Go Big or Go Home?

I’d rather go home.

Its not what you think. As much as you may think I’m about to talk about hitting the festive season hard, dancing on a table and consuming bottles of champagne – I’m not. I am talking the holidays.. just not like that.

If I could choose between this:

and this:

I’d always choose the latter. In fact, I did. We honeymooned 7 years ago at Paradise Cove (the second pic) – a 67 room Boutique Hotel in Mauritius.

Earlier this year, we had booked to stay here (Zimbali Resort)Zimbali resort

And due to a Presidential son’s wedding, and a few words with management, we landed up spending some time here (Zimbali Lodge)

zimbali lodge

which actually suited us way better. Less people, more personal service.

Boutique. Or Home in this instance.

I assumed everyone liked small and intimate, staff who recognise you, greet you by name and recall your evening tipple of choice and no schedule of daily activities like aqua yoga, or traditional dancers or tour buses of visitors arriving and departing daily.

I was apparently wrong. A good friend of mine and his wife seek out the Big. The hotel that offers yoga in the morning, evening entertainment, daily excursions, volleyball tournaments and an entertainment committee. I actually shudder at the idea. No really.

We are the complete opposite.

I am currently in the Maldives. After 7 years of wanting and dreaming of this destination – we took the plunge, said sod it to our bank balance, saved like mad, and booked it.

We’ve spent 4 nights at the 37 villa’d island of Makunudu. And currently spending 7 nights at the recently refurbished all-inclusive resort by Atmosphere – Oblu Helengeli.

Home, and Big. As I like to refer to them as.

I can’t be certain how we landed up with the large all inclusive resort, it seems really un-us… but, of course I actually do know. There was a really good deal on that put us in an over water bungalow during peak season at probably the same cost (no, at the same cost) as the beach bungalow. And actually, it’s only classed as a medium-sized  resort with 116 villas, but still has the yoga and water aerobics schedule!

So big, or home? I think I still prefer the intimacy of a boutique resort, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work the system at the large resort to get the same sort of service. Mark has made friends with the barman, after lending him his iPhone for the day (which largely improved the music in the bar, so we actually won in this) and the result is great. Being served quickly plus drinks brought out to the beach for us etc. Our first lunch we were lucky enough to meet and chat to the chef, who now greets us personally every time he sees us. So too after making conversation with a couple of the ‘live action station’ chefs, means I also get to make up my own dishes (mostly without the chilli and cooked to well done – the joys of the impending motherhood).

While I think I’ll always choose the smaller guesthouse or hotel over the larger ones, I think it doesn’t only boil down to the size of the resort, but instead what the resort believes in that results in the experience you have. Oblu is brand new and while providing an ‘intro offer’ to get people to the island, they’re doing their very best to ensure their service makes it a memorable experience. The same can’t be said for every large hotel with an entertainment schedule, but its nice to know (and I’ll admit) that the larger ones aren’t as crappy as I originally thought they would be.

Exceptional experiences come from the people working at the resort or hotel and the service they offer you.

Plus the bathroom amenities. Cotton wool. Just give me some damn cotton wool.

 

 

 

 

 

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A meander in the midlands

I’d heard of it. People got married there, mostly people from Natal, but some natalians married Stormers, I mean people from Cape Town and so their friends (also from Cape Town) travelled there for said weddings. But I really didn’t know too much about the Midlands, or the Meander until dinner with (Natalian) friends when they were visiting Cape Town. They sold me on the idea of quaint decor shops, antiques, the outdoors and coffee stops. I really love a coffee stop.

Funny, they never mentioned the freezing cold nor mist. But anyway.

Dinner, talk of the Drakensberg and coffee shops, an obessession with visiting a 5 star (but malaria free) game reserve found us spontaneously booking a trip to KZN.

After a night in Umhlanga visiting the beautiful Oyster Box for a drink, the Shark tank for the necessary rugby and kuier (except they wouldn’t call it that there… as Afrikaans isn’t a language understood by many) we were off to do the Midlands Meander. Our first stop, Piggly Wiggly. Like a child in a candy store, I was an adult in a farmstall/deli… too many delights too oooh and aah at, but first a much-needed spot of (no, not coffee) lunch rather.

