At the risk of sounding like a Dale-Roberts groupie, I’d call the meal I ate at The Pot Luck Club faultless. Every dish was unique and every aspect of every dish was technically perfect. That’s pretty impressive considering we had at least 12 plates of food between four of us.
The smoked pork belly (with orange-braised radicchio), the fish tacos, the Doenjang glazed beef short rib (with steam bun and pickles) and the popcorn ice-cream were stand-outs. But the more “ordinary” dishes were unforgettable too: perfect, cold oysters and baby potato wedges with smoked paprika salt.
According to its website, the idea behind The Pot Luck Club is to offer “innovative cuisine” in a “relaxed yet edgy environment that has never attracted an evening dining crowd”.
The restaurant is owned by multi-award winning chef Luke Dale-Roberts. He devised the menu, which is cooked by head chef Wesley Randles. The Pot Luck Club is a glass and steel box, six floors up in The Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock.
The décor is all open-plan, urban loft chic. The 360 degree views take in Woodstock rooftops, the CBD and the working end of the harbour. Even the sea views seem gritty, framed by the steel supports within.
It’s no hardship getting the early seating (6.30pm-8.30pm). As the light dies over the city – rosy tones picked up by the style-conscious copper accessories – it’s difficult to imagine a cooler place to be.
The professionalism of the floor staff add to the big city vibe. The procedure for dining here is easily explained. Our waitress’s food knowledge was impressive.
The concept of The Pot Luck Club is almost – but not quite – what the name suggests. Diners order small plates of food. The waitron brings the sharing plates in “rounds” – according to which dishes will combine well with each other. There is no “theme” here. The dishes have their roots in South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The menu links them by flavour profile only. Each dish is listed under ‘sour’, ‘salty’, ‘sweet’, ‘bitter’, ‘umami’ or ‘sweet endings’.
The famous smoked beef fillet with black pepper and truffle café au lait sauce falls under ‘umami’. Korean fried chicken with pineapple and miso slaw is ‘salty’. The Thai-style mussels are ‘sour’. “Smores” are under ‘sweet endings’.
This is nothing like the pot luck evening you’ve been to, the one with the grey goulash, the underseasoned casserole and the meat stew sweating under its Pyrex lid.
The tastes here are audacious. The textures are seductive. The aesthetic is restrained but confidently sophisticated. This is celebratory food that inspires without getting raucous.
Dale-Roberts’s neatly-uniformed cooking team are similarly poised. They work in an open block at the end of the room. There are counter seats that allow some diners to eat in full view of the cooking, sushi-bar style. The atmosphere in the kitchen is of tight organization, but also prestige. These young chefs are as serious as young lawyers and young surgeons in robes and gowns. It is these people, after all, who put the perfection on the plate.
It’s easy to roll one’s eyes about not being able to get a table at a popular restaurant. “How good could it be?” one is inclined to say in such circumstances. After eating at the Pot Luck Club, we received our answer.
Going down the lift felt like leaving Brooklyn.
At ground level we brushed shoulders with a prominent advocate. In the parking lot Helen Zille exited the passenger seat of her car to direct us out of our bay. The second sitting was arriving and they were as impatient to try their luck as we had been. I considered myself very lucky indeed.
The Pot Luck Club 021 447 0804; 6th floor, The Silo, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock.
Daisy Jones is author of Star Fish, a cookbook about sustainable fish. She has written restaurant reviews for Business Day and various guides.