When many of us think of the itinerant hotel tycoon, Sol Kerzner, what springs to mind are artificial rocks, casinos in Bantustans (a business model later replicated on an Indian reservation in Connecticut), and a man who spends on opening parties as if they were fiscal stimulus packages. Kerzner is certainly generous to his friends, which includes campaign donations to the ruling party. When Bantu Holomisa revealed this in 1996, he was expelled from the ANC, only to have Nelson Mandela confirm the contribution. A United States casino licensing commission concluded that Kerzner had paid a R2 million bribe to the Transkei’s Kaizer Matanzima. They were a forgiving bunch who felt that extortion by a tinpot dictator does not necessarily amount to bribery by a businessman. Yet it must be said that despite his Byzantine financial and tax structures, Kerzner is respectable. He is to South African business what Donald Trump is to American. He is part of our entrepreneurial DNA. The self-made man, even if it is a rake’s progress, commands respect.
Kerzner is back in force with his first new business venture in democratic South Africa, the One&Only luxury resort in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. Of course, this being the age of marketing, there are six One&Only resorts in the world.
It opened with a R10 million bash (a mere commission on the record R110 million sale of Kerzner’s own duplex penthouse on the top floor). Hollywood was there dancing to Hugh Masekela: Clint Eastwood, Matt Damon, Robert De Niro (who has a financial interest), and a frail Nelson Mandela (surely nothing to do with this being an election year). We (as in the M&G and moi) were not invited, so when the plague proportions of celebs had moved on, Munchkin and I went to look.
The marina building is pleasantly understated, as we were soon to discover, so is the whole resort despite its glamorous image. The hotel centres around two artificial islands, one with suites and a vast swimming-pool and another with a state of the art spa. Investing in its future, there is also a teen spa for 12 to 16-year-olds.
The Vista bar looks up at Table Mountain through a soaring glass wall. Service was a bit slow. The interiors are graceful and comfortable. Sharon Stone et al had gone, though Munchkin did spot Felicia Mabuza-Suttle with daughter Lindiwe. There were lots of curious locals poking about, squeezing the cushions, photographing the displays of proteas, looking for labels under crockery. The thick pile carpet was still shedding lint and had bubbled. A manager and rising Michelin-star chef Jason Atherton were tugging at it.
Vista is flanked by two restaurants, Nobu and Maze, bringing global celebrity chef cuisine to South African diners. Maze is a stylish 170-seater modelled on Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in London. Ramsay, the potty-mouthed, temper tantrum throwing, extreme personality of reality TV shows The F-Word and Hell’s Kitchen, another self-made man with as much self-control as a Jerry Springer victim, has handed supervision to the amiable Atherton. The kitchen is partly open to the dining-room and the chefs are by all appearances cool, calm and collected. There are dozens of hawk-eyed, friendly staff about, but the atmosphere is relaxed and the service impeccable (the best I’ve ever had in Cape Town). The maître d’, without my asking (and I was there anonymously), whisked me off on a tour of the batterie de cuisine, which includes an imported broiler that exposes steaks to 650ºC.
Soon after one is seated, a steward arrives with a tray on which are wrapped in white napkins various cross-sections of bright red beef, allowing one to inspect the marbling. The Australian 9th grade Wagyu (the breed from which Kobe beef comes) goes for R750 for 100g, about the same as you’d pay in London. Then there’s the Namibian dry aged 24 days and South African Karan dry aged for 28 days in various cuts: sirloin, rump, fillet (R160 for 250g).
The waiter, sensibly, recommends trying a selection of tapas for starters. Everything is cooked fresh so they like to get the orders in early. The tapas arrived with several glass jars of delicately pickled onions, homemade piccalilli and tomato jam. The presentation is delicate, but never fussy. It is wonderful for a food critic to have an opportunity at last to lavish praise, so here goes. We sampled soft shell crab (R65), done in light batter, slightly heavier than a tempura but still refined; the pan con tomate (R50) with fresh basil is heavenly; and the charcuterie board (R90) is superbly selected. These dishes are based on harmony, not contrast. The secret is simple: use the very best ingredients and cook them perfectly.
My fillet arrived on a wooden board, which I must say set off my hygiene alarms, but the management assured me everything was meticulously sterilised. The peppercorn sauce, much thinner than what we are used to locally, was perhaps a little too subtle. The steak itself was faultless, as was Munchkin’s medallions of lamb (R130). As side orders (R25 each) we had hand-cut garlic fries, braised carrots, and spinach with pap (as you’ve never tasted it before).
Other sophisticated and heavenly variations of South African fare include a petite loaf of malva pudding (R50). For dessert I felt rewarded by an elegant peanut-butter ‘sandwich’ with cherry (R65).
The glass wine loft has 5 000 bottles (100 of which are available by the glass) arranged by region, and the sommelier escorts you personally. I chose one of the cheapest on the carte, a very fine 2005 Thelema Mountain Red (R140).
The bill with wine and a 12% tip came to R950. This is internationally unbeatable value. Maze has unquestionably set us a new standard.