Piggly wiggly Jam
All the goodies at Piggly Wiggly

Being a Saturday it was full with kids and oldies. Being April (which makes it completely unexpected) it wasn’t long after we finished lunch that the skies opened up and the rain came down. Rain isn’t really something worth mentioning at the best of times, but the lightning storm that accompanied it was! Cracks of bright light filled the sky as we took cover at Sterlings Wrought Iron. After a good old chat with the owner, we drifted between dry spells to the linen, book, clothing and decor shops. Possibly everything you could wish for in one stop on the Meander. Naturally, I spent a fair few warm moments marvelling the wines on offer at Meander Fine Wines (a surprisingly good selection – glad to see the Natalians choose good wine) before visiting Hides of Africa, Mark’s stepbrother’s shop and deciding that yep, a hide will be purchased in our near future (it still hasn’t been bought.)

Makes for a pretty picture!

After a look around the antique store filled with old Ouma Rusks tins and similar goodies that look great in a shop, but would probably look more like junk and not as cool in my kitchen, the temperature started to dip and we got back into that whole meandering vibe. Swissland Cheese was our next stop. A long, wet and muddy road took us straight into deepest Switzerland, well – you know what I mean. Welcomed by a queue of goats about to be milked, and an electricity cut we were in for a cosy cheese tasting.  Our very own Heidi cheese assistant spoke with a soft German accent and treated us to all that was available. Cheese, cheese and more cheese as the generator kicked in to milk the goats and we craved a glass of red.

Somewhere between Swissland Cheese and Nottingham Road, I actually thought we had stepped into Wales. Green lush fields surrounded us. Stately homes (ok, more Surrey than Wales). Grey skies. And let’s not forget that 7 degree temperature. I was starting to freeze and it was time to get to the first of our five-star establishments that would make up our 5 star holiday!

Mark and I often talk about ‘that grand entrance’ – the term first used when we were looking for a wedding venue and obsessed that the entrance to the venue needed to be spectacular (not sure for what?). Well, Fordoun Hotel & Spa  has that Grand Entrance. Autumn colours lined the drive with a hazy mist setting in. Spectacular! And as we were warmly greeted by smiling staff, we knew our stay would be a comfortable one. Our suite was divine, with underfloor heating throughout. I only mention the heating because by now I’m pretty sure it was about 4 degrees and the coldest I had been in years. A view out of the lawn, and down to a dam far beyond. Just gorgeous really. Gorgeous, fresh and just a little chilly.

Autumn Colours and a Grand Entrance of Fordoun Hotel & Spa

Cozying up next to the fireplace in the lounge we settled in to our books with a cup of coffee to relax. Ok, let’s be honest. I was just trying to defrost. The mist settled in as well and when it came to pop out for dinner, we couldn’t see our hand in front of our eyes. A pizza at the first spot we could find and back to the coziness of our room for our first night in the Midlands.

Isn’t that cosy?

Gone fishing

Well, not quite.

Paternoster is a fishing village, but we didn’t really go fishing. We just went to ‘get away from it all’. And by “it all”, I mean work. Which was, ofcourse impossible thanks to the full reception coverage we received on our blackberry’s. (they should really switch off BIS towers anywhere other than in city centres, don’t you agree?).

I’ve wanted to go to Paternoster since, well basically since I couldn’t actually find it on a map. I was told it was a little fishing village on the west coast that was a bit like Greece. Clearly the people who told me that had never been to Greece. Its nothing like Greece. But it is a gorgeous sleepy village adorned with white walled houses and one main road with sea views from every corner. Nothing like late notice I still managed to secure us a lovely little (well not actually so little) cottage with all the necessary luxuries I’ve come to love. You know, the cotton sheet and double vanity basin variety. We stayed at Heaven on a Stick, which offers all the comforts of home except without the rusks, sugar, coffee, matches and showergel (just a tip to self-catering spots – these things go such a long way in making somewhere good to making it awesome). The sea view was just behind the row of houses in front of us, and if it wasn’t for the fact that it was raining for the weekend, our front porch would’ve seen a little more of us.

Paternoster

Arriving at lunchtime, I knew exactly where I wanted to visit for our first stop. The Winkel Op Paternoster and Oep ve Koep and Oep ve Eet. Don’t ask me which is which or what it means, but we rolled into an old farm shop with retro tea garden, ordered a bottle of Darling Cellars Sauvignon Blanc and oohed and aaahed at the fun decor and the old South African memories attached to them. The rain stayed away long enough for us to sit in the garden and absorb a few rays. Lunch, while at first appearing on the small portion side, was very little less than sensational. Even managed a short chinwag with Kobus van der Merwe, the owner, chef and previous editor of Eat Out (although I think he prefers the title and the lifestyle of talented sea-side village chef).
Only three emails checked. Good lunch.

