On Tuesday, its second day of operating, my friend Graham Goble and I dined at Chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ new The Shortmarket Club, just off Bree Street. It exceeded our expectations, in differing from The Test Kitchen (tasting menu) and Pot Luck Club (tapas) in its offering, and stood out in its strong use of colour for its starters and mains. However, some aspects disappointed.
It is the first time that I have had to pay a deposit for a restaurant booking, being a Dale-Roberts restaurant policy. On Monday I had booked telephonically for Tuesday evening with Janine, and she requested my email address, so that she could send the payment details. I was not vigilant enough in checking her booking date, and paid by credit card via a link she sent, being R250 per person. Surprisingly I received a call on the same afternoon, after having done the payment, about our booking for that evening. I assured the hostess that I had booked for Tuesday evening. She graciously agreed to correct the booking by moving it, highlighting that the payment form I had been sent had stated Monday’s date! Interesting is that none of the top restaurants in New York, which I have been booked to eat at next month, have a deposit system for bookings, only taking credit card details and charging if one cancels one’s reservation 72 hours or less before.
We arrived half an hour earlier than our table booking time, and had a seat at the bar. The bar counter is large and impressive in being made from solid wood, but its red leather bar chairs are too low relative to the bar counter. Combined with the black and white check floor tiles below, one felt as if one was in a ‘Fifties diner. The bar is in a large open plan room, with an open
kitchen, over which Chef Wesley Randles is clearly in charge. Oddly the room has a number of round tables and green grey leather chairs, but no one is seated at them, despite the restaurant having been fully booked, according to a friend who also wanted to dine there on Tuesday evening. In this area are two trolleys, one of them with the selection of five local cheeses, similar to the drinks trolley they have at The Test Kitchen.
Dramatic stained glass sliding doors with a rounded section above separate the bar/kitchen and dining rooms, but as there is no natural light in the restaurant, they do not have the effect one would expect, and even less so when seeing them from the dining area. The sliding doors, as well as the lamps over the bar counter, with the reception table, were brought in by David Bell from Buenos Aires, Graham told me, having accompanied David on one of his trips to Argentina to source interiors for his company Onsite Gallery. The open ‘ceiling’ looks very industrial, with a mesh covering and piping. Wooden cut-out panels by Paul Eastman (who created decorative panels for The Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club too) can be seen (almost by chance, not as prominently as in the other two Dale-Roberts restaurants) under the kitchen and bar counters, as well as on the staircase. We were told that the space was previously a bar of ill-repute, operated by Nigerians.
I was disappointed that there was no sherry on the drinks menu, so settled for water, containing lemon, but its taste revealed that it was not filtered. A large ceramic pig’s head is on the bar counter, with the cocktail and bar snacks menus in it. I was able to arrange with Chef Wesley that I could photograph our dishes at the pass, as the light was far better there than in the dining section.
Manager Simon Widdison showed us the ‘Butterfly’ wall in the dining section, created by Mark Rautenbach from cut-outs of pieces of paper belonging to the partners in the business. The paper pieces were cut into butterfly shapes, and then singed, and grouped in frames, filling almost the whole back wall of the dining area, an unusual decor element, and the only decor touch other than the grey/green chairs and blue leather banquettes. The wooden central divider has small glass panels, once again giving a ‘Fifties look to the restaurant. Tables are close to each other, so that one can hear one’s neighbours talking, and one can even interact with them, as we did with Concepts Collection event and wedding planner Christina Holt and her husband, sitting at the table alongside us. The weirdest aspect of the restaurant is the ‘lab coats‘, as Graham called them, worn by the waiters, making them look very sterile and scientific, worn with a black tie, black pants, and a black cloth in the overcoat pocket. Pierre looked after us for the evening, responsible for our food, water, and wine.
