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Cape Town’s hottest new (old) address

Oscar Foulkes June 19, 2010 Hotels, Restaurants 2 comments

One of my favourite parts of the Cape Town city centre is the top of Adderley Street, where Wale Street joins from the right. If one continues up Wale it cuts right across the city (parallel to what would have been coastline), ending up in the Bo-Kaap, just below the point where the Noon Gun is fired every day.

Leading off towards Table Mountain from the top of Adderley is the avenue that runs through the Company’s Gardens. To the left is the Slave Lodge museum, with St George’s Cathedral occupying the right side of the avenue, which is also the south side of the bottom of Wale Street. The north (sea) side is a collection of historic buildings that most recently housed a financial services business. These buildings have been converted to a five-star Taj hotel. While it was still a construction site I was given a hard hat walkaround by the F&B manager, James Boreland (you can tell that I was trying really hard to get Cloof wines onto the wine list – ultimately to no avail). I was keen to return as a guest, but general busy-ness kept getting in the way.

On our way back from Cape Town station last week we’d stopped at the hotel’s Twankey’s bar, which is on the Adderley/Wale corner, for a drink. On a whim we booked a table at the Bombay Brasserie for dinner last night. I say on a whim, because if it we’d stopped to think about it we’d probably not have done it; the establishment could as easily be called the Bombay Buffalo (it knows how to charge). But then we’d have postponed even further into the future a fabulous experience.

The Bombay Brasserie is an intimate space, seating only 44 diners. Original wood-panelled walls remain, and the space is decorated in a classic style. Huge chandeliers dominate the space above eye-level, but don’t disturb the cosy lighting.

I should also add that during my visit to Mumbai late last year I’d been on a mission to eat cutting-edge Indian food. While it seemed that such restaurants don’t really exist, I was assured that the orginal Taj hotel’s Bombay Brasserie served very sophisticated food. That I didn’t get there during my trip further enhanced my interest in visiting the local establishment.

Yes, it is expensive, let me get that elephant out of the room, but no more than one would spend at any top-end restaurant in South Africa. Last month I was horrified to find Warwick’s First Lady on a wine list (Crystal Towers Hotel) at R190, making the Brasserie’s R160 seem less outrageous. We opted for the 2003 (yes, an aged wine on a Cape Town wine list) Glen Carlou Syrah, at R240, which appeared to be pretty good value, all things considered.

The service was exemplary. The maitre d’, Mafyos, assisted by Phinias, talked us through the menu in the most engaging manner. I’d go so far as to say that this was one of the best tableside presentations I’ve ever experienced.

We ordered four different starters (there were five of us at the table), which were shared. My first mouthful of Galouti Kebab was the most delicate morsel of lamb mince ever. The story goes that the dish was invented for the nobles who didn’t like chewing their food. This one was so soft that I couldn’t determine any trace of meaty texture.

The chicken tikka was juicy, packed with flavour and quite delicious with the mint chutney that accompanied the starters. We were similarly impressed by two vegetarian starters, one based on potato and the other on lentils.

We ordered five main courses – all delicious – but what blew me away was the spinach and roasted garlic side dish. The texture was the most delicate and fluffy puree ever, the colour was a vibrant green, and the flavour just exquisite.

As with the starters, we shared the main courses – Dal Makhani, tandoori fish on spinach and mushrooms, lamb shank, chicken pulao and a prawn curry. These were accompanied by steamed rice and plain naan. All the dishes were spiced – that’s why we were there, after all – but none of them was overly hot (in a chilli sense). I don’t think I’d want to be drinking cabernet franc or cabernet sauvignon with this food, but the shiraz was not intimidated by the spiciness of the dishes.

No-one could face dessert, but two of us had coffees. The total bill, including tip, a bottle of white wine and two bottles of red, came to R2350, which doesn’t exactly make the Bombay Brasserie a candidate for one’s local Indian restaurant. However, the entire experience was well worth it. If a so-so restaurant could easily cost R250 per person, I think it’s actually good value to remove the so-so from the list and rather go to an excellent restaurant half as often.

