Acclaimed South African chef, Luke Dale-Roberts, has taken The Test Kitchen abroad for the first time, with a six-week pop-up at Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa on the East coast of Mauritius.
Pairing neatly with the launch of his reduced “Drought Kitchen” menu at The Test Kitchen’s home in Woodstock, Cape Town, the Mauritian pop-up of this award-winning restaurant has seen more than a dozen chefs and front-of-house staff jet off to the coastal village of Trou D’eau Douce in Mauritius to bring a taste of world-class gastronomy to this luxury resort. And judging by the fully booked tables in the first week, both locals and resort guests are hungry for it.
Each evening The Test Kitchen-team take over the charming Republik Beach Club & Grill, set right on the sands of Trou d’Eau Douce Bay. The bar area is transformed into a dark and moody space, echoing the “Dark Room” at the original restaurant.
Here guests ease into their culinary journey with a selection of four snacks made to kick start the taste buds. There’s a delicious undercurrent of island spice in the yellow lentil crisp served with local atchar and a home-made sour cream, while the TTK Poké bowl takes on a unique approach to this on-trend dish, topping sushi rice and mustard with slivers of local wild boar.
From the darkened bar, diners are escorted to the main restaurant with its starched tablecloths, fine stemware and glass-walled kitchens that provide a clear view of the culinary action. The menu runs to five courses, with three starter-sized plates, a main course and a dessert. What’s more, the pop-up restaurant also offers wine pairings led by the ever-charming sommelier, Tinashe Nyamudoka, who matches a range of leading South African wines to each course.
Across the menu Luke and his head chef, Ryan Cole, have worked hard to combine a Test Kitchen level of culinary art with plentiful island influences; so it’s fitting that the menu kicks off with delicate herb-fired tuna, artfully plated with a single stalk of grilled asparagus, fermented tofu and a bright olive dressing. Next up is a foie gras parfait with vanilla crumb and shards of salted meringue to offset the richness of the parfait.
The third starter changes regularly, depending on what the ocean has to offer. A crowd favourite is the locally caught Blacktip Grouper, otherwise known as Vieille Rouge, served with coriander pesto and an intensely earthy carrot extraction. It shows just how impressive a simple fish dish can be when approached with creativity in the kitchen.
From the choice of mains given, I went for the venison served in an intense beetroot jus, accompanied by dukkah and a liver stuffing (it was worth putting my best white shirt at risk!). The island’s hunting season for local deer hasn’t yet opened, so Luke had to source the venison from France – this is just one of the logistical challenges they’ve had to tackle in the first weeks).
Another challenge was transferring culinary ideas and traditions from one culture to another.
When the pop-up launched, the venison dish was originally developed around seared common wood pigeon, but local diners were taken aback by this rather progressive protein, so within days the kitchen had swopped fowl for venison.
With that said, Luke and Ryan have taken it all in stride, showing that by combining forces with the resort’s chefs and waiters, they can make a powerful team that has The Test Kitchen’s efficiency and the Mauritian’s island hospitality in equal measure.
The evening ends with the evocatively named bread, milk and honey pudding – a delectable dessert topped with raw Mauritian honey to sweeten the night.
On that note, it seems to be clear that The Test Kitchen’s first overseas outing is a great success, with Luke promising to keep patrons on their toes with an ever-evolving menu.
If you’re in Mauritius, or planning a visit to the island, don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to taste The Test Kitchen gone tropical.
Follow The Test Kitchen’s adventures on Instagram and Twitter via the hashtag #TTKMauritius
Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa will host The Test Kitchen until 26 May 2018. For more information and reservations contact 0800-028-3337 or email [email protected]. shangri-la.com/mauritius
Written by Richard Holmes
Images by Richard Holmes and supplied