“Welcome Mr and Mrs Blewett,” say both Nicole and another person in stereo as we sit in the plush chairs at the check-in of the Twelve Apostles hotel. They apologize for the stereo welcome, but I chuckle at their enthusiasm, it's a good sign for our timeout night of escape from the kids. Soon we are sitting sipping a welcome sparkling wine while Nicole checks us in.
Entering the Twelve Apostles hotel, named after the magnificent peaks that rise behind it, that border the majestic Table mountain range, is like being transported to another world. “It's a long story,” says Nicole in reply to our question as to how they got this spot. “The hotel began as a hunting lodge, was once an advertising agency, and various other twists and turns on its journey to what it is today.” This hotel really is one of a kind, and sitting on the side of one of the world's natural seven wonders on one side and the beautiful sea on the other is a story that is unlikely to ever be repeated.
After our check-in, Nicole chatting with us like long lost friends, shows us around this amazing boutique hotel on the way to our room. I'm already wishing we were staying here for longer. “I wonder if the kids would miss us if we stayed two nights?” I muse.
“Wow!” is the first word out my mouth as we are ushered into our room. A luxurious room filled with tranquil music, fresh orchids, chilled wine and a stunning view of the sea opens before us. Our bedroom draws in the sea through a large opening that looks across the inviting lounge...where the fresh fruit, snacks and chilled wine beckon...to the sea beyond.
After soaking up the ambiance for a while, we decide to go and check out the Leopard bar before dinner. We saw it on our guided tour en route to our room. A warm chatty vibe draws us in on this cold evening. Soon we are seated beside a roaring log fire and beneath slowly turning fans, reminiscent of a bygone colonial era, waving lazily above us.
“I'm part of the family,” Nsikelelo our waiter says as we engage him in conversation after he delivers our draft beers and a tasty snack selection of nuts and olives. We have asked him how long he has been here and we can see from his beaming face that he genuinely enjoys his job. There is something about a hotel where the staff are happy that transcends good service. It's seen in their natural and relaxed conversation and the obvious pride in where they work.
What particularly strikes me about this hotel is not just the friendliness and professionalism, but something else. I can't quite put my finger on it yet.
“We'd better go to dinner if we want to make our movie,” Nicky says. Wow, I can't believe it's already time for dinner. Time seems to compress here. We walk into the Azure restaurant and are seated at our corner table. Soft music, low light and happily chatting diners fill the ambiance.
We have booked in for their special three-course dinner and movie special. Jabu our waitress explains how the menu has two styles of food from two chefs. Bea Tollman’s dishes - the owner of this hotel, has designed some delicious traditional meals like chicken noodle soup and prawn stroganoff, which sound particularly tasty on a cold winter's evening, while executive chef Christo Pretorius does a range of European taste sensations. We choose one from both.
“Here is your goat cheese mousse with passion fruit,” says another beaming waiter who looks as proud as though he were the chef. Wow! If that's what they call the palette awakener then my taste buds are now certainly waiting in eager anticipation for the meal.
However, it's not just yet. A selection of corn bread, seed bread...even a Banting option with Salmon pate arrives. “It's all too tasty for words,” says Nicky as she reaches for more. I don't bother wasting time on commentary I'm trying convince my mouth to calm down and not gobble this taste sensation too quickly.
“For me food is about the experience,” we overhear a nearby diner saying to her friend who seem to be here for a birthday celebration. I couldn't agree more. And this meal is certainly becoming a sensual experience on so many levels. My taste buds are going crazy and our starters haven't even arrived!
“This is a crazy delicious,” taste I say as I try and make sense of the explosion of flavors in my Baby Calamari Risotto. The crispy tentacles balance the succulent roast calamari, while cauliflower, barley and sultana purée compete in a dance of precision for my attention. We should quit now while our taste buds are in heaven. But we can't. What's next?
“I'm bringing you 'Table mountain in the morning',” says Jabu as she delivers our palette cleanser. I stare confusedly at her. All of a sudden our berry sorbet palette cleansers are covered in a silky plume of soft smoke as a smoking table mountainesque scene, a magic combo of dry ice and water, creates a surreal effect on our table. Ok now I really should quit. This is not only a taste sensation but a visual splendor too.
Our main meal arrives. I'm almost nervous. Prawn Stroganoff. My poor tastebuds are already needing Ritalin to calm them down. They're behaving like ADHD kids in excited anticipation. The stroganoff is...I can't use words here. You are going to have to taste it because words will not capture this taste. All I can say is now my tastebuds are now really hyper!
“Wow Jabu you're busy tonight,” I say as I've watched her go from table to table with the same passion and enthusiasm. We chat briefly and she shares her story. Her rise from being unemployed to today working in this world-class restaurant and her vision to rise to the top. “Some of the regulars ask for me she says,” beaming with obvious pride, “and so sometimes I have to handle extra tables.” I can see why they ask for her. She loves what she does, and it shows.
It looks like one of those long thin perfect pools that you see at luxury resorts for the fitness fanatics to swim lengths in. But this is not designed for a swimmer but for the tongue. It's the most amazing creme brûlée severed in a long thin bowl and my tastebuds are now swimming hyperactive lengths.
Besides the beauty of this setting, what originally drew us to the hotel was the experience. There are many great restaurants. Great hotels. Yet for us we love an experience. That’s what our journey has always been about. And so when looking for a special place to spend the evening we were attracted by the “Overnight Dinner and a Movie” combo. I have a vision of sitting in an intimate movie theater after a lovely meal. And so with the meal done its now movie time. “Milkshake or hot chocolate for the movie?”Jabu asks. Before my overindulged tastebuds can respond by requesting both I order the hot chocolate.
We're seated in the conservatory sipping hot chocolate and snacking on a tub of popcorn which arrived, just in case we are still hungry, while enjoying an old Tom Hanks movie. I'm not sure how my body is taking all this in. But there's no stopping now. I'm sinking into the soft couch. My eyes are slowly closing. Thankfully my bed is close by. For now it's just Tom, hot chocolate and the prospect of pure bliss.
Finally as the soft sheets and feather pillows draw me back to our room I realize what the “something else” is about this hotel. “It's their stories!” Jabu's story, Nicole's story, Nsikelelo's story. Our fellow diner’s story. Even the hotel's own fascinating story. It's an intersecting of lives and stories, tastes and experiences that has made this such an authentic and special place. Maybe it is fitly named after the twelve apostles about whom such great stories were once written. One thing is certain, we’ve just written a single entry in our story here. I’ve heard about a dinner and star gazing…now that sounds like another experience waiting to become a story.