Romancing the Pearl

Afternoon Tea at the Oyster Box Hotel, Durban – South Africa

Mere steps away from Umhlanga’s most prominent landmark, its lighthouse; and amidst a backdrop of colonial opulence, one can find the iconic Oyster Box hotel. Standing as proud as the day it opened its doors in 1947, it remains a distinguished jewel in Durban’s crown, trailblazing the way by winning scores of prestigious awards and accolades from the likes of Condé Nast Traveller and World Luxury Spa.

Oyster Box Hotel Afternoon teaSpeaking of crowns, it’s well known that the hotel was chosen by Monaco’s royals; Prince Albert II and his Princess Charlene, for a Royal reception party in 2011.

Since its R400 million makeover in 2009, the Oyster Box hotel has sought to create a handsome marriage of old and new by maintaining original antique furnishings and coupling these with modern touches and the latest technology.

Afternoon Tea Oyster Box Hotel

The presidential suite, encompassing two floors, with private patio pool, its own butler and personalized embroidered gowns, will set you back in excess of R50 000 per night. Certainly fit for a king!

And so it happens, one fine Friday as the winter sun shines cheerfully over Durban, my sister Ronelle and I don our finest stockings and mother’s precious pearls, and head off for Afternoon Tea in the lap of colonial luxury.

Being my first visit to the majestic hotel, I opt for a quick self-guided tour. Passing the stark white Grill Room, I head for the bar. Again, the combination of antique woods and tapestries mesh fluently with modern glass finishes. Inviting couches welcome us, and I love the glass floors providing a view of the dining areas beneath us.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Glass floors

Finally, we make our way to the terrace which offers sweeping panoramic views of the famous lighthouse and the seemingly endless Indian Ocean.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea is enjoyed in the hotel’s Palm Court, illuminated by extravagant chandeliers purchased from London’s famed Savoy Hotel. Surrounded on four corners by lush palm trees (which obviously lends to the name), guests are serenaded by the soft sounds of the live piano as the tea commences.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe are shown to our table, and our immaculately dressed waiter immediately materializes, enthusiastically welcoming us. The table is laid with crisp linens and a charming English-garden tea set. A personalized, handwritten welcome card is a tiny detail with big impact.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe order our respective cuppas (Earl Grey for me, and coffee (!) for my sister).

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

The scent of posh is in the air. I am fighting the urge to call everyone ‘daahhling’

The self-service table gracing the center of the Palm court is heavy laden with mouthwatering treats.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelI head over to the savories section where I sample the cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwiches. Mini pastries are topped with smoked salmon and dill, whilst the vegetarian options include cheese tarts and mini mushroom pies. An adequate cheese platter with fig and apricot conserve is surrounded by an assortment of crackers, fruit and nuts.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelWe chat leisurely, relaxed – there isn’t a care in the world. Our attentive waiter is ever present, but not intrusive, offering to refill our drinks or replace used cutlery. We strike up animated conversation with guests at the next table. An actual Englishman (and woman) enjoying the age-old English tradition of afternoon tea!

Then it’s on to the sweet treats! Unsure of which mouthwatering delicacy to try first, I settle for red velvet squares with lemon butter icing. One word: delicious!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelThere are individual crème brûlées and chocolate mousses in decorative glasses. There are cannelés topped with chunks of nougat. There is an assortment of cupcakes, each piled high with frosting. Carrot cake, chocolate ganache, lemon meringue and brownies with pistachio topping…even the most ferocious appetite is satisfied.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelAfternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelThe table’s eye-catching centerpiece is a giant, multifaceted candy jar!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelMy absolute favorite: the scone selection. With a hint of gooseberry jam and lashings of clotted cream, I can’t ask for more!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelIt’s at this point that I find I have to switch my tea selection to a sweeter vanilla blend, as my Earl Grey becomes washed out by the sugar overload. Our waiter is back with a new, piping hot teapot in no time.

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box HotelJust then the piano player strikes up the chords of “Happy Birthday to You”. The waiters bring out a special cake complete with sparklers and we all join in singing the popular chorus to the unknown patron.

We end our tea with heartfelt goodbyes to our new English friends, and many thanks to our superb waiter.

Would I consider going back to partake in the elegant tradition of afternoon tea once more?

Why of course, daahhling!

Afternoon Tea Osyter Box Hotel

This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 19 July 2013

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A Clockwork Orange

My Top 7 Most Memorable Sunsets (So far)

There is something to be said about sunset. It’s magical.