The tablecloth-covered tables offer beautiful gold-embroidered napkins with The Shortmarket Club logo on them. Each of the four partners were allowed to choose an animal or bird to include in the logo, and we guessed Sandalene Dale-Roberts to have chosen the butterfly, but we were surprised that Chef Luke’s choice was the pig. Chef Wesley and Simon jointly chose an owl, and the designer had chosen a fox, the fox not looking too dissimilar to the fox in the logo of the new La Colombe restaurant Foxcroft opening in Constantia in Spring. A glass bottle held a sprig of Blushing Bride, which I moved behind me. The silver salt and pepper holders were unbranded and unusual, looking like mini cocktail shakers.
The menu is large in size, being A3, yet the number of items listed for Breakfast, Appetizers, Entrees, and Dessert is only between four and eight each. The menu requests that waiters be advised of dietary requirements, and states that a 12,5% service charge will be added for tables of eight or more. Pierre talked us through the Appetizers, and the main courses, and seemed to highly recommend each dish. It took us some time to order, and Graham was very gracious in allowing me to order my choices and then choosing something else, which we could share and taste. Pierre brought a warm baguette wrapped in hessian, with butter, to the table.
My Appetizer choice was an unusual one for me, six plump luscious Saldanha Bay oysters at R20 each, which were accompanied by Tabasco sauce as well as Tigers Milk sauce, a refreshing mix of lime juice, chili, and garlic, the oysters having been placed on beach pebbles, an unusual presentation. Graham told me that he does not normally eat oysters, but had two, because they tasted so good. Graham chose a Peruvian-style ceviche, prepared with yellowfin tuna belly, and served with persimmon shavings and ginger strips, fresh chili, and mustard leaves, giving the starter a beautiful yellow colour, and was also accompanied with Tiger’s Milk sauce (R110). Other starter choices are grass-fed beef carpaccio from Farmer Angus at Spier in Stellenbosch, served with goat ricotta, miso cured egg yolk, tomato sherry dashi (a soup and cooking stock used in Japanese cuisine), Parmesan, and burnt onion powder (R120); West Coast mussels prepared with Chardonnay, celeriac and ham hock velouté, poached oysters, and seaweed (R110); soup de jour, which was roasted fennel and parsnip, shaved Kalahari truffles, shaved fennel, and toasted brioche (R75); asparagus served with miso and hazelnut Hollandaise, porcini purée, compressed wild mushrooms, and a Parmesan wafer (R110); Trout Tataki, with Teriyaki-braised sweet potato, Granny Smith apple, ginger tahini, organic radishes, and crispy trout skin (R95); and crispy octopus with green mango atchar, sesame tamarind dressing, and bonito fish flakes (R130).
Both our main courses were beautifully presented, and the Instagrammer in me could not wait to do so after I arrived back home. Graham’s (second, after the porchetta) choice was lamb rump, served with roasted fennel fondant, ricotta, hazelnut and fennel seed roasted leeks, served with lamb jus, and mint jelly in a separate glass holder (R220). My stuffed porchetta with fresh peas and sugar snaps, served on pea and horseradish amasi (fermented milk), and a date and almond dressing (R190) was exceptional, with a crispy pork belly crust. Alternative choices were a vegetarian dish of hot smoked aubergine, ash-baked celeriac, roast apple, baba ‘ghanoush’ (sic), with mint and preserved lemon, and fried goat cheese fritter (R140); kingklip served with Bo Kaap roasted Masala sauce, burnt gem lettuce, spekboom (a local succulent) and quinoa salsa (R190); a chestnut and fynbos-roasted baby chicken served with parsnip and sour dough sauce, rainbow baby beets, and tarragon gravy (R200); and a ribeye steak (R290) and fillet (R250) served with Bernaise sauce or ‘Café au Late’ (sic) plus one side. Sides offered are duck fat roasted potatoes (R40), potato churros (R35), broccoli (R35), and fennel fondant (R40).