Winkel Op Paternoster

Oep ve Eet

Its as small as it looks. But A-MA-ZING!
Amazing yummy Bobotie

Vredeburg is the little town you hit right before you reach Paternoster and where we stopped to buy our weekend groceries (the expense of which always surprises me!). We were equipped with braai food and wine for afternoons and evenings of relaxation. Our indoor fireplace doubled up as an indoor braai (its supposed to do that!) on our first night and we settled down to a bottle of Laborie Bubbly (still one of my faves) and my Dan Brown book (conveniently purchased at the Kalahari sale! Have to love a R20 paperback).

As with every evening spent on the West Coast, we were spoilt with a stunning sunset. TIA.

What surprised me when we first arrived at our Paternoster cottage was the (poor) introduction we received to the locals. Yes, this isn’t a happy-go-lucky paragraph. Basically we were advised against leaving any windows or doors open, even if we were at the cottage. Quite simply – and after trying to sugar coat it – the locals will take advantage of any opportunity. They apparently pretend to sell crayfish, but in actual fact, they’ll slip in and out with your handbag, laptop or (maybe not a bad thing) blackberry! Let’s be honest, it wasn’t the nicest introduction. As a result, my planned long ‘get back into running’ run the next morning didn’t go so well as I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t being followed (it had nothing to do with the fact that I haven’t exercised in months).

Not to worry – we satisfied our fear (well, my nervousness) with another great meal out. This time at Gaaitjie. I had made a reservation in advance as I know how booked up this place gets – although maybe in the middle of winter it wasn’t entirely necessary. The venue is right on the beach front between the rocks and other fishing cabins. While it is rustic and relaxed, it needs to be noted that the decor wasn’t old or tired, it felt tastefully seen to. I was loving it. We had a great little table in the front room next to the fire place. We had brought our own wine along (at R40 corkage), the fantastic Lammershoek  Chenin, but were impressed to see they stock the Lammershoek LAM which is a must-try wine.

The issue with writing a blog post two months after the event, is trying to remember what exactly it was that you had for lunch. A lunch that accompanied a bottle of wine, and an afternoon of more drinking. I have the photos, and remember that it was incredible. I also recall rating it as one of the best meals I’ve ever had. This I maintain. I expected the food to be comfort food. The type that your mom makes, or your gran. This, was something spectacular (sorry Mom). Out of this world food art. (For choice of an over-dramatic way of explaining good food.) It was creative and involved a little bit of ‘just try it’ on my part, but I’m so glad I did.

Our Starter - err... not sure what it was
My main... I think it was ravioli of some sort!
Mark's main - easy guess is Curry

Day 3 in Paternoster was what God intended Paternoster to always be. Sunny. The light across that endless white beach called for a long walk. Watching seagulls pick up and drop their mussels, looking at crabs and for the perfect abandoned shell (that would consequently become a napkin ring. Gaatjie inspiration) all the while the sun shone – this is what seaside holidays are made of. Just as we were settling in to the beautiful day, the Sharks vs someone game was calling and we had to head back to the bright lights so as not to miss it. That always happens. Not the Sharks game, but rather that just as soon as you finally drift away from real life. You’re back at home. Checking emails. Analytics. And twitter.

Ok, so some deets are always good:

Gaatjie: 022 – 7522 242, Off Sampson Road, Paternoster

Oep ve Koep022-7522105, St. Augustine Road, Paternoster, West Coast

My love affair with La Mouette

Its been a hell of a month. I won’t lie. I claimed the title of possibly the worst wife in the world as December took off with a bang and I hadn’t bought a pressie for my husband’s birthday. You see, he’s been on about a fishing rod, and what do I really know about fishing? I did go to an amazing fishing shop, but talk about a fish out of water! That was terribly corny, and anyway, I’ve digressed completely. So back to the start of December…

La Mouette interiorI’d been dying to go back to La Mouette since experiencing their Winter Tasting Menu back in June (was it July?) and literally yelling about it from every social media platform I could. I claimed LM as my favourite restaurant ever and couldn’t wait for an opportunity to go back. The ‘Rolyats’ joined us for the start of Mark’s birthday weekend on 4 December. I really wanted to dine in the courtyard, and had hoped for a balmy evening… It seems that Cape Town is unable to deliver these, so instead we had a great table at the window in a different room to where we had sat previously. Unfortunately there was a private function at the upstairs bar, so we missed a pre-drink but instead took to our table ooh-ing and aah-ing the necessary amount (ok, perhaps I may have gone a wee bit overboard!) at the lush and sophisticated décor. It still impresses me, even if we had seen it all before.

