Asked to name one of the ten prettiest salads in the world, this one would be in my list. It was served outside, on the sunny terrace of La Residence & Villas in the Vineyard in Franschhoek, a luxury hotel less than an hour’s drive from central Cape Town.
The chef, Lennard Marais – a Cape Town guy – came out, with that big South Africa smile. La Residence is either all-inclusive (all meals) or bed and breakfast, and either way you get free wine and free WiFi. Confusingly, the gal was just there for lunch.
The table d’hote menu, three courses, in fact had a vegetarian option at each course anyway. A simple salad just seemed to fit the bill.
Of course anything fits the culinary bill when you are lunching with a charming raconteur (a serious mountain biker so obviously I warmed to him immediately) and you are looking through palm trees and loungers into the extremely calming garden here.
The two-floor hotel, which opened in 2009, was deliberately built in a C formation, cocooning the garden, so to speak. This area was previously a pear farm, until hotel entrepreneurs Phil and Liz Biden bought it, and built the 11-room beauty.
Liz has tremendous style. She taught, and went into fashion, backing Jenni Button, who progressed from her Jenni Button boutiques to Philosophy.
Since opening the hotel, five absolutely scrumptious separate villas, all with pools, have been added. These are great for families (with one exception, no kids allowed in the main hotel).
The villas share a hands-on kitchen, go in there and cook with the chef, do whatever. Look around you, in the villas, at an eclectic selection of art, original paintings by the Bidens’ son-in-law.
Look outside, at the 30 acres of lake, gardens, fruit orchards and vineyards that come with La Residence. They grow their own wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Shiraz Rosé, purely for those staying in the hotel or villas.
Back at the main building, the lobby is like a mediaeval barn that has got into the hands of Diaghilev. There are chandeliers and knicknacks, and treasures, and books. Big open fireplaces are lit winter long, with cosy sitting areas around.
Now, in summer, one looks for cool rather than warmth. I look around for guests who have been known to stay here, Adrian Brody, Renée Fleming, Richard Gere, Sir Elton John, Lionel Richie, Ivanka Trump. No-one recognisable in sight. Perhaps they have headed off for the nearby Franschhoek Motor Museum, or taken a wine tour.
Perhaps, of course, they are closeted in their rooms. Every one of the 11 is unique. A bedhead might be a valuable oriental rug sewn into a velvet surround, there might be a bright fuchsia chair to complement otherwise-purple shades. In every room, nearly half the space will be taken up by the bathroom, with a freestanding tub, and a plethora of pampering unctions and toiletries, many of them by South Africa’s own Charlotte Rhys. The showers are the kind that you want to invite not only your partner but all your friends into, a glass of wine at hand.
I love the Maharani Suite, designed specifically for Sir Elton John. Apparently he and his other half, David Furness, come at least once a year and take over the whole hotel. This is a good thing as now they have to bring their son Zacchary, who is only two, which means that when the EJ/DF caboosh is in residence La Residence becomes private, so an exception can be made to the ‘no kids’ rule.
I read, by the say, David Furnish has recently sold the family’s apartment in Sierra Towers, just north of Thompson Beverly Hills Hotel, for $4.65 million. There were fears that Zachary might fall out of a high-rise window – apparently Elton and David remember the tragedy that happened to Eric Clapton’s toddler in New York.
So EJ/DF have downsized to a $7.65 million bungalow and Madonna and Joan Collins and the others who have homes in Sierra Towers will have to live without them. Why on earth, one wonders, don’t these types move into a luxury hotel, so much easier…