Travelling is not just about seeing new places and experiencing different cultures. To truly travel is to indulge all your senses and to take them on a journey of discovery. Culinary travel is in high demand, because people love to eat and taste new pleasures…some of us a bit more hedonistically than others!
I have what some may call a sweet tooth. My mouth was in fact blessed (or cursed) with 32 sweet teeth. This makes me somewhat of an authority when it comes to anything sugary, syrupy and downright deliciously bad for your waistline. It’s also why I can dedicate an entire article to my best venues to indulge in high tea in Africa. For those who are not afflicted with a sugar addiction, don’t worry I have you covered too. The savoury offerings are as mouth-wateringly out of this world.
There is something so civilized about high tea. Sipping out of delicate bone china cups. (Pinky raising is encouraged) Elegantly popping bite-size morsels of yumminess into your mouth. Even the thought of eating finger sandwiches sans crust is so posh. Although it has its origins in the early 1800’s and is decidedly British, afternoon tea is not only for the upper crust.
It is the perfect way to celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday, bridal shower, or stork party. But you actually don’t need any excuse to treat yourself and your loved ones!
The Mount Nelson – Cape Town, South Africa
I first experienced High Tea at this Capetonian institution 12 years ago. At the time it was one of the only hotels in the city which actually offered such a feast. The occasion was, according to my mother, to mark the day we got “off the boat” and arrived in South Africa. I thought that we had sailed from England to Cape Town on a ship and started envisioning myself as Kate Winslet. I was rather perturbed that in my 32 years of existence I had never heard this story before. Only to realise later, it was an expression relating to when immigrants first arrive in a foreign land! On this occasion, it was summer so we sat on the patio overlooking the manicured gardens. I can’t remember what delectable delicacies where on offer but it was the start of my love affair with this decadent tradition. I returned to the Nellie a couple of years ago and decided to treat my niece and nephew who were 6 and 9 at the time. There was a slight trepidation that they would embark on a feeding frenzy and cause me to be banned from this establishment, but they completely played the part.
Living abroad I have come to miss the delightful South African desserts I grew up with. So I particularly relished the “Melk tert” (a milky, custardy tart on a crumbly biscuit base) and the “koeksisters” (reading the ingredients in these babies alone will give you diabetes!) What I love the most about these spreads is that everything is miniature. Meaning you can have a taste of everything and not feel gluttonous. On this visit, it was winter so we sat inside the lounge. Conveniently close to the tables of scrumptious goodness, but they do also serve you at your table. The kids washed down chocolate cake, chocolate macaroons and chocolate eclairs with hot chocolate. Their father (who happens to be my brother, although I am sure we are not related as he doesn’t do dessert!) got stuck into the savoury canapes. Smoked salmon and cream cheese sarmies, mini-quiches, sausage rolls and onion tarts were devoured. Although it can be a costly outing, most venues do offer a child discount. That said I am sure these 2 ate more than that of an adults equivalent!
The Twelve Apostles-Cape Town, South Africa
I invited 10 of my closest girlfriends for “tea by the sea” to celebrate my 40th birthday in style at this magnificent setting. It was winter once again and we had the cosy conservatory to ourselves, complete with panoramic ocean and mountain views. Although tea was served, I am going to say sparkling wine was more the order of the day on this occasion. 40 is quite a milestone after all! The chocolate brownies were definitely my favourite, but the fresh baked fluffy scones, served with whipped cream and strawberry jam were a close second. Actually, come to think of it the little lemon meringue tartlets went down pretty well too! What was so cool was we recieved cute takeaway boxes to take home what we couldn’t finish – without having to ask for them! So the pleasure lasted another day, or for some at least until later that evening! What is even more amazing is that the 12 Apostles is now offering vegan high tea as well!
The Oyster Box- Umhlanga, South Africa
The sister hotel to The Twelve Apostles and a distinguished establishment in the sea-side village of Umhlanga is The Oyster Box Hotel. It has spectacular views of the Indian Ocean and the iconic lighthouse on the beach. If you are staying here and happen to walk into the hotel and head towards your room in the afternoon, your eyes are drawn to the smorgasbord laid out in the Palm Court. I think they do it on purpose. It is possibly one of the best dressed and most colourful table displays I have ever seen. It is the giant glass jars stuffed with marshmallows and meringues that first attracts my attention. But it doesn’t take long before the chocolate fudge cake starts whispering my name. Oh and I have a terrible weakness for their coconut rice pudding! Seriously this high tea is legendary! They also serve a mini high tea platter. This comes with their signature Hendricks Gin Cocktail, in a unique Hendrick’s tea set! Now that is genius!
The Victoria Falls Hotel-Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
High Tea at this Grand Old Dame is a special affair. Built in 1904 The Victoria Falls Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Africa. It feels as if you are stepping back in time when you walk through the stately lobby which is steeped in history. Stanley’s Terrace is the setting for the tea and has sweeping vistas of the Victoria Falls Bridge and the spray from the falls below. Sit and enjoy a true silver service of delicious edibles served on vintage crockery, with undeniably one of the best views in the world!
All Manner of Game Lodges, Southern Africa
I have yet to stay at a game lodge in Southern Africa that doesn’t serve high tea before you embark on your afternoon game drive. Typically you will have a very light breakfast before you head out on your morning activity, followed by a big brunch when you return at around 11ish. Lunch is, thus, more often than not skipped and replaced with afternoon tea at 3. I am not saying I would choose one lodge over another based on whether they serve high tea or not, but I’m not saying I wouldn’t either! I find it incredible that out in the middle of the bush, miles away from the nearest town, the chefs at these lodges are able to create such tempting and flavoursome fare. Even Darren gets excited about high tea when we are on safari! It’s generally hot so I like to take mine with iced tea or iced coffee! If my memory serves me correctly Sabi Sabi Bush Lodge had the most divine cheese straws I have ever tasted. And the chocolate brownies at Camp Okavango were to die for!
High Tea Etiquette
- Although tops n tails are not required, it is wise to check the dress code of any venue before arriving for high tea. Most are smart-casual but you may find the odd one that has a preference for formal attire. You don’t want to be turned away because you are wearing a tank top and flip-flops.
- You do not have to be staying at a hotel to be able to experience their high tea. Non-hotel guests are most welcome but please refer to point 1!
- Bookings are not compulsory but highly recommended, especially if you are celebrating a special occasion. For parties of more than 4, I would definitely book in advance.
- Don’t go with someone who is on a diet. High teas are pricey and if your friend only manages to nibble on one cucumber sandwich its rather a waste. Especially if you are paying!
- Be adventurous when it comes to trying new food. Yes everyone loves a trusty vanilla cupcake, but don’t forgo the chocolate chilli truffles or rose-infused petit fours because you are afraid! You never know you might love it and YOLO!