The R3,000 hamper, prepared in Luke Dale Roberts' kitchen.
  • Celebrated South African chef Luke Dale Roberts is preparing high-end hampers – priced from R1,800 to R4,500 - delivered to customers who miss fine dining during lockdown.
  • The hampers include lamb, prawns, frangipane cake, and other delicacies. 
  • The presentation was amazing, and the food lived up to Dale Robert's reputation, but the deserts could be a little more comforting.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

In the good ol’ days before the pandemic (you know, back in February 2020) you had to wait months to get a table at The Test Kitchen.

The Cape Town restaurant is ranked among the world’s 50 best restaurants, and is arguably South Africa’s most awarded restaurant locally.

But when Covid-19, and the subsequent national lockdown struck, its creator, chef Luke Dale Roberts, had to shut not only The Test Kitchen, but also his other fine-dining restaurants, The Potluck Club and The Shortmarket Club.

Even as the rest of the country moves into Level 3 on Monday, sit-down meals will still be out of bounds, adding to the income and job losses in an industry that employs 800,000 people.    

In a recent webinar, Dale Roberts' wife Sandalene said he had been feeling so low that she tried to get him focussed on making new plans. That is how the hampers were born.

“The big thing in this current change is comfort. We need to deliver comfort. If you make a beautiful plate of food for someone it brings them joy. And that is one of the things that gives me the most pleasure – if I can transfer the joy I get from cooking to the joy that someone receives when eating the food,” Dale Robert says.

READ | You can order a 5-course meal from some of SA’s top restaurants – at cut-rate prices

So he launched a range of hampers – one of which ended up at our door.

We received this hamper as a birthday gift from friends living overseas, the type with foreign currency. Obviously if you are not paying for something that comes with such a hefty pricetag, it does influence your experience. As it turns out, it does not hinder your enjoyment one bit.

Ours was the middle-of-the-range hamper (words not at all applicable to the actual item) at R3,000. (After looking at the top-end one at R4,500, I briefly reconsidered my life choices in friends, will have to have a serious chat with them.) 

There is also a more limited R1,800 hamper as well as vegetarian (R1,800) and pescetarian (R3,500) options. Deliveries are now done to Johannesburg too, at R750 a pop. 

The hamper was delivered with obvious pride and huge smiles. I was in my daytime pyjamas as I did not know I was seeing actual people that day, but they say they get that a lot.

I was blown away by the presentation:

The box is printed with a beautiful illustration, featuring the smiling faces of Dale Roberts and his staff, created by acclaimed animator Lawrence Moorcroft who worked on The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine video. It was originally created for a book about Dale Roberts’ restaurants, written by Sandalene.  

You get swag as well: both a tea towel and a face mask (later declared as the most comfortable mask my husband has worn to date), printed in the gorgeous design.

Dale Roberts says the idea behind the hamper is to fill your fridge with delectable goodies to enjoy throughout the week with your loved ones. (Side note: If your family still falls in this category after all these weeks in lockdown, well done you! Also how on earth did you manage that?) Otherwise you can decide to absolutely gorge yourself for two days straight. No guessing which option I went for.

The hamper comes with a detailed explanation of the inspiration behind each dish as well as cooking instructions. It also gives recommendations as to what you can serve together, which I promptly ignored.

Best in Box never stood a chance to make it to the fridge, much less to the click of a camera. This honour gets shared by the prawn cocktail and the Beef Wellington. Here is some proof that they existed:

The prawn cocktail was amazingly fresh and plump. We devoured it together with some of the freshly baked bread that comes with the hamper. The large Beef Wellingtons (beautiful fillet coated in a wild mushroom mix and wrapped in puff pastry) were more than enough for a family of four. We ate this with the creamy, buttery mash of your dreams. I suspect this may be the best thing I have ever served at home.

The second night we had the juniper and citrus cured salmon as a starter. Like the prawns, it was an incredibly fresh stunner.

The juniper and citrus cured salmon.

For mains we had the Navarin of lamb, described as a slow-braised French dish made with shank and shoulder. It arrives vacuum-packed so it is literally boil-in-the-bag easy.

The Navarin of lamb.

All you need to know is how to boil water. My husband loved it while I think I fell more in the "like" side of things.

The lamb, served.

So that brings us to the rest. Apart from the aforementioned loaves of loveliness there’s a pot of chicken liver and porcini parfait and a selection of local cheeses.

Dale Roberts rotates these to showcase and support as many of the producers as possible. There is also a Spanish-style burnt orange condiment that is sticky and caramel-ish and really great with both the cheese and the dessert.

So the only part I feel a bit Luke-warm (sorry, couldn’t resist) about are the two desserts.

They consisted of pistachio frangipane cake served with vanilla mascarpone and a rhubarb and strawberry trifle made with mascarpone and sabayon (a custardy Italian sauce). I could definitely see the skill involved in both of these dishes. This was a trifle like nobody’s ouma ever made. But for me they did not fit the brief of comfort food.

Pistachio frangipane cake served with vanilla mascarpone.
Strawberry trifle made with mascarpone and sabayon.

I had a look at the other four hampers on offer and liked their desert offerings much more.

So, here's my final assessment:

Presentation: 10 / 10

Value for money: Absolutely – if you do not have to pay for it yourself, like me. If you are paying, it is really expensive but you are getting food from the topmost culinary team in our country. It was a huge treat and I loved it.

Portion size: Bit of a hit and miss but mostly great. Can definitely be seen as a hamper for four. It served two really generous three-course meals with some lovely bits left over for snacking during the day. Would have liked the seafood portions to be a bit bigger.

Thoughts on dishes: Loved most of them. It would be great to get some more sides. The mash was incredible but there weren’t any others except for a tiny Tarragon coleslaw. The desserts could be more comforting, especially now that winter is coming.

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