What does world-class look like? This is a question we ponder daily as we go about delighting our guests at Angama Mara. Yes, we have bagged a heap of awards over the past six years, but do they really place us up there with the best in class? The only way to find out was to embark on a benchmarking safari. This adventure fell into two parts and this story covers the first leg undertaken by Angama’s general manager Azei, head chef Collins and Nicky, tour leader extraordinaire (what do they say about the power of the pen?).
Chef had been to South Africa before, but only to Jozi, and as for Azei this was a first. He had resisted coming; why I have no idea, but when he ate his first mouthful of Chianina beef at Babylonstoren he closed his eyes and said, “I am never eating Kenyan beef again”. Thankfully we didn’t know then that these beasts are of Italian origin, but no matter, South Africa had won over this Doubting Thomas good and proper. Every time he made a happy noise, I reminded him that this beloved country of mine was not so bad after all and when he admired the ‘only car rental returns’ lane at Cape Town airport, I thought he might decide not to go back to Kenya at all.
So, what does world-class in top-end hotels and lodges look like? Is it the stuff? Is it the staff? Does it have to be both, or can it be one without the other? I love stuff, heaps of it as do most of our guests, but when all is said and done, I believe it is the palpable joy of service that wins the day. No matter how gorgeous the property, if the team is not on fire, then why bother? We were in search of fire, tiny but meaningful attention to detail, new ways of presenting food and an understanding of what our guests experience when staying at these remarkable hotels. And other than one unnerving comment from a server when we lunched at a recently refurbished hotel, every single person who cared for us did it with joy and pride. World-class.
Table Mountain was blown out by a mother of all southeasters, so we went to Cape of Good Hope instead. As one does. We discovered that Dias had set anchor here in 1486 (we had a chuckle about what generation that would make his offspring — a poor Saffa inside joke) and wondered how far it would be to swim to Antarctica? Cape Town’s legend Sheryl Ozinsky welcomed us to her shamba in Oranjezicht where our Angama shamba maestro Ian was waiting for us. Heaps of shambas in the Cape but wasn’t that the start of it all?
Floating high up above the harbour and Cape Town’s Waterfront, the Queen of Pizzaz — Liz Biden — welcomed us with arms open wide. GM Luis and host Thomas were waiting to show us around The Silo. Oh my. Whatever accolades this extraordinary hotel has garnered still doesn’t do it justice. Did we feel overwhelmed? Absolutely. Were we blown away? Yes, right across Table Bay. I felt so proudly Saffa I thought my heart would burst.
We sailed through The Nellie pretending we were fresh off the Union Castle, dined up a storm at Thali where Chef Nate welcomed us into his kitchen, checked in at Bao Down to see if their buns are better than ours (they are), devoured brekko at Jason’s and Between Us, zipped into The Bay (enough said) and headed at top speed in our Polo to the winelands.
Azei made it his mission to taste as many shiraz wines as time would allow. First off was a tasting at Tokara, followed by a tasting and a bottle at Babylonstoren and finally a large glass of Delaire’s finest. The latter the winner. By now our readers will know that Babylonstoren is my second favourite place on earth and three nights here was nothing short of heaven: their garden inspired our garden (an eighth-of-the-size Maasai version); the food at Babel was so good we dined there twice; we photographed the ducks; explored their new wetland project; tasted 10 wines each paired with a biting*; and wanted to steal the butchery and the tortoise in the Green Room.
Our last day started with breakfast at Boschendal where our delightful waitress proudly shared she had been working here for 40 years and still loved every minute. Priceless. Then at speed back up Helshoogte to the King of Pizzaz, Delaire Graff. Vida and Werner gave us three hours of their busy day showing us around this immaculate property. Yes, our jaws dropped at the view, the art, the food, the wine, the diamonds, the suites, the everything. But once again, what warmed our hearts was the pride and joy shown by every member of the team. And of course, the guys had to pose with our Mona Lisa, the one and only Chinese Girl by Tretchikoff. I got such a kick out of seeing the original. We wrapped this wonderful day at the Franschhoek Motor Museum at Rupert Wines. Our guests inhale L’Ormarins Brut Classique and Anthonij Rupert Optima so of course, we had to go there. And as for cars, Chef posed with all 80.
So back to the drawing board we go and work even harder to ensure that our place up there with the best of the best is deserved.
First off, I blew the word budget by 100%. My apologies. Thank you for getting this far in the story. You have worked hard.
These glorious five days would not have been possible without the gracious and generous hospitality of all our hosts. We work in the best industry in the world and I am so grateful.
*Biting - a snack or small meal
Filed under: Inside Angama
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