It amazes me how brilliant Mari is! Besides the obvious of launching a restaurant (and planning a wedding simultaneously), she has created a loyal following, celebrated the twitterati, and used social media to La Mouette’s advantage creating a brilliant customer service experience when booking and dining at LM. Let me elaborate.  We arrived at our table to find a card addressed to Mark and I wishing Mark happy birthday with her apologies for not being there personally. Special! Mari also knows about my private obsession to drink champagne whenever possible, and Gerrit welcomed us with a glass of MCC that was the perfect touch to kickstart our weekend.

The food (and service!) was again, nothing short of superb. I was so excited to go back and have full sized portions of the what we had tasted in July. I started with Salt and pepper prawns, sweet corn puree, shaved radish, lime dressing and chorizo popcorn (R60) which was magic, although perhaps to small (or too yummy) to give even one bite away! We then all went on to have Beef sirloin, mash, oxtail, horseradish foam, mushroom tortellini and Bordelaise (R130). I have to be honest and admit I enjoyed this more the first time round in its ‘tasting’ size portion (and I’m also convinced it was different), but the rest of the table agreed that it was spectacular.

We took our own wine along (R50 corkage), not because the wine list isn’t reasonable (it is!) but rather because we have a wine rack of fantastic wines and we need to drink them on civilised occassions in order to appreciate them! (this is me, trying to be grown up and responsible). We started with the brilliant De Wetshof Sauvignon Blanc and followed it with the (easy going) La Motte Sauvignon Blanc. Two bottles between four is never enough (don’t you know?) and we bought a bottle of Tokara. Ofcourse writing a blog post a month after the event and the consumption of the champagne and wine prior to this bottle of red means I have no recollection of what it was, or if it was good. I’m sure it was.

Dinner is an experience that not once disappoints. It was fantastic. The service and food was exceptional. I’m just looking for my next excuse to visit and indulge in my love affair with La Mouette.

I just like niceness

Which isn’t really a word (although perhaps it is after a quick google search).

But I do like really nice things – food, décor, luxury hotels, fancy spas, cars, shabby chic coffee shops and especially nice restaurants. What defines a nice restaurant these days for me is a combination of things really – nice décor, nice food, nice service. (And so ends the use of the word nice as it gets rather annoying after a while.)

After reading a review about Brio 1893, I knew it would meet my expectations on being a nice top place to dine. The only thing that put me off slightly were the pictures on the web showing a (very) well lit almost canteen looking restaurant. Anyway, willing to give it a chance and noting a fantastic ‘ladies night’ special (50% off meals on Wednesday for lady only tables), I booked a table for 3 for Wednesday night.

Driving around the corner from Wale onto Adderley Street, I noticed the red carpet scattered with rose petals and the doorman dressed in black waiting to welcome me. While I suddenly regretted the jeans I had on and wished I had added some bling, I felt special. And I hadn’t even parked yet.

Welcomed by spectacular chandeliers, high ceilings, indulgent furniture and decor, the expression I carried across the wooden floors to my table of girls probably screamed ‘wow’. Already being charmed by the manager on duty, I took my place and we marveled at the luxurious interior of the old Standard Bank.  Two foodies, and one clothes-ies (is there a word for her?) ooh’d and aah’d at the menu before being taken on a tour of the vault. I was swept away with the possibility of all the wine racks filled with my favourite wines andwhat else the downstairs venue may bring eventually (apparently a club?).

As the jazz band with the gorgeous Abby on vocals filled the room, I crooned “I love this song” after every song… which I haven’t done since I was a student and the songs were more cheesy and less classy. And classy – the whole experience definitely was.

While not necessary the ideal spot for a ‘Ladies Night’ in the true sense of the words, I’m glad this special got me in the front door. I can’t stop thinking of the place since last week and plan to book a table for two to do it all over again, with the romance it deserves.

Brio1893 Review

On the Menu…

We ordered Deep Fried Camembert (R62) and Spinach and Feta Mushrooms (R49) to start, and to share. For mains, we had one Salmon (R138), one pork belly (R96) and for me… a carpetbagger (R106). I’ve never ever had a Carpetbagger, it just sounds a bit too manly and I didn’t even see it when I first looked at the menu. The waiter suggested it and I’m so glad he did. Wow! We didn’t order any extra sides, and we didn’t need to.The girls had already ordered the Buitenverwachting Buiten Blanc 2008 (R118) so I didn’t have much chance to look at the rest of the winelist. I’ll save that for when I return.