British-born Luke Dale-Roberts trained in England, Switzerland and throughout Asia before settling in Cape Town in 2006. South Africa’s most high-profile chef, he operates a number of venues in both Cape Town and Johannesburg and his restaurant The Test Kitchen is regularly cited as the best restaurant in Africa .
I think what makes a restaurant special is almost intangible. It’s that little something else, an aspect that makes it different from all the others. It can be the personality of the person that’s cooking – if they’re authentic to themselves and cook from the heart it often translates.
When my wife and I travel we tend to go to those restaurants that are on the lists, so to speak. But it’s often the ones in between that end up impressing us as much, if not more. I think your serial fine-diner can become jaded after a while, because there’s no level of intrigue. I think the challenge for them is to recalibrate before they eat another meal; go in on ground zero and judge it from there.
In Cape Town we go to this little Italian restaurant down the road on Sundays – it’s a bit of a habit for us – and it’s just comforting; there’s a bottle of wine on the table and you eat the gnocchi with sauce. There’s something delicious and simple in that.
At The Test Kitchen, I like things to be casual but perfect, and for the staff to be really friendly and to show their personalities. I want the people serving me to be as excited about the food as the people cooking the food. I got this a lot in New York; they’d say ‘you’ve just got to try this’ and you know that they’ve tasted it; they’re not rattling things off robotically. I want to know why they like it and what’s cool about it.
I worked there for a while, and the way they did things was just clever. They would serve grilled pork neck or grilled wagyu or Kobe beef with a balsamic dressing but with soy in there, or a Japanese-style carpaccio, so it was fusion but very simple. I learned a massive amount there – it opened my eyes to Japanese ingredients and a new way of cooking.
I particularly remember one multi-course meal my wife and I had there which was incredible; because the experience was brand new to us it took our breath away. We had a honey-cabbage palate cleanser, with the stem of the leaf cut into a perfect triangle and served in a shot glass. It was just so simple and so inspiring.
Osteria Francescana, Modena
I was in Italy about four years ago and I phoned [ Osteria Francescana chef] Massimo Bottura on the off-chance I could visit the restaurant. He didn’t have space so he put a table in the kitchen for me, and it was outstanding; I got a totally different perspective. (And I was served by a lot of the chefs, which was quite quirky.)
The food was very avant-garde but still real; it had a genuine, solid sense to it which I thought was phenomenal. I remember having a green almond granite which was exceptional, and his Oops I Dropped the Lemon Tart dessert. I was inspired by the food; when you eat a great meal it’s not one or two specific dishes, it’s the entire buzz, and this was a beautiful, elegant experience.
Atera, New York
This is a small 12-seater restaurant in the Tribeca district of New York . It’s really funky and cool; the food’s awesome (though it was much better on our initial visit than the second). The chef is Nordic and my first time here was also my first time eating Nordic-style cuisine. I loved the light touch, which is so delicate and different. We had caviar with a kind of beer foam and, more recently, a waffle with matured cheese and sliced Italian truffle, which was amazing.
They do two seatings and you eat and chat with other diners around a U-shaped bar. The service is extremely efficient too, and we built up really good friendships with the staff while we were there; they were quite quirky and offbeat. The guy who greets you is also the DJ and he plays his favourite tracks all night.
The Clove Club, London
I went here with Phil Howard [chef at The Square in Mayfair] and we had such a great meal, it was just fabulous. I remember having a redfish with citrus emulsion and I loved the crispy chicken feet.
The staff were super engaged, excited to be there and about the food, and proud of what they did. I thought the décor was quite spit and sawdust, which I thought was nice. It underpromised and overdelivered; there was such a nice energy about the place.
Royal China, London
Royal China serves the best dim sum I’ve ever eaten anywhere in the world. It’s super authentic, dependable and stuffed with good ingredients, and it’s special to me: it’s the first restaurant my wife and I went to together, about 16 years ago.
We always go to the one in Queensway and it’s exactly the same every time you go; we always have the scallop dumplings and the prawn friend rice, which is just delicious. It’s casual, affordable and good for lunch, the service is fast and efficient, and the crowd is totally mixed – it ranges from celebrities to local Chinese guests.
This article was written by Telegraph Luxury Travel Editor and John O'Ceallaigh from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.