It is Cape Town’s most prestigious and sort after hotels, and certainly one of the oldest. The Mount Nelson, first opening its doors in 1899 when the Castle Liner would swoop visitors into Cape Town Harbour. The Nellie is still setting itself apart from the rest today – and not just because of its blushing pink exterior. Its rich history, attentive staff and oozing luxury has made sure that the hotel is visited by the likes of famous authors, Lords, soldiers and celebrities for over a century. This does not mean that locals are not welcome – they are immensely welcomed. And so I decided to take myself to High Tea on one rainy Monday afternoon.
I had never been to the Mount Nelson for High Tea in all my years of growing up and living in Cape Town. I guess it’s human nature to take for granted the things that are right before us. I’d of course been to the hotel on many other occasions, mostly for drinks at the Planet Bar. The famous champagne and cocktail bar opened in 2003 and became a place fluttering with celebrity and exquisitely mixed cocktails.
The interior and décor of the bar and tea area does not seem to age, with its luxurious finishes and British colonial flare – everything about the tea room is simply pretty, with soft pastels, creams and white.
There is a constant air of elegance that embodies the whole experience of the High Tea. Of course the décor plays a part but it is the acutely attentive staff and waitrons that make the experience whole. This might be because some of the staff have been at the hotel for decades. One such waitron is Margret who has seen the hotel evolve for over 30 years. The hotel continues to expand and improve even today, ensuring that guests’ experience is consistently pleasing and aesthetically the hotel is kept alive.
The High Tea as it is served today, started sweetening people up in 1989, being served on the Windsor Table; previously the tea was served on individual tea trolleys. There is the Tea lounge area where either Maggie, Michael or Ernst will be playing the piano, and also the more relaxed conservatory scattered with ferns and orchids.
The confectionaries are superb. Every item looked meticulously prepared and the taste emanated this as well. They were just the right amount of fancy while remaining wholesomely delicious. Chef Craig Hubbert is the confectionary mastermind behind it all. The peppermint slice stood out for me, as well as the baked cheesecake and crumpets with clotted cream. Yes, clotted cream: it is not served very often in South Africa, which is a serious shame. The taste took me straight back to my first clotted cream experience at Harvey Nichols when I was in my young teens – tea and scones would never be the same.
The tea is not, however, overshadowed by the immense Windsor Table. There must be about 50 teas to choose from, hailing from India, Kenya, China and other parts. I went for the original Belmond Mount Nelson Blend which is a blend of six international teas and enhanced with rose petals from the hotel garden. I then tried the Kenyan tea as well as the Darjeeling. It was a truly complete tea experience that would leave even the Queen feeling proper.
The High Tea had me wondering when I might come back, which will hopefully not be too far away. The busiest time for High Tea is over summer but I think the wintery weather is far more suited, so perhaps another visit before Spring.