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.
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.
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.
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 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.
We 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.
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.
I 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.
We 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!
There 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.
My absolute favorite: the scone selection. With a hint of gooseberry jam and lashings of clotted cream, I can’t ask for more!
It’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.
Just 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!
This post was featured in iAfrica Travel on 19 July 2013