Combining colonial charm with modern luxuries, Orient-Express’ Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town is one of Africa’s most iconic and recognisable hotels. It is also one of its most romantic, hence the reason why I was whisking girlfriend Gemma off for a couple of days of pure decadence.
Nestled at the foot of Table Mountain, this unique hotel is within ambling distance of the V&A Waterfront, as well as Kloof Street’s boutique stores and the vibrant nightlife of Long Street. Despite being located in the heart of central Cape Town, the Mount Nelson is a self-contained oasis. This is why Hollywood A-listers have been parading their feathers through these illustrious doors since 1899.
The juxtaposition of imposing colonial architecture and saccharine rose-tinted walls somehow works; the combination creates one giant fairytale experience. But if it’s unadulterated sugary indulgence you are after, look no further than the hotel’s famous afternoon tea, which packs the sweetest of punches. An overwhelming array of cakes, scones, finger sandwiches, biscuits, macaroons and other sweet morsels knocked the two of us sideways for a few happy hours.
Once tea was finally digested and we’d whittled away the afternoon in their beautifully manicured gardens, we headed to the hotel’s Planet Restaurant. The Mount Nelson’s classic Cape Colony Restaurant underwent major reconstructive surgery in 2011 and reopened its doors as Planet last October. The menu’s focus is on locally-inspired Cape classics, with a twist. Huge focus is placed on sourcing seasonal ingredients with provenance. All appears to be going well; Planet has already won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards. This grand room is decorated with twinkling star-shaped lights and planets, hand-blown by local artisans. The restaurant’s audacious carpet – which mirrors the constellations and stars – may not be to everyone’s taste, but it definitely welcomes guests with a big bang.
The food on the other hand, is out of this world. Jovial executive chef Rudi Liebenberg and equally chirpy sommelier Carl Habel, have created an inventive menu that toys with traditional dishes.
Gemma and I ate from the Journey Menu, six courses sculpted by Rudi, inventively matched with wine by Carl and presented with enthusiasm by attentive restaurant manager Lizle Kester.
Gemma, with ten years’ experience opening hotels and restaurants is, by her own admission, one tough customer to please. She was however blown away by the rooibos cured springbok with sweet and sour butternut, chicken liver parfait and springbok bitterballen. Cutting through this rich dish, with its soft tannins and ripe red fruits, was a delicious 2008 First Sighting Pinot Noir.
Another course worth a mention was the flame grilled beef fillet with exotic mushrooms, potato foam and mini fondants, combined with a full-bodied 2009 Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon. But perhaps the most stylish item on the menu took us both by surprise. The soft serve desert with wafer cone, ice cream, honeycomb, dehydrated raspberries and flake, served with a delightfully sweet Fairview La Beryl Blanc was food at its most playful; a rich blend of colours, flavours and textures, artfully packaged.
After this three-hour culinary marathon, Gemma and I, once again, held onto our bulging bellies for dear life: a regular occurrence during our brief time at the Mount Nelson. It may have been a touch indulgent, but it wasn’t half fun.
The Mount Nelson Hotel
Contact: Tel 021-483-1000, www.mountnelson.co.za
Address: 76 Orange Street, Cape Town
Rates: R3800 for a double room including breakfast
Photos by by Gemma Catlin