The science geeks at the meteorological institutes will have us believe that a sunset is nothing more than the ‘scattering’ of light in relation to the wavelength and the size of the light particles themselves. They’re probably right.
All I know is: on a tropical beach, cocktail in hand, the sunset’s going to look pretty amazing no matter how much (or little) the light scatters.

Below is a list of the best sundowners (literally, not the other kind) I’ve experienced so far.

7. Amsterdam

Famed Notorious for many hedonistic pleasures, Holland’s Sin City is not the first place that springs to mind when you think of a magical sunset. Nevertheless, one lazy summer day, Mr. Wolf and I were able to capture this glorious fall of daylight from our hotel window overlooking the city.

Amsterdam sunset

6. Barcelona

This photo of a sunset taken in Barcelona happened by pure chance. After climbing the seemingly endless steps to the top of the Palau Nacional, which houses the Museu d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), we eagerly awaited the fall of dusk to witness Carles Buigas’ Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. As the crowd swelled around us, the striking colors of the horizon provided the beautiful backdrop for this photograph.

barcelona sunset

5. Cape Town

South Africa’s Mother City knows how to put on her best face for travel photographers. From Clifton’s flawless beaches, to Cape Point’s picturesque overhangs. From the V&A Waterfront’s busy hub to Long Street’s bare-brick vibe. From penguin colonies to vineyards, there’s a photo opportunity at every corner. But; when the sun is low in the sky, threatening to retreat behind Table Mountain’s majestic silhouette, there is an extra special magic in the air.

This photo taken by Sam Rookes captures the very essence of that magic.

4. Mexico

Living it up in the lap of luxury on the Cancun hotel strip, our leisure-filled days were spent eating delicious gourmet meals, and swimming in heated outdoor pools. Every evening around dusk, we retreated to our private balcony, to watch the sun descend into the Nichupte lagoon. Cocktail in hand – it was pure bliss.

cancun sunet

3. Venice

It had been a loooong day. We had taken a morning tour of the glassmaking factories in nearby Murano Island, and then spent some time browsing the fares at the Rialto Market. Following a leisurely lunch at an authentic Italian trattoria, we spent much of the afternoon in, and around the magnificent piazza San Marco capturing the prerequisite 101 photographs. So, tired and weary, we were making our way back to the hotel by water taxi when twilight snuck up on us. We managed to snap this shot from our boat on the Grand Canal just before the last of the sun’s rays disappeared behind a row of buildings.

venice sunset

2. Durban

This photograph is one of my most special memories. Taken on one of my first visits back to South Africa after moving to Paris, I relished the long days of glorious sunshine. We went to the beach as often as possible, ate good food, and drank even better wine. I caught up with dear friends and spent a traditional family Christmas with those closest to my heart. And then one evening, when I looked up, the sky was showing off, in all her fiery glory.

Durban sunset

1. Santorini

Santorini is famed for its sunsets. In fact, the setting of the sun sparks a celebration on the idyllic island of Santorini unlike anywhere else in the world. From the postcard-perfect town of Oia (pronounced ‘ee-ha’), the view of the sunset over the caldera draws scores of crowds (tourists and locals alike). It was an incredible experience: at dusk you could feel a tangible excitement in the air. The best spots at bars and restaurants overlooking the ocean had been booked (probably hours in advance!). People descended in throngs upon Oia and gathered at the edge of every precipice, sitting on walls and even trespassing onto hotel’s balconies. When the shopkeepers closed their boutiques, we knew it was going to happen soon – that was our que. Fighting for a spot to raise the camera, as the greatest show of the day commenced: SUNSET

And tomorrow, do it all again….

santorini sunset

santorini sunset

Cuba on my Mind

Restaurant Review: Havana Grill – Durban, South Africa

Large upholstered chairs in monochrome leather combine effortlessly with the wood touches, accentuating details. In the far corner of the bar, the barman is whipping up a Cuba Libre (Cuba’s revolutionary drink). Towards the left, antique black and white photo images line the walls conjuring Cuban images of a bygone era.

Bar havana Grill

Bar

Havana Grill Durban

Back in time

A large olive-green leather couch invites me to fold my legs and curl up with a classic from the high ceiling shelves stacked with dusty old books. Add the yellow tinge of the sunlight streaming in through the large windows, and the Che Guevara imprints on the waiters’ uniform, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve just taken a step back in time to Old Havana.

Havana Grill Durban

Classics

Havana Grill Durban

Details

Havana Grill, a world-class grill room, is situated in the bustling Suncoast Entertainment World in a prime beachfront location on Durban’s famed Golden Mile.

