Vegan High Tea at the Mount Nelson

Written by Brent on February 8th, 2018


In a previous life, fresh out of university in 1990, aged 22, as a stop gap I landed the job of being put in charge of the lounge and high tea at the Mount Nelson. I won’t go into the gory details of what managing the lounge meant back then, but it entailed incontinent billionaires wetting the upholstery, a procession of exceedingly rich people gorging themselves to the brink of cardiac arrest, and a seemingly inexhaustible chocolate mousse cake that would be returned to the kitchen fridge each day until it began to separate on the buffet table.

It also involved various wealthy members of society stealing the tips left for the very poorly paid waiters in my charge. One individual, who given any opportunity had a habit of filching the tips as soon as his friends or colleagues left, had the cheek to complain to management of poor service. That individual is still known to me. So secure was he in his class in the 1990s, it probably never entered his head that the working class lad from the wrong side of the railway tracks who was waiting on him, would one day be sitting across the table from him at pompous dinners and ambassadorial functions, and remembering him stealing tips from indigent waiters.

The waiters were mature, middle-aged men with families earning R450 to R650 per month, less than the price of a bottle of Don Perignon which they served every other night to guests of the hotel. I should add workers were unionised, but the union was no better. Every night in the main dining room the shop stewards would accumulate and pocket nearly all the tips, hundreds of rands for themselves, while handing each waiter R20. I wonder where those union officials are today in our democracy.

On the face of it working conditions are better these days and the relationship between staff and patrons far more egalitarian, respectful and less stuffy. The colonial pretences are muted. The clientele more varied. But it is apparent from the service that although the staff are eager to please, management has continued to under invest in their training.

The opulent lounge table still groans with vast quantities of cake, but there is now also a vast selection of teas and a far more sophisticated and refined approach to tea brewing and drinking.

Funnily enough, I was an oddity back in 1990 because I was vegan. Veganism was considered utterly bizarre. I remember there was only a bit of iceberg lettuce and leftover tomatoes for me to eat in the staff canteen. But a few decades later, here is the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel offering vegan high tea.


The savouries are now brought to the table on a double-decker cake stand, starting with cucumber sandwiches on white bread and a tomato sandwich reminiscent of school lunch. Both benefit from a little salt. As does the rather bland sprout taco and the artichoke and tomato skewer. There is an authentic guacamole with lime not lemon juice and falafel served on a gem lettuce leaf.


The second tier has a sweet potato and carrot savoury (a bit dry), a thimble-sized quiche, a spicy pakora and a flavourful mushroom pasty.

If you’re having the vegan high tea then the sweets are also brought to the table. At first glance, the plate looks rather like a kids’party with its bright food colouring.

There was only one disaster in this course; what should have been a meringue (and could have been made beautifully with aquafaba) was a rather disgusting, chewy, bubblegum-like, sickeningly sweet mess. This must definitely be removed from the tea spread.


The rest was passable: a macaroon; a lemon lime tart with cashew cream and lime zest; a date based cashew mousse cake which rapidly became a puddle on the plate; a fruit cake spiced with allspice and cinnamon; and apple pie. The carrot cake was the tastiest item. To finish there was a fruit skewer with very dry pineapple core. More attention needs to be paid to selecting quality fruit.

Overall, I was underwhelmed by the vegan offering and I know the Mount Nelson can do far better. However, the beautiful, newly decorated solarium and the serenity of the space was unspoilt and high tea at the Nellie makes for a very pleasant (and filling) afternoon.


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. meganshead says:

    I had the vegan high tea when friends were visiting in December and it was slightly different, and mostly good. No tomato sandwiches, or sweet potato and carrot savoury or date mousse cake. The mushroom pastie was super delicious as was the little lemon square. I hated both the veg and fruit skewers though. Super dull plate fillers.

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