Christina sitting next to us had ordered the Rhubarb Mess, with ‘marscapone’ (sic) crema Catalan, with rose and ginger meringue shards, looking beautiful from where we were sitting (R85). I chose a chocolate soufflé, which looked more like a chocolate fondant to me, which was topped with a hazelnut and Grand Marnier parfait (R110). Graham had a second persimmon dish, a dessert of roasted persimmon, wild honeycomb, celeriac ice cream, pistachio galette (a flat round cake or tart), goat ricotta, and wild rice (R80). An additional dessert dish is caramelised lemon tart, strawberry and amasi ice cream (R80). The cheese trolley offers a selection of ‘the best small cheese producers in South Africa‘, at R160.
A sheet with cocktail suggestions was on our table, with Martinis and Manhattans costing R80. Eleven ‘old fashioned’ cocktails range in price from R55 to R75. The wine list looked like a small newspaper in A3 size, attached to a decorated wooden stick, which one would see at a library or a club. Laurent Perrier Brut (NV) is charged at R1350, and Rosé R2600. Graham Beck Brut NV costs R70 per glass and R340 per bottle, Le Lude Brut NV (R435), and Avondale Armilla 2009 (R550) are three local sparkling wines offered. Rosé MCCs offered are Graham Beck Brut Rosé (R70 by the glass and R340 per bottle), Le Lude Rosé NV R450, and Silverthorn The Genie NV (R475). One Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc wine brand is offered by the glass, whereas three white blend wines are offered by the glass, costing between R50 – R85. More wines by the glass are offered for red blends, and one each for Shiraz, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir, in a price range of R60 – R100. Craft beers, cider, gin, vodka, whisky, and American ‘whisky’ (sic) are also offered. Our wine order was an easy one, the Kleinood Tamboerskloof Shiraz 2013 (R390 per bottle) being a delicious accompaniment to our dinner. Pierre topped up the wine regularly and the water occasionally. A separate menu details Bar snacks, oysters costing R20, Crisna olives R40, Malay-spiced nuts R30, and dhaltjies (Cape Malay chili bites) R30.
Breakfast offerings include egg and soldiers (R60), Scotch egg (R110), the asparagus dish which is also a starter, house-smoked hake (R80), and hot-smoked trout (R90).
The restaurant emptied quickly, and by 22h30 we were the last diners in the restaurant, poor Pierre dutifully waiting for us to finish. We felt sorry for him, and felt obliged to leave, but would have preferred to chat some more. He brought the bill, which had the deposit deducted, with the outstanding balance. Only on getting home did I realize that I had not tipped Pierre on the full amount, the balance on the bill after the deposit deduction creating confusion. Very irritating was a persistent nagging car guard who insisted on being paid in cash for looking after my car outside Chefs Warehouse, even though he had not been asked to do so, and not having seen him when I parked there on arrival.
The Shortmarket Club ran smoothly on its second day of operation, and its delayed opening by three weeks probably made a difference. The separated kitchen from the dining section is a pity, as one has no connection to the chefs as a diner, and they do not come to the dining section at all. Simon and Nicholas came to check if all was to our satisfaction. I was grateful that I was called to the pass by Pierre to photograph our dishes, the quality of the photography being enhanced by the better light. Disappointing was the spelling errors on the menu and winelist, Pierre stretching across me from the right to place the fork on the left on two occasions, and very odd was the waiter lab coats, a weird touch given Sandalene’s design of staff outfits for the other Dale-Roberts restaurants. Unexplained is the use of the ‘Club‘ in the restaurant name! The design of the dishes, in its use of colour, is exceptional and refreshing!
The Shortmarket Club, 88 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 447-2874. www.theshortmarketclub.co.za Twitter: @ShortmarketClub Monday – Saturday Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Bookings must be made, but the website invites walk-ins on a first come first serve basis.
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.whalecottage.com/blog Tel 082 55 11 323 Twitter: @WhaleCottage Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein