A Taste for Adventure
Powdery white sand, waving palms, cerulean seas… There are many reasons to visit Mauritius right now, but for globetrotting gourmands it’s a world-first restaurant pop-up that should put Île Maurice at the top of their travel lists for 2018.
For the first fortnight, both Luke and head chef Ryan Cole will be on hand to get the pop-up running smoothly, following which the pair plan to rotate between the two restaurants, ensuring the thread of The Test Kitchen quality is maintained between Cape Town and the island.
Plenty of preparation has certainly smoothed the way, and in the months before the first plates emerge from the Shangri-La kitchens, Luke and his team have worked to reinterpret The Test Kitchen experience for its new island locale. What’s key for him is that the Shangri-La pop-up will draw inspiration from its location and not simply replicate a Cape Town menu.
“In the first few weeks we’re going to experiment with all the exotic ingredients we can,” he says. “Then I think we’ll see the menu grow and evolve into something more influenced by Mauritius. It’s going to be like The Test Kitchen gone tropical.”
Luke sees everything from fresh coconut water to Mauritian honey and local cacao jostling for a place on the menu.
The pop-up launches with a tasting menu of five dishes, ranging from herb-fired tuna with fermented tofu dip to an entirely unique take on the trending poke bowl. The wood pigeon is another highlight, served here with liver stuffing and dukkah. Each of the main courses comes with the option of pairing it with wine from an iconic South African estate.
“But I know myself,” Luke says: “We might start with five plates, but we always seem to add more and more as we go along!”
In addition to integrating local ingredients and flavours into the menu, The Test Kitchen will also infuse the dining experience with a more relaxed island approach. In Cape Town, artfully presented “snacks” (a criminal understatement) are served with bespoke cocktails in the moody Dark Room before diners are led to the more formal Light Room for a multi-course degustation menu. The pop-up will loosely mirror this experience, but with its own island flavour. At Le Touessrok’s Republik Beach Club & Grill, guests will move from the stylish bar area, where they will enjoy appetite-whetting snacks and island-inspired cocktails, to the elegant beachfront restaurant area, where a tasting menu of five courses will be served on crockery handmade for the pop-up by a local ceramic artist.
“I want to take the best that Mauritius has to offer and amplify that rather than teleport an experience from Cape Town,” says Luke. “There’s no point in trying to emulate that moody and formal experience in an idyllic beach location.”
IN THE LAP OF LUXURY
And there are surely few corners of the island quite as idyllic as Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa. Reopened in 2015 after an extensive refurbishment, in both decor and architecture the resort blends its island heritage with subtle Asian influences. Stretched along 14 hectares of beachfront overlooking the sparkling waters of Trou d’Eau Douce Bay, the resort’s 200 rooms and suites are spread across five distinct locations and room categories.
If I return with my young son and wife in tow I’ll be sure to book into the Hibiscus rooms, with their easy access to the resort’s main pool and water sports. Given the chance for a romantic escape? Couples and honeymooners will swoon at a suite in the private Frangipani wing – set on a secluded isle and only reached by bridge – where an exclusive pool and beach club await.
I find that exclusive is a word that rolls easily off the tongue at Le Touessrok. While the serene beaches here are already a far cry from their crowded counterparts in the north, Le Touessrok has another ace up its sleeve: Situated a short boat-ride from the resort, Ilôt Mangénie is a private island available exclusively to Le Touessrok guests. With more than 3 km of pristine beach encircling the island, I certainly don’t struggle to find my own private patch of paradise. Hungry? There’s a chic beach club to retire to and island butlers on hand at all times.
If that’s not exclusive enough, consider checking into one of the three Beach Villas. Far and away the finest address at the resort – and perhaps in all Mauritius – these secluded villas are popular among royalty and celebrity guests, who check in for the privacy, the butler service and the private beach access.
For well-heeled wine-lovers there’s also the indulgence of the Dom Pérignon Butler experience. Here, a wine butler is on hand to pour your flute of this iconic French Champagne anytime and anywhere. Gourmet canapés crafted to suit the vintage are, naturellement, served alongside.
AN ARRAY OF DINING EXPERIENCES
It’s a perfect fit for this resort, which – aside from the highly anticipated pop-up by The Test Kitchen – has its own impeccable set of culinary credentials. Le Bazar, the resort’s main restaurant, is great for breakfasts and lunches when you’re not quite sure what you fancy. Alongside a wide range of international dishes, it’s the Asian cuisine that tempts my taste buds time and again: the noodle bar, the dim sum trolley and the fiery Szechuan cooking.
Kushi is an altogether more refined option. Named for the combs used by Japanese geisha to keep their hair in a gravity-defying swirl, this Japanese restaurant boasts a sushi master on-site and yakiniku charcoal grills at each table. There’s a remarkable choice of dishes on offer, from delicate nigiri to the signature kurobuta pork. If you simply cannot decide, the traditional omakase set menu lets the chef make the decisions for you. And to drink? Leave the Champagne for later and indulge in the selection of sake and sake-based cocktails.
Even after all of that, there’s more: Indian thali at Safran and Mediterranean cuisine at Republik, perhaps finishing off with rum cocktails at the seafront Sega Bar.
But if all that gluttony begins to take its toll, help is at hand. CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok focuses on holistic wellness, and offers a range of facial and body treatments at the spa, set in a secluded corner of the resort’s lush gardens. Alongside global cosmetic brands, therapies here are inspired by the island’s botanical heritage, with organic herbs and indigenous ingredients picked from the spa’s gardens.
First, however, I’ll hop the boat across to Île aux Cerfs, home to what is surely the finest golf course on Mauritius. Set on its own private island, the tight fairways and unforgiving rough make this championship course designed by Bernhard Langer a challenging day out for a weekend warrior like myself. But with idyllic views out over turquoise seas, I don’t even mind a little adventure in searching for a multitude of lost balls. Besides, apart from those worries over water, it was the taste for adventure that first tempted Luke Dale-Roberts’ to take The Test Kitchen travelling.
“When you put yourself in an unusual situation, you always end up learning something new,” he says. “And with Mauritius we want to learn and discover, and then bring that knowledge home to Cape Town.”
Let’s hope the rains are falling when he gets there.
Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa will host The Test Kitchen from 12 April to 26 May 2018. For more information and reservations, visit shangri-la.com/mauritius, call 0800 028 3337 or email email@example.com
TEXT Richard Holmes PHOTOGRAPHS Shutterstock, supplied