When it comes to gossip with girlfriends, there’s no better way to do it than over tea and treats in a fancy hotel. There’s something quite glamourous about donning a dress, a hat and heels on a Sunday afternoon, and it’s a tradition I try to enjoy at least once a month with my closest friends.
For those not in the know, what makes high tea unique is the fact that there’s a wide array of miniature sweet and savoury treats for you to enjoy along with your cuppa. You definitely won’t find a bain marie of malva pudding accompanied with a bowl of custard. Instead, take your pick from picture perfect tartlets, mini quiches and tiny cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.
The quintessential British ritual has existed since the 19th century, when it was customary to eat only twice a day. High tea got its name from the height of the table on which the treats were served, and the idea was that the snack would curb hunger pangs between breakfast and dinner. The tradition has continued throughout the years, but was practically non-existent in South Africa until fairly recently. Today, almost every five-star hotel in South Africa has a high tea offering, but not all of these are worth the hefty price tag. Here are the best high teas in South Africa.
Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town
The Mount Nelson’s high tea is so well known, it even has its own stop on the Cape Town City Sightseeing bus. The hotel, affectionately known as the “pink lady”, is one of Cape Town’s oldest and fanciest establishments, with many a business deal believed to have been concluded over a spot of tea on the airy terrace or in the lavish sitting room, which features upholstered couches, a patterned carpet and antique paintings, all of which create a luxury “old world” atmosphere.
The centerpiece of the sitting room is the expansive buffet spread, where you’ll find a smorgasbord of delicate macarons, homemade cookies, various types of cakes, and even some signature South African treats, like koeksisters and milk tart.
That’s for later though, as your first course is a 3 tiered stand of savouries that will be brought to your table, including sandwiches, pies, quiches and spring rolls. You’re also able to select one of 24 blends of loose leaf tea, carefully selected from all over the world. Mount Nelson even has its own blend, which spans Africa and Asia, a combination of Darjeeling, Kenya, Assam, Keemun, Ceylon and Yunnan, enhanced with rose petals from their garden.
Afternoon high tea is priced at R235 per person and is served between 1:30pm-5:30pm daily.
Address: 76 Orange Street, Cape Town. Visit: www.belmond.com. Call 021 483 1000.
The Saxon, Johannesburg
Undoubtedly Joburg’s most opulent hotel, the Saxon exudes culinary perfection. Every meal there is an experience, but high tea, served on the sunny terrace or in the Piano Lounge, is particularly special. It has all the ingredients for a perfect afternoon- a gorgeous view of the pool and exquisitely manicured lawn, live saxophone music, and of course, the decadent pastries and sweets.
The hotel’s pastry chef takes high tea very seriously, and goes all out to ensure that each and every éclair, macaron or tart is made to perfection. Only the best ingredients are used, from Valrhona chocolate, to gold leaf, both from France.
Tea sommeliers are at your disposal to guide you through your tea selection, which is curated from the YSWARA range, a luxury brand with an African tea collection of only the rarest tea leaves, sourced and blended in Africa.
Price-wise, at R395 per person, the Saxon is definitely the most expensive option on this list. However, it isn’t the kind of place you’d frequent every weekend. Rather, use the high tea experience as a way to celebrate a special occasion, or spoil a loved one.
Address: 36 Saxon Road, Sandhurst. Visit www.saxon.co.za. Call 011 292 6000
The Oyster Box, Durban
The Oyster Box is as famous for its signature red and white poolside décor, complemented by its neighbour, Durban’s iconic lighthouse, as it is for the hotel itself.
High tea is served in the Palm Court, alongside live piano music and the ocean as a backdrop, where the black and white checkered floor is punctuated by exquisite oversized chandeliers imported from the UK.
The high tea buffet selection is as extensive as the rest of the options on this list, although there is some sophistication missing. Where the other hotels serve individually designed, intricate tartlets, the Oyster Box serves squares cut out from larger cake trays, bulky cupcakes and rather unsophisticated trifles in shot glasses.
That said, I enjoyed the selection of Durban specific savouries, like chilli bites and samoosas, and found the experience to be more relaxed and less pretentious than that of other 5 star hotels.
High tea is priced at R220 per person and is served between 2:30pm – 5:00pm daily.
Address: 2 Lighthouse Road, Umhlanga Rocks. Visit www.oysterboxhotel.com. Call 031 514 5000.
54 on Bath, Johannesburg
If it’s value for money that you’re after, look no further than 54 on Bath. The hotel is fairly new- some may recognize it as the old Grace hotel, which was in desperate need of a refurbishment. The renovation has resulted in a swanky, upmarket space that ticks all the right boxes and oozes glamour.
High tea is served adjacent to the main lobby, in an inviting lounge decorated in shades of blue, grey and black. Just R185 gets you an endless supply of tea, as well as both sweet and savoury platters. For those of you who are anti-buffet, you’ll appreciate the fact that you won’t need to leave your seat- everything is brought to your table on tiered stands.
The attention to detail at 54 on Bath is impressive- we were given a selection of whole spices and herbs including aniseed, cinnamon and mint to complement our Dilmah tea, as well as a tea timer, with different waiting times, depending on the desired strength.
It’s a given that you need to arrive hungry- in addition to cucumber, salmon and beef sandwiches, we were also served melt in the mouth scones served with clotted cream, lemon meringue tartlets and miniature carrot cakes.
High tea is served from 3:30pm – 5:00pm daily.
Address: 54 Bath Avenue, Rosebank. Visit www.tsogosunhotels.com. Call 011 344 8500.