I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot more time at the corner of Adderley and Wale Streets.

Awed into Silence

Oscar Foulkes December 14, 2009 Hotels No comments

Words have a way of forcing their way out of my brain, into spoken or written existence. This is especially likely to happen if I’ve had exceptional experiences, or made fabulous discoveries. I therefore find it striking that something similar has taken so long to happen with respect to my visit to Mumbai a few weeks ago.

It’s not that the visit wasn’t worthy of detailed mention; perhaps I was so awed by the experience that I didn’t want to trivialise the city with superficial comment. What I can say unequivocally is that nothing I’ve experienced anywhere else in the world even came close to preparing me for India.


My Mumbai Taxi

I didn’t expect to be driven to my hotel in a ramshackle old taxi (it even had air conditioning!), and was a little alarmed to enter a slum almost immediately upon leaving the airport, which we did not exit until reaching the perimeter wall of the hotel. The Grand Hyatt is a big, posh hotel. The centre of a slum is the most unlikely location for such an establishment.

Before getting onto the rest of Mumbai, I do need to mention the excellence of the service at the Grand Hyatt (booked via Otel). The staff at the hotel is the most friendly and attentive I’ve experienced anywhere. One can find professional efficiency – perhaps even with a smile – in many places, but this was something else. The revelation to me was Praveen, the guy who cleaned my room. Usually such workers operate under the radar. They come, they do their work, and they go. If I walked past Praveen on my way to breakfast he’d greet me with apparently sincere friendliness, before establishing a time that would be convenient for him to clean my room. On the fourth day I returned to find that he had folded the dirty shirts at the bottom of the cupboard!

If it weren’t for the location I wouldn’t hesitate to return to the Grand Hyatt. During my stay I met an Italian who had been staying there for three months. If there’s any hotel in the world where one could feel at home, this is it.

I couldn’t help thinking of Hogwarts’ Room of Necessity while being driven on the Western Expressway, which was choc-a-block with trucks, taxis, motorbikes, rickshaws (tuk-tuk taxis) and assorted other vehicles. The taxi driver would hoot (OK, honk in American), then aim the vehicle at the narrow gap between designated lanes. As if by magic – the force of necessity – the gap would widen to accommodate a car.

The black and yellow city cabs – ancient Fiats of indeterminate model – weaved and hooted their way around the city. I even saw one with a Pierre Balmain badge, which appeared to denote that the couturier had styled that model, but I have not been able to find any information that could shed further light. It’s certainly one of the more incongruous things I’ve seen.

Sitting inside one of these ramshackle taxis, complete with holes in the floor, threadbare upholstery, one’s mouth and nose getting clogged with smelly dust, is not what one would call a comfortable experience, especially taking into account the goings on in the traffic, not to mention the surrounding slum. Once I’d told myself that I was in a theme park – perhaps one for Shantaram or Slumdog Millionaire – I became a relaxed spectator.

More than 250 million Indians live on less than $1 per day. Extreme poverty, potholed roads, refuse and slums are everywhere; yet all I could feel was awe for the ‘bigness’ of experiencing India.

I made two visits to the Colaba precinct, once for dinner at Indigo, and once for lunch at Leopold Café followed by some intensely bargained shopping. This is a part of Mumbai I’d certainly want to spend more time (especially if I was staying at the Taj).

The tiny slice of India I experienced is by no means representative of the whole, but it was enough to make me want to explore the rest of the country in more detail.

It was certainly enough of an experience to silence me for a few weeks!

Could this be Dubai’s best hotel deal?

Oscar Foulkes November 22, 2009 Hotels, My Little Black Book No comments

There are several things one doesn’t expect to find in Dubai. Cheap, widely available alcohol is top of the list, closely followed by non-expat locals obeying the speed limit. Comfortable, affordable hotels in desirable locations are about as scarce as green meadows in the desert.

As if the extortionate cost of a hotel bed isn’t sufficient insult, one adds the injury of taxes and additional charges that come to 20%. Yes, you read right, twenty per cent!

