When it comes to the hospitality industry, I’ve never quite understood the concept of “low season”. Relatives of mine that have been lucky enough to visit places like Greece told of how most hotels and restaurants shut their doors completely after the summertime flow of tourists has trickled off and the cooler weather sets in. To someone like me for whom each season has it’s own endemic merits, the idea that travellers would shun four to six months a year of exploration opportunities is a baffling one. But I don’t allow myself to be baffled for too long – rather I take the full advantage of the lack of crowds, the peace (and the quiet) and the luxurious sense of introspection that a winter weekend in a hotel can bring.
I recently spent just such a weekend at one of Cape Town’s most iconic landmarks – The President Hotel – during it’s low season that runs between May and August. Titled after the late great Nelson Mandela, the hotel presides over it’s Bantry Bay locale in the same timeless and benevolent manner of it’s namesake. Although mid-winter temperatures and an approaching cold front left the magnificent pool empty and the deckchairs devoid of occupants, the hotel itself was hardly deserted, as a spa, restaurant, salon and bar provides patrons with more than enough reasons to stay indoors. Pleasantly enough, there is still a sense of privacy to be had in a hotel this large, and so there is never the feeling of being overcrowded or uncomfortable – as this self-confessed introvert can so often get in public places. The President Hotel is classic in every sense of the term – from the exceptional service and friendliness of the staff to the crisp decor and the considered menu of their The Islands Restaurant.
Speaking of food, my interest in their restaurant was piqued when I discovered that diners need not to be staying at the hotel to enjoy a meal there. Currently offering their Winter Menu as part of a seasonal special where patrons can enjoy a main meal for R125.00, two courses for R190.00 or three courses for R245.00. And with options such as Roasted Butternut Soup with gnocchi, Braised Lamb Shoulder on creamy polenta or Malva Pudding with butterscotch sauce, who wouldn’t be tempted to opt for all three courses. As a starter, my partner and myself opted for the Wild Mushroom & Chorizo Ragout – a decadently creamy dish lightened by the addition of golden puff pastry and micro greens. The earthiness of the wild mushrooms paired intricately with the smoky bite of chorizo sausage is exactly the kind of food one craves when the cold sets in. Because winter food is usually best enjoyed alongside a full-bodied red, a languid study of the hotel’s unexampled wine list is highly recommended.
Entitled “A presidential wine experience”, the list itself lives up to it’s description. Detailing the Western Cape’s wine routes – from Stanford to Saldanha and all the places in between – the list offers the best vino to be had from each area. Since I hail from the Cape West Coast, I thought that sampling a wine of the origin was in order and so elected to go for Doran Vineyards 2014 Shiraz. Emanating from the Swartland region, the wine itself was enticingly smoky with a hint of plum and black cherry. Impressive enough to me as a local, I can only imagine how wonderful this kind of viticultural overview must be for visitors to our corner of South Africa.
Eating our way leisurely through a main course of seared Norwegian Salmon with crisp asparagus and tangy Hollandaise and a dessert of that aforementioned Malva Pudding felt nothing short of hedonistic – heightened by the impeccable service we received from John, our waiter. Toasty as we were inside the restaurant’s heated interior, the gathering clouds outside meant that our menu choices were made to feel all the more decadent. Just one of the little things I love about wintertime hotel stays. A final glass of red in the hotel’s sumptuous Senate Bar then it was off to bed.
Waking up to the combined sound of ocean and rain has to be one of the most soothing experiences around – made all the better when accompanied by the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. Each room comes standard with a Nespresso, two televisions, a small kitchenette and best of all, the most breathtaking view over the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. I would have to say that the only thing that could possibly top that view would be breakfast at The President Hotel. Deserving of a full post all on it’s own, the hotel’s buffet breakfast is certainly one to beat the books. Spread over almost a full quarter of The Islands Restaurant, this smorgasbord of sustenance can be described as an epicurean tour de force of every kind of breakfast preference around. Fresh fruit, both seasonal and exotic, can be paired with yoghurt of every flavour. Cereals – from the childhood comfort of puffed rice to luxury muesli, and steaming tureens of oat porridge with stewed fruits and a choice of milk or cream to go with it. The Continent is represented by an impressive array of cheeses, cured meats and heavy brown bread. Delightfully dinky jars hold every breakfast confectionary from Seville marmalade to organic honey and there are enough Parisian pastries to ensure that you probably won’t be needing lunch. An industrial toaster ingeniously pops out a never-ending supply of toast just begging to be buttered and topped off with creamy scrambled eggs made fresh at the hot breakfast counter. Bacon, sausages, fried tomatoes, savoury mince, roasted vegetables and my favourite baked beans are all available to hotel guests and the best part is that one doesn’t need to be an early riser to enjoy it all – on weekends breakfast is served from 6:30 to 11am.
Unfortunately for me, a morning’s worth of avidly snapping my refined surroundings meant that I had only enough time to linger over a hot cappuccino and a slice of toast topped with lashings of cream cheese, smoked salmon and piquant capers. When it comes to negotiating a busy buffet, my mantra is always to cut one’s losses by commandeering the smoked salmon. Nonetheless, prior to The President Hotel’s breakfast, never before had I experienced food regret in such a painful manner – remembering all the things I DIDN’T eat.
The reason for my speed-eating was because we had an appointment at The President’s in-house salon – Alexander’s. Entirely ready for a little primping, we were treated to a beauty queen blow-out by John and a Shellac manicure by Joyce. Expert, friendly and always ready for a good chat, the staff at Alexander’s are no less professional and welcoming as the rest of The President Hotel team. The salon is also open to guests and visitors alike – yet another unique drawcard of this unequalled hotel.
The good news is that both you and I still have a full month to take advantage of The President Hotel’s fantastic off-season special of 50% off all visits before September. Which means plenty more opportunities to spend the best part of a morning eating my way through their gratifyingly global breakfast buffet. Furthermore, The President Hotel is running a competition on social media where you could win a weekend stay simply by connecting with them on their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram channels and sharing your President Hotel moments using the hashtags #presidenthotelct | #liveit | #loveit