Since the Test Kitchen opened in 2010, it has been ranked as South Africa’s leading restaurant and has made top listings all around the world. From 2012 to 2016, it was named Restaurant of the Year by Eat Out. Bookings are hard to come by and it has fast become a must-see culinary destination on the South African map. Now, with a clever redesign, it has been reinvented to provide an unmatched dining experience that has everyone talking. The new design plays on the dualism between darkness and light and the result is more magical than anyone could have imagined.
According to Luke Dale-Roberts, they had come to a junction. “It had been 6 years since we opened The Test Kitchen. The restaurant originally opened as a project to see how far I could take my food and it became a very busy restaurant serving 60-65 guests lunch and dinner 5 days a week. I wanted to bring it back to what it was originally meant to be. I wanted to refocus and reset the parameters of what we are doing.”
Patrons will now enjoy a dual dining experience that transitions from the Dark Room to the Light Room. To create this, Luke worked very closely with architect and designer Maurice Paliaga, and his wife Sandalene who designed and made all the furniture and curated all the soft furnishings, tableware, linen and carpets.
Luke comments further; “My team and I can spend the whole day creating. I told them that we can only be the best that we can be if we analyse everything that we do. If your job is to peel onions or sweet potatoes then think about how you can peel them differently. And if everyone does that, if everyone takes responsibility for their own creativity, then we can grow.”
The Dark Room is a luxuriously dark space. This is where guests huddle together, engage with one another and share plates of beautiful finger food. It is here that diners indulge in cocktails and the first 7 courses of the tasting menu. It is a mysteriously atmospheric place designed in such a way that guests feel the distinct change of pace from the outside world. It is here that you want to lower your voice, breathe deeply and focus on food and conversation. It is this darkened space that creates a soft landing for the diner in preparation for the transition into the Light Room.
The Light Room is airier and poised and more formal. For the first time there are tablecloths on the tables that create a sense of occasion. Rose Geranium infused water is served with rose petal ice cubes upon entering to create a division between the edgier Dark Room and the light floral freshness of the Light Room. It is here that guests will enjoy the remainder of the beautifully plated tasting menu in a more formal setting.
We interviewed Sandalene Dale-Roberts about the redesign:
What inspired the look and feel of the Dark Room and the Light Room?
Luke explained to me that he wanted the two spaces, and in my mind I decided to make the dark room feel a lot more masculine, but with a soft touch. I went on to try and create this masculine space, but a very comfortable and cosy space. I wanted people to feel like they were in their own lounge at home.
Then I tried to do the opposite in the light room, therefore making it, light, airy, much softer and of course more feminine.
It was important for the two spaces to lend a completely different experience to the guest, an adventure totally different in each.
How was the space designed to facilitate the transition from the dark room to the light room?
A surprise, walking from outside into the dark room and then another surprise from dark into light.
Which techniques/approaches did you employ in order to create the stark contrast between the two rooms?
Our Architect Maurice Paliaga really helped in creating the platform for what we did. He suggested the wood panelling in the dark room and roof trusses, the industrial machines. It was great working with him, he really captured our thoughts and had such a deep understanding of what Luke wanted. After he and Luke thrashed out the “structure,” I had a lot to work with to add the softs.
For more information, visit thetestkitchen.co.za