Cube Tasting Kitchen is universally known as the last word in cutting-edge, creative cuisine in Johannesburg. I recently went to see what all the fuss was about.
In keeping with its no-frills attitude, the restaurant doesn’t even have a sign, so it’s a bit hard to find. Located on 4th Avenue in trendy Parktown North, the two simple white-washed dining rooms are sandwiched between an Indian restaurant and a bar. The narrow rooms consist of just 12 and 15 tables respectively — which explains why it can take months to get a reservation.
An open-plan kitchen sits at the far end, and the only decor is three giant photo prints of desert scenes. At CTK, the food, not the décor, is meant to be the focus.
The ethos here is “break free of conventional eating;” the chefs create innovative “deconstructed” cuisine using a combination of modern and classic cooking styles, with a focus on fresh, sustainable produce. A sous chef personally delivers each dish, and offers a helpful table-side description.
10 courses unfold over the course of four hours, with each portion beautifully presented in a sort of organized messiness — a tiny piece of art on every plate (or goblet, or granite block, or wooden cutting board).
For example my first course was a study in textures, using potatoes as the canvas. I was presented with a ceramic pot with a bottom layer of crunchy potato skins, on top of which sat some herb confit potatoes, as well as a hint of potato “air.” It was finished with a fresh fennel salad and fennel salt.
The “tomato taster” course followed a similar theme. One tomato was manipulated to form the various parts of the dish: dried skins, tomato bites, a seed jelly, tomato leather, a smoked cherry tomato paired with a smoked custard. It was all topped with Parmesan shavings with rounds of Chevin cheese.
You’re required to choose in advance whether you’ll be having lamb, duck, fish or vegetarian for your protein, and I chose lamb. I was impressed with the number of ways it was presented.
My first lamb course consisted of cured lamb — salt and sugar cured, like biltong, then hung and dry aged — paired with a fresh corn and pineapple salsa, pickled carrots, and a truffle dressed micro salad. The second was a curried lamb croquette with a cucumber raita and curried bananas. The third was influenced by Moroccan flavours: a dukkah-rolled lamb loin with peppered humus, tabbouleh of cous-cous, and glazed carrots. And last, a slow-braised lamb shank served with potato dauphinoise, onion petals, crunchy onions, roasted onion puree and a lamb jus.
Dessert was the coup de grace: an inventive if slightly over-the-top “forest”-themed creation, which the pastry chef assembled at our table: a large smear of creamy green-tinted marshmallow piled with a layer of chocolate “soil,” fresh berries, coffee-meringue “twigs,” edible dehydrated flowers, dark chocolate Rice Krispie treat “rocks,” a caramel chocolate “log,” dehydrated chocolate meringue “bark” chunks, lemon “dew drops,” and fresh wheatgrass clippings. The video below shows the chef creating it at our table:
The menu changes monthly; within each month each dish can vary depending on the the availability of produce and the chefs’ desire to “evolve” the dish.
The whole “progression” takes a minimum of three hours, usually closer to four – and costs R700 pp (including gratuity).
CTK is unique in the fact that it’s unlicensed, so alcohol is not served, but diners are encouraged to bring their own wine, and there is no corkage fee. The restaurant sends out pairing suggestions in advance.
I have to admit I rolled out of CTK wondering whether the food was totally genius or totally wacky. I think it’s little bit of both. Head chef Dario de Angeli clearly has a passion for experimentation, without losing the fun and flavor of the food. Overall it makes for a unique and memorable dining experience, to say the least.
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