Chefs Liam Tomlin and Luke Dale-Roberts have expanded their restaurant empires in Cape Town, attempting to capture the same market — well-heeled tourists and locals with refined palates. We ate at both restaurants to bring you a blow-by-blow account of the duel of the Kings of the Cape. 

Chef Luke Dale Roberts
Chef Luke Dale Roberts
Image: Supplied
Chef Liam Tomlin
Chef Liam Tomlin
Image: Claire Gunn

1. FINE DINING AT ITS BEST

The Test Kitchen vs Chef’s Warehouse Beau Constantia

The Test Kitchen is a favourite of fine-dining foodies. It has been the top rated restaurant in the country for three years running. For most of that time, eight years in fact, Ivor Jones was head chef at Test Kitchen before moving to Beau Constantia to head his own kitchen. Beau Constantia has had a meteoric rise on the local rankings, debuting at number four on the Eat Out Top 10.

A meal at The Test Kitchen is the big game trophy of South African fine dining; a meal at Beau Constantia is (for now) a less coveted prize. It shouldn’t be. Everything about Beau Constantia is exceptional well considered, from the panoramic views stretching from the mountains to False Bay and the soft grey and creamy wooden interior, to the exceptional food. It matches, if not surpasses, what is on offer at The Test Kitchen, for roughly half the price.

THE FACTS:

The Test Kitchen:

The menu: 10 courses.
The wine pairing: Tea pairing, gourmand wine and iconic wine pairing
Price: R1,800 per person, excluding wine.
High point: Moving from the dark room to the light room over cocktails and snacks.
Low point: The format and techniques are well established and it feels formulaic, rather than spontaneous.

Chef’s Warehouse Beau Constantia:

The menu: 7 plates, for sharing between two.
The wine pairing: On request.
Price: R700 for two people, excluding wine.
High point: A panoramic, sunset-flooded dinner, exceptional food.
Low point: Unless you live in the southern suburbs, it’s a very expensive Uber trip.

2. DINNER IN THE CITY

Chef’s Warehouse Bree Street vs The Shortmarket Club

For a special dinner in the city, Chef’s Warehouse Bree Street and the Shortmarket Club in Shortmarket Street are within walking distance of each other. Chef’s Warehouse has been open since 2013, the origin of what is now a tapas empire stretching far beyond Bree Street. Its food is consistently delicious and permanently popular.

Chef Wesley Randles’s menu looks traditional - it’s a classic three course, à la carte but the food is sensational. The Shortmarket Club, Luke Dale-Roberts’ first venture beyond his beloved The Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, is fantastic. The room is sumptuous and the food has all the technical precision of The Test Kitchen, with none of the formality. 

THE FACTS:

The Shortmarket Club:

The menu:  A la carte.
The wine pairing: Tea pairing, gourmand wine and iconic wine pairing.
Price: Depends on what you order - about R600 for three courses.
Highs: The exceptional fish starters and man-sized steaks, with the signature café au lait.
Lows: Not enough options for vegetarians or pescaterians.

Chef’s Warehouse Bree Street:

The menu: 7 plates, for sharing between two. 
The wine pairing: On request.
Price: R350 per person, excluding wine.
Highs: The glorious, ever-changing tapas.
Lows: The room is not right for dinner - it feels like eating dinner at a place meant for lunch.

3. CLASSIC CAPE TOWN TAPAS

The Pot Luck Club v Thali

This is a very close match. Pot Luck Club is entrenched in the culinary scene. They sling tapas from a kitchen that looks like a DJ booth to a dining room as lively as a concert.

Potluck is the Prince Harry to The Test Kitchen’s William. It will never be king but it is definitely more fun. Thali is a new-ish addition to the tapas scene, applying the Chef’s Warehouse format to Indian street food so profoundly delicious you leave feeling drugged on flavor and stupefied by spices.

THE FACTS:

The Pot Luck Club: 

The menu: À la carte tapas.
The wine pairing: Tea pairing, gourmand wine and iconic wine pairing.
Price: R890 per person.
Highs: Playful, perfectly executed dishes and a rowdy, ready-to-party atmosphere.
Lows: It’s loud in there and the tables are close together.

Thali: 

The menu: 7 plates, to share between two.
The wine pairing: On request.
Price: R350 per person.
Highs: The perfect progression of dishes, expertly spiced, taking you through the Indian flavour profile in a way that’s both authentic and modern.
Lows: The food is rich and the portions are large, so completing the meal is a challenge.

4. OUT-OF-TOWN ADVENTURE:

Chef’s Warehouse at Maison or Test Kitchen Mauritius

The Test Kitchen is operating a pop-up in Mauritius at the Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa. It is due to run until the end of May. The food comprises classic dishes from the Test Kitchen, incorporating local produce, such as palm hearts.

Meanwhile, just a stone’s throw away from Cape Town, in Franschhoek, Liam Tomlin has established a permanent residency at Maison, headed by industrious young chef Dave Schneider. If you are planning an excursion, and its eating you are after, Maison in Franschhoek is a much easier trip than going all the way to Mauritius! 

THE FACTS:

Chef’s Warehouse Maison: 

The tasting menu: 7 plates, to share between two.
The wine pairing: On request, wines paired from the Maison cellar.
Price: R700 per person sharing.

The Test Kitchen Mauritius:

The tasting menu: 7 courses.
The wine pairing: Included in the meal.
Price: R1,270 per person.

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