Rosebank is getting more than its fair share of foodie openings. Equally edgy and electric, warm and welcoming – use any excuse you can to visit The Test Kitchen Carbon. This restaurant in the new Oxford Parks development is crackling with energy right now. Everything is technically precise, but it’s chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ culinary storytelling unfolding with every bite that makes the experience sing. We may have just entered Joburg’s greatest dining era yet.
Whether you’re a Joburg native or transplant, you’ve become accustomed to seeing construction everywhere; packed-together skyscrapers and cranes stitching the City of Gold together in seemingly haphazard ways. Has there been a more successful urban regeneration project than the neighbourhood of Rosebank, though? With the opening of The Shortmarket Club Johannesburg in October 2021 followed by The Test Kitchen Carbon in March 2022, this is now one of Joburg’s foodie hubs – and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
Dark tones, industrial details and an open-plan linear space aren’t quite what you’d expect from a swanky fine-dining restaurant. There’s nowhere to hide, and nothing masking the eight to 11-course tasting menu filled with surprising flavours and textures. But then you see that it’s neatly divided up into lots of different spaces – including snug little spots for two with the open kitchen just behind and stools around the counter to glimpse the artistry in action – and you know you’re in for a different take on haute cuisine. The Test Kitchen Carbon is a seriously special occasion spot that’s all about food enlightenment, inventive cooking and plenty of lavish ingredients.
As its name suggests, The Test Kitchen Carbon is a reincarnation of the original Cape Town restaurant. The décor, which plays with a familiar industrial chic and its namesake colour, single-handedly proves that the dark side has plenty of perks. The vibe is romantic fine dining with a playful touch: Think cowhide upholstery, burnt timber artworks and light wooden floors amid a sea of white tablecloth-clad tables. HAUS Architects in collaboration with Sandalene Dale-Roberts (chef and owner Luke’s wife) have created a space that’s sophisticated but not stuffy. Huge windows flood the space with natural light during the day, and after dusk soft golden lighting hits the ancient yellowwood bar counter, giving everyone a sexy glow.
Impressive CVs abound from the team heading up The Test Kitchen Carbon. Chef Luke Dale-Roberts is known for pushing the envelope to the highest levels of culinary excellence and has a loyal following among South African foodies, so food is an incredibly serious matter around here. The prices are above average (R950 for the lunch tasting menu and R1,900 for dinner) and the menu is edgy. In other words, this isn’t a place to simply refuel. However, this is a great opportunity to experience the mechanism and team that’s earned Luke’s restaurants multiple awards. Pure, unadulterated poetry on a plate. Since meals can last up to four hours, arrive with plenty of time to spare. Only a chef of this calibre, who conjures up food that you’ll be dreaming about for the rest of your life, could expect time-stressed Joburgers to sit still for that long.
Foodwise, there’s a lot to like. The menu changes depending on which produce is in season, keeping the food ambitious and full of flavour. Head chef Tyron Gentry, who’s spent the last seven years working closely under Luke, offers playful takes on, well, everything – from the ‘Billionaire’ hors d’oeuvre topped with 24-carat gold leaf to a seared bite of wagyu served with a hand-pinched mushroom gyoza in a beef coconut broth. His lunch menu is, as you’d expect, presented like mini works of edible art. We loved the sashimi with ponzu and yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit) that brings a nice jolt of acid to the meal; the paella-style risotto with lemon, calamari oil and a generous serving of crayfish tail adding to its extravagance; and the Japanese gazpacho with crème fraîche sorbet, aubergine nitsuke and salmon roe, which presents delicate mouthfuls of flavour. And never mind the achingly tender springbok balanced by chicken liver parfait and fig, or the upside-down lemon tart that finds its perfect counterpart in tequila sorbet. Every dish has clearly been extensively brainstormed before being presented. A lineup of thoughtfully considered vegetarian options gives the menu a suitably contemporary balance.
The Test Kitchen Carbon is a place for special occasions – and the meal should match. So, if you’re feeling spendy, we recommend you put yourself in the excellent hands of the sommelier and prepare to be wowed by the international wine pairings (R2,550 with the lunch tasting menu). This is the place to try something new: The restaurant stocks French and Spanish wines not found anywhere else in Joburg and the staff knows what they’re talking about, so you can ask questions and learn. We were particularly taken with the light and citrusy Mirabeau en Provence Pure Rosé 2020 and the Bodegas LAN D-12 2011 – a very complex Tempranillo with layers of flavours from start to finish. This might be the most creative meal you’ve had in years.
Open for lunch from Thursday to Saturday and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday
Oxford Parks, 199 Oxford Road, Dunkeld
010 745 3999