Woodstock's industrial restaurant revolution
Luke Dale-Roberts, renowned chef and champion of gastronomic innovation, has taken his superb culinary offering up a notch – literally.
How? By relocating his Pot Luck Club restaurant to the top floor of the historic silo in Woodstock’s Old Biscuit Mill.
‘Never! No way! Not in a million years.’ This, says award-winning chef Luke Dale-Roberts, was his immediate reaction when it was suggested he relocate his ground-breaking restaurant, The Pot Luck Club, to the top floor of the disused silo at the Old Biscuit Mill precinct in Woodstock, Cape Town. ‘But that was before I came up and saw the view,’ he quickly adds.
The breathtaking view Dale-Roberts is referring to is the jaw-dropping 360-degree panorama you get from six storeys up the 70-year-old grain-storage tower. It is dominated by the vast flank of Table Mountain to the south, Lion’s Head and Signal Hill to the west, and out to Stellenbosch and the Hottentots Holland Mountains to the east. To the north, in stark contrast to these archetypal postcard vistas, lower Woodstock’s gritty industrial warehouses, factories and railway tracks spread out towards the docks; as a backdrop to these is the long arc of beach that stretches all the way to Bloubergstrand. The latter view, admits the chef, is his favourite: ‘You should see it at night when the docks come alive with the yellow lights of shunting cranes,’ he enthuses.
Woodstock’s Industrial Heritage
A landmark in this City Bowl suburb, one of Cape Town’s oldest and most historically valuable, the formerly derelict Pyotts Biscuit Mill was first revived in 2005 with the birth of the Neighbourgoods Market. This saw the development of a 1 500 square metre complex of metro-chic art and music studios, restaurants, designer stores, and day and night markets. Seven dilapidated buildings were demolished and the existing buildings renovated. An old well was discovered and restored, and new walkways, staircases, a stage and a fountain with a waterwheel were added. The Old Biscuit Mill quickly became one of the most commercially successful creative hubs in the country. It was only a matter of time before the precinct’s developers – Nick Ferguson, Barry Harlen and Jody Aufrichtig of Indigo Properties – should eye its dilapidated silo as a space worth exploring.
Despite having been officially designated an urban-renewal centre by the Cape Town City Council, Woodstock retains its industrial heritage status, which means that renovating any building over the age of 60 years is strictly legislated. The relevant permissions, including those of the South African Heritage Agency, were thus painstakingly obtained and, in 2011, plans were finally passed. ‘We place enormous value on Woodstock’s legacy,’ says Harlen. ‘Essentially, it’s the historic facades and interesting buildings that lend the area its creative authenticity and make it so alluring.’
Architect Kristof Basson, who had worked on the 2005 redevelopment project, was recruited to tackle the conversion. His brief: to retain the look of the silo but to maximise the available space while giving due consideration to the practical. ‘Because the silo had no windows and very little natural light, energy efficiency was a key consideration,’ explains Harlen. Small windows were inserted on the courtyard side of the building to preserve the integrity of the facade, while large windows were built into the opposite walls to allow in as much natural light as possible.
Internally, the impenetrable concrete silo walls had to be removed in order to open up the space – no small task for the engineers, Kantey & Templer and builders GR Building & Steel. ‘There was no real precedent for a silo conversion and we did not have the benefit of access to the original 70-year-old plans,’ recalls Chris von Geusau, managing director at the consulting engineering firm. Safety was a major priority given that there were working tenants and passing trade in and around the building during construction.
‘The demolition of the existing internal walls was a complex challenge,’ he explains. ‘As the first concrete blocks were cut out and lowered to the ground by crane, it was discovered that there was less than half the amount of steel reinforcing in the concrete than we’d originally estimated. As a result, we had to thoroughly secure the structure before removing the silos to prevent the entire building from collapsing.’
This done, a frameless glass lift was then fitted to the length of the building in order to disgorge visitors into the steel-and-glass penthouse that occupies the entire top floor: the new premises of The Pot Luck Club. The space is at once contemporary and sleek but also slightly reminiscent of the Victorian conservatory-style roofs of old. Inside, the design and decor are as cutting edge cool as the restaurant’s location is lofty.
Collaborating with architect Greg Scott and decorator Nina Sierra Rubia, Dale-Roberts has chosen a mix of wood and stone flooring, glass and steel girders, and timber, metal and upholstered furnishings to create an interior as highly conceptual and adventurous as his trademark culinary offering. The large open-plan kitchen, illuminated by studio lighting and theatrical in its visibility, is the focal point of the space, while innovative touches by a number of the city’s foremost artists and designers – from Peter Eastman’s vast laser-cut steel screens and Laurence Friedman’s sandblasted wooden tables to Egon Tania’s sculptures and Otto du Plessis’s bronze castings – provide a textural and visual feast for the senses.
‘It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though,’ Dale-Roberts admits. ‘We had just six weeks in which to get the whole job done, and this included having to level the floor once the services were laid down, a momentous task that involved lugging 750 bags of concrete screed up all six floors. The extraction system and air conditioning were finished an hour before we opened the doors for the first time.’
But, on Valentine’s eve, the re-branded and relocated Pot Luck Club did open, and it was love at first sight for enamoured patrons. Locals and visitors alike have been as taken with the restaurant’s artfully designed glass and steel premises as they are with its iconic chef’s Asian tapas-style menu.
Indeed, rising out of edgy, bohemian Woodstock to stake its claim, there’s little doubt The Pot Luck Club’s new sky-high location simply amplifies the out-of-this-world dining experience you get here.
- The Pot Luck Club: Top Floor, The Silo Building, The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town,; 021 447 0804; thepotluckclub.co.za
- Greg Scott Architects: gwarchitects.co.za
- Kirstof Basson Architects: kbarchitects.co.za
- Kantey & Templar Consulting Engineers: kanteys.co.za
- GR Building and Steel: grbuildingandsteel.co.za
Text: Jocelyn Warrington
Photographs: Adriaan Louwill