CHAMPAGNE, OYSTERS AND OLD WORLD CHARM
“Ngiyabonga,” I thanked the doorman clad in a Punjabi-style uniform as I pushed through a heavy wooden revolving door and into an elegant black and white tiled lobby. Hidden away on the lowest reach of uMhlanga’s upmarket Lighthouse Drive, Durban’s iconic five-star Oyster Box Hotel is the epitome of luxurious hospitality and yet, as my husband and I checked in with the smiling concierge, I felt right at home.
Siyabonga, the doorman, led us through the Palm Court atrium set for the hotel’s daily, famous high tea, past the art-filled fine dining restaurant, the Grill Room, and up to our luxury sea facing room. He left us with a delicious bottle of champagne and fresh strawberries dipped in white chocolate. We threw open the balcony doors to let the humid sea air gush in off the Indian Ocean. You can’t get much closer to the sea than this, I thought, as a humpback whale breached in the open ocean before us.
Sitting proudly next to uMhlanga’s red and white lighthouse the hotel has, for almost 65 years, kept its hospitality, traditions and values alive. The Oyster Box is a gloriously eclectic establishment, faintly Mediterranean with its Spanish-style roof yet unabashedly KwaZulu-Natal with its generous Ocean Terrace veranda and lush sub-tropical gardens filled with palm trees, orchids, strelitzias and colourful hibiscus. From the revolving door to the original hand-painted tiles and friezes, the hotel’s original charm and elegance is very much intact, and it has seen many a celebrity walk along its bright passageways and garden paths. From honeymoons to weddings, to tête-à-tête dinners for an anniversary or special birthday, The Oyster Box offers a myriad of opportunities to celebrate special occasions just like a famous person would.
Feeling spoilt and perfectly relaxed after some champagne, we made our way to The Oyster Bar for a cocktail and to peruse the sushi menu for dinner. Sitting beneath the languid paddle fans at the marble-topped bar, Sebastian the bar tender recommended the uMhlanga Schling, a potent medley of local cane spirit muddled with pineapple and mint and topped with crushed ice and mango juice. My savoury toothed husband opted for a bloody Mary. Without a second thought, we chose oysters for our starter and an assortment of sushi for our mains. Chilled to perfection on a bed of crushed ice, the oysters came quickly with a delicious red wine sauce and were fresh, fresh, fresh. Later we indulged in an Irish coffee at the Lighthouse Bar, a sumptuous rooftop bar with red furnishings and dramatic chandeliers.
Dining options are abundant in the hotel and guests and visitors can choose between an array of menus. Fine dining with all the bells and whistles can be found in the Grill Room where long time maître’d Hendry Pakiri has served up crépe suzette, steak Diane, flambés and steak tartare (at your table), for over 50 years. His esteemed patrons include Cliff Richard, Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco and South African comedian Leon Schuster. The Ocean Terrace and Palm Court offer an à la carte menu or the renowned curry buffet with all the frills which has had visitors from all corners of the globe salivating over it. For more intimate occasions there is the Chef’s Table right in the hotel’s main kitchen or the Wine Cellar which features a glass ceiling and is sunken below the Oyster Bar for a truly unique experience.
The next day, we made our way leisurely down to the Ocean Terrace for the hotel’s world-famous breakfast. Overlooking the pool with its red and white striped umbrellas and sea beyond, I spied two schools of dolphins and another whale.
Strolling through the hotel’s lush gardens on our way to check out I pondered the appeal of this special place. Perhaps it’s the historical link to the slower pace of life of days gone by that is so alluring. Iconic hotel, award-winning property, hotel museum, decorative showstopper, much-loved landmark and more. Whichever way you look at it, there is just something special about The Oyster Box’s old world charm.