Well, I think I may have found the best hotel deal in Dubai (next stop will be Ireland to find a four-leafed clover), in the form of the Radisson Blu in Media City. I booked it on Otel (excellent site for discounted hotel bookings, by the way), at a rate of less than $200 per night, including all taxes and breakfast, which is a saving of over one-third off the official rate quoted on the Radisson website. Bear in mind, also, that hotel rates in excess of $500 are not uncommon in Dubai.

OK, so what’s great about this hotel? While the rooms are not large, they’re big enough, with a modern design-y feel. Bed linen is good, the bed is comfortable, and the desk spans a corner, which makes it more roomy. A huge plus, in my view, is the fast wireless internet, which is free.

The bathroom is bright, marble-tiled from floor to ceiling, with more than enough space to do what one needs to. For those that are that way inclined, the bathroom also boasts a bidet. But the biggest plus of all in the bathrooms are the towels, which are soft and very generously proportioned. I’ve lost count of the number of hotels I’ve stayed in which have midget-sized towels that do double-duty as exfoliators.

Right, so Radisson Blu ticks the boxes of price, comfort and work amenities. They didn’t start off well, by putting me into a smoking room. I’d arrived late in the evening, so I was tired and easily grumped. They quite quickly moved me to another room, and by way of apology gave me a voucher for a free drink at their roof terrace bar, which I made use of last night.

Despite being on my own I had a most pleasant evening looking out on the Dubai skyline. The free beer was followed by a couple of glasses of Soave. I was enjoying the selection of music being played and generally having an evening of quiet, but happy reflection. I was having such a good time I even contemplated having Soave and bar snacks for dinner (apparently nuts are very nutritious). When the live music started it turned out to be very bluesy, late night jazz that I wasn’t in the mood for. The guitarist, to his credit, was fantastic, but the drummer sounded as if he was bashing away on his pencil case.

I moved on to the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Certo, for my second meal of the stay. Both meals were simple – a plate of pasta on the first night, and a risotto last night – but well-prepared and delicious. The red wine by the glass (only a single glass both nights) was enjoyable.

The breakfast buffet was good, too, which gave the hotel’s F&B department a full house.

I’ve stayed in many hotels where I’ve stared at the ceiling and thought of the expenses budget. Unless one is accustomed to super-luxury, the Radisson Blue in Media City does not involve a compromise. Unlike the veal bacon on their breakfast buffet, it’s the real deal.

Starbucks to the Rescue

Oscar Foulkes October 18, 2009 Hotels No comments

While in St Johns I stayed at the Franklin Hotel. I’d happily stay there again – the rooms are very spacious, the beds are comfortable and the bathroom does what it’s supposed to.

The one drawback was the absence of coffee in the room. There was an abundant supply of tea, sugar and sweetener, but no coffee. Not even instant. And also no milk.

When I raised the issue with the proprietor (not a Newfoundlander, which occasionally shows in flashes of anger directed at his employees) he went into a mini-tirade about the difficulty of obtaining the little sachets of instant coffee in Newfoundland.

Once again, Starbucks came to the rescue of my coffee addiction. They’ve recently launched VIA, their version of instant coffee (in one-serving sachets), which they claim tastes exactly like their filter coffee. In the absence of milk – even powdered creamer – I couldn’t say how close it gets. What I can say is that it didn’t have the usual instant coffee taste, which is a good thing. I’m not suggesting that Starbucks makes the world’s best coffee, but they’ve done a fabulous job of making a consistently acceptable standard of coffee available in a lot of out-of-the-way places. And, in my moment of need, they were there to help me out.

When I pointed out to the proprietor that he could satisfy his guests’ coffee needs by walking 50 metres down the road to Starbucks (who may even give him a promotional deal), he scoffed at the suggestion that he should spend the money, even though it’s comfortably less than 1% of the room rate.

No-one does that combination of genial and crusty quite like the Brits.

Dinner, bed & breakfast

Oscar Foulkes March 31, 2007 Hotels No comments

I neglected to add comment about Park Hotel ( to my report on Tokyo, which is remiss, because it earns a huge ‘thumbs-up’. Its cost would have precluded me from booking it direct, but as I was on an ANA package (very civilised economy class!) from Hong Kong, the first two nights were free, and the additional nights were billed at a much more affordable rate.

