Cape Town is known for being more than a little fickle. To have staying power in the city’s hotel landscape requires constant reinvention, and a keen eye for changing tastes among both locals and travellers. Location counts, but sometimes being in the thick of the tourist throng isn’t always a sure-fire recipe for success. A bit of a cult following? Well, that doesn’t hurt either.
Blending a little bit of all of those is perhaps why The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel & Spa has survived and thrived in the 30 years since the late, but legendary, hotelier Liz McGrath combined two historic properties to create a boutique bolt-hole in the leafy Constantia Valley.
This is a suburb of old money and even older traditions, and yet the hotel has been a site of constant reinvention through the years. If you’ve ever enjoyed a world-class martini amid the genteel surrounds of Constantia, you have McGrath to thank.
And while this formidable hotelier is no longer here to cast her sharp eye over things, I expect she would be more than happy with the latest refurbishment of her grande dame, which has recently seen the lounge, bar and The Conservatory Restaurant entirely revamped.
“Our grand old lady is stepping up with a contemporary new look,” explains Jacqui Elliott, CEO of The Collection by Liz McGrath. “With its forest garden theme, The Conservatory Restaurant is set to truly live up to its name as a tranquil, yet vibrant modern space ... designed to appeal to a sophisticated audience of locals and international travellers alike.”
The new look comes courtesy of HotCocoa Interiors & Design, which took plenty of inspiration from the estate’s award-winning gardens. The immediate impression is of an indoor oasis; a space brimming with foliage and fun thanks to a lightly whimsical touch in the décor. The striking geometric floor tiling is offset by an abundance of greenery, both in the colourful fabric touches and a riot of potted plants. Look up, and the use of painted ceiling panels, cleverly done using suspended frames, creates the impression of gazing up through a forest canopy.
And yet that’s not even the highlight. Instead, some serious construction work has opened up the space: the windows enlarged and more light brought in to make the views of the garden the centrepiece. Whether it’s with a cocktail in hand in the bar, or admiring a plate from the summer menu in the restaurant, the garden grabs your attention.
Gaze out the window and you’ll cast your eye on the second-oldest stand of camphor trees in the country, planted more than 300 years ago, or perhaps to the tiny micro-vineyard still planted with vines. Overnight guests will relish the chance to walk the gardens or take a dip in one of two delightful pools.
But even if you’re not overnighting in one of the 51 rooms, or in the private villas, The Conservatory is firmly back on the list of places to dine in Cape Town. The addition of an outdoor pergola, strung with star jasmine, has transformed the terrace dining area just in time for summer, while the arrival of head chef Daniel Blignaut has done the same for the menu.
With rich experience in both boutique hotels and leading luxury game lodges, Blignaut has brought a more delicate touch to the kitchen, lightening the plates ahead of summer to create dishes that are bold in flavour without overwhelming.
A bellwether of his arrival is the revamped vegan offering. What is so often an afterthought, a plate or two bolted onto a regular menu, is here a stand-alone offering filled with plates — many drawing on Asian flavours — that give meat-focused meals a run for their money.
It’s just another example of a venerable old hotel moving with the times, not letting tradition or convention stand in the way of reinvention. Madame McGrath would be pleased.