me to lunch at the Test Kitchen, the trendy restaurant owned and run by chef Luke Dale-Roberts, situated in the equally trendy Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock.
We went there with high expectations, having heard glowing accolades. We don’t often do fine dining, and I am wary when I do (don’t, please, put foam on my food, ever). I also suffer from portion anxiety and worry that the food will be all pretty garnish and no substance.
Thankfully I can report that not only were our expectations met, but were exceeded. The decor is attractive—a blend of rustic and chic that works well—and characterised by stripped bricks and exposed air vents, accompanied by modern fittings.
We both started with warm duck crepe with jerusalem artichoke, hoisin dressing and parsnip crisps. The duck was succulent and very tasty.
We drank a glass each of Klein Constantia 2009 Riesling. Not the most traditional accompaniment to duck, but I am currently addicted to Riesling and drink it at every opportunity. People talk about Riesling as being ‘terpene’, whatever that means; to me a good Riesling has a nose and palate that is difficult to define—a mixture between green apples, minerals and something chemical or smoky even.
The Klein Constantia website tasting notes say it more poetically than I can:
Vibrant in appearance with pungent aromas of lime, citrus blossom and jasmine. The palate has an attractive sweet entry which is balanced by fine mineral acidity providing structure. Heady flavours of Turkish delight/rose petals evolve through to the finish
For the main course, I had fillet (pan fried beef fillet, green beans and mushrooms with black pepper ‘café au lait’) and my husband had pork belly (crisp fried pork belly, sous vide fillet, garlic and toasted ginger purée, American oak and bourbon velouté). I avoid pork belly as it is never crispy enough, but this was, and was pronounced to be delicious, as was my main course.
We shared a bottle of Sterhuis 2008 Merlot to accompany our main course. I am not generally a great Merlot fan, but this was lovely – dusty, weighty and complex. Again, I’ll leave it to those who say it best. From the Sterhuis website:
The wine is classic in style, serious yet very accessible flavours with fresh plums, mulberries, spicy fruitcake, chocolate and coffee on the nose. The palate is elegant with spicy fruitcake, mulberry and plum fruits with integrated oak flavours and a velvety soft tannin finish
We both finished with cheese platters. My portion anxiety proved to be unfounded on all counts, and by the time we left we were as full and happy as ticks.
The service was smooth and unobtrusive. Something that really impressed me, is that the man himself was there, in action. We have been to restaurants before, based on the reputation of a chef, and sometimes I suspect that they are not even on the same continent, let alone in the kitchen.
This kitchen passed the test.