It’s a hotel that occupies the 25th to 34th floors of the Shiodome Media Tower, so one is well away from the noise and bustle of street level. The reception area is backed by huge windows; when I went downstairs on my first morning there was a clear view all the way to the sunlit snowy slopes of Mount Fuji.

The breakfast buffet consisted of the usual array of cereals, yoghurt, eggs etc, but could have done with better bread than the airy white sandwich loaf (a common problem in Asia). However, it probably had the best croissants one will find outside Paris, no doubt the influence of resident chef, Tateru Yoshino, who also has a restaurant in Paris. Two mornings running I was joined in the lift by the same visiting businessman (I soon learnt that he was French) carrying a huge takeaway box of these crispy, buttery objects of delight.

My room was small, but extremely comfortable, especially by big-city standards. In-room broadband was free, which is the way it should be at all hotels.

As far as evening meals were concerned, I did my usual wander around the streets in search of ‘local’ experiences. Even at the lower-priced restaurants, there was an unbelievably large selection of wonderfully fresh fish and seafood on offer. While the rand has depreciated nearly 20% against the yen since my visit last year, it still amazed me that sushi is generally cheaper in Tokyo than it is in Cape Town. That is should be better is no surprise!

I didn’t only eat sushi; I also pigged out on noodles with soup. All very oi-shi – and I could tell them so.

Style over Substance

Oscar Foulkes March 17, 2006 Hotels No comments

Following my sister’s good experience at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Hong Kong, I booked at their new hotel, the Cosmo, a few doors up the road. (You can get an idea at

Arrival was promising, especially with the scent of Shanghai Tang’s ginger flower spray in the reception area. From there on, it sadly went a little pear-shaped…

My room, although large by HK standards (and with a bed big enough for some serious carnal activity), smelt rather damp. The only way of getting rid of the smell was to switch on the air conditioner, except now it sounded as if I had an Airbus parked next to my bed!

As you can tell from the website they’ve tried really hard on the design front. But what you don’t get on the website is a sense of the oppressiveness of the silvery grey curtains (they’re so shiny someone could turn them into a matric dance dress).

I need to compliment them on one design feature – a little drawer with kettle and other coffee stuff, right next to a power point. Usually one has to schlepp the kettle across the room (often stationing it on the floor), or on top of a shut laptop on the only flat surface in the room. However, their choice of instant coffee and creamer was so not in keeping with the style statement they were making elsewhere. (Proper coffee, a plunger and long life milk would have been an acceptable substitute for having my own in-room espresso machine).

Having had my hot brown beverage (can’t call it coffee) I headed for the shower (as one does), only to end up with water spraying in all directions from the pipe of the hand-held shower head (hanging on the usual wall attachment). With much gesticulating I was able to explain the nature of the problem to the Chinese housekeeper.

Fortunately there was a back-up, in the form of a conventional wall-mounted shower that pumped out some serious jets. While in the shower I discovered that they also have one of those huge heads directly overhead. So, you can choose your favourite mode of showering by turning a tap on the wall (all a bit trial-and-error).

They also irritated me with a charge for broadband internet (and local telephone calls), which is very unusual for HK.

Breakfast continued the comedy. I could have cornflakes, cornflakes or … cornflakes, along with fruit. I asked for milk (for my coffee) and was told I needed to smoke outside.

That finished me. I went off to reception, where I told the assistant manager my opinion of his hotel, which by now was very much a case of “style over substance”. One of the things I did compliment him on, was the ginger flower spray in reception.

Delighted that he’d found something I liked, he even showed me where they sprayed it in reception. I then indicated that I’d like some in my room too, because it was a happy smell (I’d previously told him about the unhappy grey curtains). By now – I suspect – he was almost ready to pay for me to stay in the Shangri-La.

When asked when I’d like it sprayed (I think he meant now, or later), I leapt at the opening and told him I wanted it sprayed “every day”.

So, now you know, I’m a boy who likes to walk into rooms that smell of ginger flower…