While their menu boasts “something for everyone”, I’ve heard that this gem of a restaurant is a meat lover’s paradise. I take Mr. Wolf’s carnivorous ‘oooh-ing’ and ‘aaah-ing’ as confirmation. And true to his canine pseudonym, our resident steak connoisseur enjoys only one of 2 cooking styles: Bleu or Saignant (bloody).

On the far wall we find the famed Havana Meat Board detailing the day’s choice cuts and aging details.

Havana Grill Meat Board

Havana Meat Board

Having not taken a bite of red meat in over 15 years, I stick with what I love: seafood. And Havana Grill does not disappoint! An excerpt from the menu: “The SEAFOOD selection includes some of the finest king prawns, langoustines and crayfish; and extravagant platters to feed your soul.” Well, by the end of the meal I consider my soul stuffed, the statement is spot on!

seafood platter havana grill durban

A soul well-fed

When we arrive we are shown to a table covered in crisp white linen, with stunning vistas over the Indian Ocean. Without having to look at the drinks menu we knowledgeably order a round of mojitos. Handing the menus back to the waiter, some fine print catches my eye. “Magical Mojito” screams the title. In a second my order is changed – I want some of that magic!

Views Havanah Grill Durban

Stunning Views through large windows

My drink arrives with much fanfare. Crushed ice, lime and candy floss (yes, you read right!) are piled high into one glass, while a little pichet accompanies it, containing my magical mojito mixture. At the table, the waiter expertly pours the mix into the waiting glass and the patrons around watch as the candy floss magically dissolves into a sugary goo, lacing my rum with a sweet, sweet buzz.

Magical Mojito Havana Grill Durban

Magic in a glass

Giddy from my sugar rush, we dive into our starters: a deconstructed prawn samoosa. The samoosa, like you’ve never seen it before; decadent prawn chutney, rich in spices and flavor, are heaped onto alternating layers of phyllo pastry and drizzled with balsamic glaze. The prawns are fresh and succulent, and each delicious mouthful is a joy to the palate. Another firm favorite is the pear and gorgonzola salad. With a heavenly combination of candied pecans and cider dressing, this salad creates the perfect mélange of sweet and sour for your eager tastebuds. I find the salads are large enough to share.

food havana grill durban

Deconstructed, but delicious

The progressive menu at Havana Grill isn’t exactly Cuban, but rather fusion world cuisine. Nit-picky reviewers sometimes point this out in their Tripadvisor reviews, but are ignorant to the fact that Cuban cuisine in itself, is a blend of Spanish, African, Caribbean and even Chinese influences.

For the main course, I simply must order the extravagant seafood platter. The herculean dish arrives with a medley of crayfish, calamari, prawns, langoustines, line fish and mussels; each prepared in their individual manner with a selection of different flavorings and served with shoestring fries and rice.

Seafood platter havana grill durban

To die for!

The calamari for example, is simply tossed in olive oil and grilled in Cajun spices. It makes a welcome deviation from the typical dipped and deep-fried variety served in most restaurants. The mussels are a revelation! Smothered in blue cheese sauce, dusted with breadcrumbs and grilled…I am willing to exchange some of my ample prawns for more of them, in some kind of weird restaurant barter deal. That is, until I actually taste the prawns. Infused with garlic butter and grilled on what must be an open flame to establish that smoky goodness; I call it quits on the bartering deal.
The line fish component of the platter changes daily, so be sure to ask your waiter.

A couple of glasses of chardonnay from the Walker Bay wine route helps to soak up the rich, buttery tastes.

Speaking of wine, Havana Grill boasts a large selection of South African wines which can be expertly paired with any dish on the menu. If you prefer international brands, guests are welcome to browse the selection in the walk-in cellar, an experience in itself.

Wine Cellar Havana Grill Durban

Walk-in cellar
Photo source: http://www.havanagrill.co.za

I pass on dessert, unable to take another bite, while my dining companions tuck into crème brulèe and strawberry panacotta. From experimenting with various desserts during my previous visits to Havana Grill, I can safely swear by the hot chocolate fondant. Worth the extra wait, it’s masterfully prepared with the prerequisite oozing liquid center.

What I loved:
  • Extensive wine list with domestic and international choices
  • Great views
  • It didn’t cost an arm and a leg!
What I didn’t love:
  • I can’t think of a single thing!

We end the fantastic meal with smiles and small talk with our friendly waiter, who is proffering authentic Cuban cigars in the smoking lounge. Maybe on our next visit?

Havana Grill Durban

Havana Grill has delivered once again, and I can’t wait to go back!

