Irresistible al fresco treats to celebrate summer at Mount Nelson

Mount Nelson Hotel, 76 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa.
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A PICNIC in the garden, an afternoon lounging at the pool, a lavish harvest table lunch, sundowners on the terrace, or a relaxing treatment at the spa – it’s all about summer indulgence at the Mount Nelson, a Belmond hotel. Choose one, or a combination of these luxurious treats, and aim even higher with an overnight stay.

Afternoon tea at the Nellie is an institution. It’s with a touch of nostalgia we must recall those sumptuous buffets of days gone by, and nicking a profiterole off the table and shoving it in the mouth while walking past on the way to the Planet Bar. Yep, that’s one of Covid’s lingering legacies: no more buffets. And quite rightly so, for we cannot trust anyone not to finger the sandwiches or  splutter over the scones (especially when it seems to be so much of a challenge to simply wear a mask and wash hands and to keep their damn distance in the supermarket queue; “stop following me, I’m trying to get away from you,” I snapped at a woman just the other day).

I think most people’s reaction to a buffet is the glee that they can eat as much as they want, piling those plates high with cakes and pastries. They want to justify the cost, after all (whether it’s here or anywhere with an all-you-can-eat offering, and irrespective of the actual price). Let me assure you: you are not going to leave wanting.

The tea is a three-course affair served at your table, and whatever you want more of, they will bring to you. I promise you will not be cheated out of one single morsel. As we were to discover, even having fasted all day in anticipation of the feast, the sweets and savouries bracketing a basket of scones were enough to render us almost supine with hands folded over our voluptuous bellies. And that was with no extras.

We began with glasses of L’Ormarins Brut Rosé (not included in the price), before selecting teas from the dozens on the menu. We were seduced by descriptions like “a beautiful archway of lily and jasmine flowers” and names like “Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls” which are all well and good (and frankly way more dramatic in my imagination) but when it comes down to it, my favourite go-to is the Mount Nelson Hotel Blend of six International teas from Africa and Asia, flavoured with buds and petals of the pink roses from the garden. It’s a classic for a reason. Coffee and hot chocolate are also available.

The first course is savoury, with the crustless finger sandwiches – salmon and cream cheese, cucumber and cream cheese, egg mayonnaise; southern fried chicken with Asian slaw in steamed buns; beef bootie pies (“everything I hoped it would be,” said my friend, who lives for all things bobotie); cheese croquettes with aioli; mushroom empanadas (that flaky pastry is the best); cauliflower pakora; and spinach and feta quichelets, another long-time standard which I adore.

The middle part of the repast is a basket filled with warm scones accompanied by strawberry jam, grated cheese (although I prefer that with apricot jam), and Chantilly cream or clotted cream. Naturally we had to have both, and you best ask for extra butter upfront. There’s also banana bread and pumpkin fritters under the starched linen napkin.

The final cake stand bears carrot cake with cream cheese icing, milk tarts, eclairs filled with passion fruit curd and dipped in white chocolate, chocolate brownies with vanilla crème and berry device, chocolate cheesecake, and apple and nut slices.

It was a lovely, relaxing and elegant afternoon, filled with deliciousness, enjoyed in the dappled shade on the terrace. I didn’t even mind the small children at the table next to (but not too close to) ours, and perhaps there was even a touch of envy of their delighted chocolate-smeared faces which our adult manners do not permit.

Afternoon teas are served from Wednesdays to Sundays, with the first sitting at 12pm and the second sitting at 3pm, R395 per adult and R215 per child.

If you’ve got the time, make a day of it with a gourmet picnic in the gorgeous garden, available Wednesdays to Sundays from 1pm (R395 per person and R250 per child). Add on R200 per person and you get access to the heated swimming pool, tennis courts (with magnificent views of Table Mountain) and supervised Kids’ Club. Choose to recline by the balmy pool, or have your basket laid out in a sheltered, shady spot in the garden. Delve into the wicker hamper to discover light finger food delicacies, winelands cheeses, artisanal charcuterie served with homemade atjars, pickles and tapenades, and much more. To make your day truly pop and sparkle, splash out on a bottle of bubbly or Champagne.

Cape wild foods, plant-based and slow food dishes feature prominently in chef Rudi Liebenberg’s three-course lunch and dinner menus. And who can resist a seafood platter of grilled line fish, mussels in beer, prawns, salmon cakes and calamari fritto misto? The Planet Bar menu has been newly curated so you can drink, dine and toast any moment of the day. A light bite menu features General Tso’s cauliflower, ceviche in mini tacos, potato samosas and lamb kibbeh in yoghurt.

Harvest Table experiences in the garden, for six to 12 guests, are available for lunch and for dinner every day. Prices are from R850 per adult and R450 per child, and include two bottles of South African Methode Cap Classique as well as access to the heated Oasis swimming pool, tennis courts (6o minutes guaranteed) and the supervised Kid’s Club. Picture a lavish, long African teak table adorned with sumptuous platters filled with local, seasonal harvest fare. Share love, laughter and exquisite flavours with your nearest and dearest as you relax and enjoy the open-air pleasures of the leafy garden estate.

Tranquil hideaway, the Librisa Spa, has reopened with a menu brimming with pampering, de-stressing and anti-aging treatments. Even better, the perennially popular offer allowing access to the swimming pool and Kids’ Club with every 60-minute massage or Bliss Package booked, has been retained.

Librisa Spa is open 9am to 7pm every day. Bookings: [email protected]

Last but not least, after hours of beautiful sunshine, indulgent treatments and mind-blowing foodie experiences, nothing tops off the day more perfectly than a night in one of the Mount Nelson’s stylish, spacious rooms. After a night’s rest, you’ll be raring to do it all again – especially when you discover the extremely attractive rates for SADC region guests; email [email protected] for more details.

Bookings for tea, picnics and harvest tables: [email protected]

For more information, click here.

PHOTO CREDIT: BIANCA COLEMAN ©

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