Fishing is boring, unless you actually catch a fish, in which case it is revolting. We were reminded of this as we stared at our lunch options in Panama Jacks, one of Cape Town’s best-known eateries, in Table Bay. The problem with eating any sort of shellfish is – follow me closely here – they look like shellfish. Whereas most establishments stretch to a tank with a couple of sorry-ass shrimps pootling about, Panama Jacks had taken shellfish selection to a new level with a sea pool occupying a quarter of the restaurant. Here, there were giant lobsters and, God help us, live abalone – huge, prehistoric-looking molluscs clinging to the side of the pool like a trophy girlfriend on a Russian oligarch. As a digestive come-hither, thrashing lobsters and pulsing pores are not for everyone.
All around us though, happy locals were tucking in merrily. We’d been in Cape Town for an hour and we were starving. If we were ever going to make it to our boutique bolthole in Kloof Street, we’d need to eat. It was time to skip the squeamishness and get ordering. As an introduction to the city, it was typically South African, and as a meal it was, in fact, sublime.
After lunch, we grabbed a cab and headed with bags and bursting bellies to our hotel. ‘Welgelegen’ means ‘beautifully situated’ and that’s no misnomer. The guesthouse is on a quiet lane, a two-minute stroll from trendy Kloof Street, with its many restaurants, boutique shopping, hip new bars and Cape Town’s best coffee shops. Everyone, without exception, seems youthful, fresh-scrubbed and healthy. You could cast a Coke commercial here in ten minutes.
Cape Town’s typically Mediterranean climate means that winters tend to be cool and wet, like Brighton in British summertime, but with fewer fish 'n' chip shops and better-looking locals (sorry, Brightonian boys and girls). The locals hibernate and the city is relatively quiet – preparing for the long, hot summer ahead. I had convinced Mr Smith that a few nights here would be just the thing to restoke the fires of romance. A blue, crisp Cape day had served as a good omen for the fine time that lay ahead of.
The hotel is housed in two small Victorian houses linked by a lovely courtyard and small plunge pool. The decor is an eclectic mix of modern, Victorian and African styles – with the perfect selection made in every case. (Let’s face it: when you’ve chosen a boutique hotel, the last thing you’re looking for is Victorian-era plumbing.) The bathrooms are a cool, clean designer delight, and the furniture a mixture of colonial British and local themes. Although clearly high-end, Welgelegen has an overall feeling of class and restraint. Contrast this with the price-comparable five-star hotels dotted around the city, their rooms filled with over-ornate objects you would expect to see in an article on one of the Bee Gees’ beach houses.
Mr Smith breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted the extra-length king bed. His six-foot-plus frame challenges most hotel beds, ending up in comical feet-out-the-end situations. Generally, this presents no more of a problem than some night-time giggling for me. However, our previous tropical trip saw a particularly hungry mosquito settle in for a full meal overnight, leaving the poor chap with an oversized foot the next day. Since then, big beds have been key to a harmonious holiday.
Our bathroom, with its power shower, deep claw-footed bath, candles and Rooibos bath products, was a delight. We tipped in a whole bunch of scented foaming whatsits and enjoyed a luxurious soak. There’s also a well-stocked minibar, hairdryer and fluffy white towelling gowns, perfect for Hollywood star-style sauntering. Mr Smith muttered something about the television, which, to be fair, only had access to local stations and no international news. This soon became something of a humorous plus point though, as the local newsreader, who looked as though he’d been dipped in creosote, had a look of acute surprise every time the camera panned back to him. We wondered what he could be up to during the pre-recorded sections.
It was now well into afternoon-snack-o’clock, so we went off to explore De Waterkant, a newly restored neighbourhood on the edge of the city centre, which overlooks Table Bay. This cosmopolitan area houses fabulous galleries, eateries and impressive, MTV Cribs-style private residences. We spent a happy hour simply checking out the mansions and deciding which would best suit us when we finally make our millions. Well, a woman can dream…
We headed for Café Maxim, new to the area, discreetly tucked away at the far end of Waterkant Street. The chef, Anna, flies in Poilâne bread from Paris and makes the most delicious tartines, which we followed with some great coffee and lemon tart. Sated after this masterclass in simple, delicious cooking, we decided it was time to enjoy a similar level of expert artistry by visiting the latest show at the Michael Stevenson Gallery (Hill House, De Smidt Street). Artists from Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Cameroon were exhibiting when we visited.
You can have plenty of other rewarding moments on the same street as the gallery, although these will tend to be rather less rarified. Yup, we’re talking shopping. In the same building as the gallery is Cape Cobra, one of the best-kept secrets of Cape Town, with its fantastic showroom containing an extensive selection of skin handbags. Just a little way down Waterkant Street is top-end craft store Africa Nova. We purchased a few beautiful plates and, wahey, a ring for me! We also checked out Nope Private Collection, a few doors down, for its range of Indian items – from four-poster beds to cute mini chandeliers – and the quirky Cape to Cairo, also great for home furnishings.
Welgelegen welcomed us back with a roaring fire in the lounge, complimentary sherries and wine on the sideboard, and a general air of bonhomie. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves in need of a pre-dinner nap and, after careful analysis, we figured out that it must be the sherry. That’s what your grandmother drinks at Christmas, right? And who always falls asleep after the Queen’s speech? Exactly. We rest our case.
Come breakfast time, as if on cue, the ‘cloth’ of cloud started to cover Cape Town’s most famous landmark, providing the perfect South African moment (or, in our case, photo op). Mr Smith even stopped wolfing down fresh croissants long enough to look at the view and make some vaguely complimentary comparison between its beauty and my own. Believe me, this is unusual. But it you’re not bursting with romance after a weekend here, get yourself along for a medical check-up pronto – there is a distinct possibility that you are clinically dead.