Disclaimer: No part of this restaurant experience was paid for by Havanah Grill or its associates.. The views expressed in this review are from my own personal experience, and have not been prejudiced in any form.

Forget Me Not

Travel essentials: 10 Things I won’t leave home without

Every travel blogger has a list of can’t-live-without items that are essential for their gallivanting. While some of these items are pretty obvious packing choices, others are not so evident and are great insider tips.
In the interest of looking like a respectable travel blogger; I have compiled a list of the 10 essentials that I always pack.

• IPad: If I was drawing up this list a few years ago, I would have said: my mobile phone, a notebook, local maps and a good book or two. But nowadays, I just take my iPad, preloaded with the relevant travel maps, a literal library of book choices, and Evernote. Also, FaceTime kicks regular phoning’s butt any day!

Ipad Travel Essentials What to pack

Photo Source: http://www.apple.com

• Camera: Whilst the iPad can wear so many hats, I am not one of those people you find holding up my iPad to take photos from a bus, ship or plane. We have wonderful, belly-aching laughs when we spot these people. Don’t be one of them. And if you are, know that you are severely judged. But wait, what’s that you say: “They wouldn’t have put a camera on the iPad, if you weren’t meant to take photographs” Sorry, I couldn’t hear you over all the laughing!

Sony Travel essentials what to pack

Photo Source: http://www.sony.fr

• Pashmina: So versatile when on vacation! Use it as a blanket in a chilly airplane cabin or a sarong on the beach. It can be used to dress up a plain dress for an evening out, or a towel in case of emergency. I sometimes take two, in different colors. Also remember, a large scarf will work just as well.

• I don’t like endorsing beauty products merely because everyone I know has their tried and tested favorites. So while I won’t tell you which moisturizer or mascara you simply shouldn’t live without, I’ll put this out there: Elizabeth Arden’s 8-hour cream is a god-send! Use it to calm sunburns, or as a rich hand treat. Employ it as glamorous lip-gloss or to soothe cracked heels from long days of sightseeing. Use it to slick back unruly, windswept hair or use a little on the collarbone or legs for mega shine.

8 hour cream Travel essentials what to pack

Photo Source: http://www.sephora.fr

• Multi Plug Travel Adapter: If you’re like me, you can’t be bothered to research the voltage specifications of every country you visit. And if again, like me, you never travel without your GHD; save yourself some heartache, and invest in a quality multi plug adapter.

• Socks: My feet are always cold. And I can never seem to get comfy, let alone sleep when my feet are icy. On long haul flights, when the air temperature in the cabin seems to mysteriously plummet, I always don a pair of thick, warm socks. The look may not win me any beauty pageants, but at least I get a bit of shut-eye.

Socks Travel essentials what to pack

Photo Source: http://www.asos.fr

• LBD: Everyone from Audrey Hepburn to Dita Von Teese has advocated the necessity of the Little Black Dress in every woman’s wardrobe. I’m advocating the necessity of the LBD in your suitcase. Nothing is quite as versatile as a LBD. Perfect for everything from afternoon cocktails to a glamorous dinner on the town. Make sure your LBD is simple and structured. You can then play around with different accessories to ensure multiple looks with one nifty little dress!

LBD Travel essentials what to pack

Photo Source: http://www.zara.com

• Trail mix: You can always find little packets of dried fruit or nuts in my handbag. It’s perfect for a pick me up when the sightseeing runs a little longer than expected, or for those inevitable times when airplane food lets you down.

• Large hold-all/tote: If you’re like me if you’re a woman, you carry practically your entire life around in your handbag. It’s why a stylish, large tote is indispensable. I like ones with multi-pockets where I can stash my iPad, mobile, travel documents and sunglasses.

TOTE Travel essentials what to pack

Photo Source: Michael Kors at http://www.galerieslafayette.com

• A winning attitude: Travelling is not always fun and it’s not always easy. Missed flight connections, bumbled hotel reservations or even a terrible sunburn can lead to you having a miserable time on your vacation. A positive attitude is vital on days like these, when everything seems to be going wrong, and all you want to do is pack up your stuff and go home. Make the challenges a part of the adventure. No one’s going to want to hear a story about how you reached the airport on time, then read a magazine while casually waiting for your flight to board. Tell them the story about how you missed your connection to JFK, and had to spend the night sleeping on the terminal floor before being flown out to New York via Reykjavik, and you have them eating out of your hands!

positive attitude Travel essentials what to pack

This post was featured in  iAfrica Travel on 29 July 2013.