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Shiraz, Dias and a whole lot of Pizzaz

Azei, Collins and Nicky took the Cape by storm and explored, ate and drank their way through it all
Above: In wine-lovers heaven amongst litres and litres of the finest wine in South Africa

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?).

Collins and Azei getting to know the Mother City

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.

What makes a place world-class? Is it the art? The smiling faces of the guests? Two ticks for Delaire Graff

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.

We stopped frequently for photographs on the picturesque drive to the Cape of Good Hope
Known for its stormy weather and rough seas, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are infamous in maritime circles
Ian walks the guys through the Oranjezicht City Farm — a non-profit project celebrating local food, culture and community

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?

Ardmore sofas and an African-chic gift shop welcomes you to the restaurant at The Silo Hotel
The views of Table Mountain and Lion's Head from the unique geometric windows are unmatched

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.

The iconic pink of the Mount Nelson is easily recognisable
Going back to Nicky and Steve's (and thus Angama's) roots at The Bay Hotel
Chef Collins meets Chef Nate Coe of Thali (after sampling most of his dishes, naturally)

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.

Collins and Azei enjoy a perfect afternoon at Tokara in the Stellenbosch winelands
Azei was all smiles in Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, we can't think why
Three nights at Babylonstoren were busily spent in the wine cellar, the restaurants and the garden - bliss

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. 

Getting the feel of a 325 year old Cape homestead at beautiful Boschendal
Collins and Azei with the Chinese Girl by Tretchikoff at Delaire Graff
The grandfather of all the cars that motorhead Collins loves

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.

Notes from the Editor:

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

Tagged with:

Angama Team , Angama Travel , Food tour

About: Nicky Fitzgerald

After more than 30 years in hospitality, starting with a small hotel at the foot of Africa and followed by a further couple of Cape hotels, most notably The Bay, and sixty plus safari lodges across Africa and India, Nicky has served more meals, puffed more cushions, filled more beds, trained more staff and opened more properties than she cares to remember. Nicky retired as Angama's CEO in July of 2022 and remains an advisor and delightfully opinionated member of the Board.

Browse all articles by Nicky Fitzgerald Meet the angama team

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Join the Conversation (2 comments)

Comments (2):

Bunny Farnell-Watson

30 November 2021

What a lovely blog (and lovely and LONG!!) - it looked like the most amazing visit for your all - but not sure how you can actually improve on Angama!! Lovely photos Nicky (did I see a few grey hairs on Azei?!)

    Charlotte Ross Stewart

    8 December 2021

    Hi Bunny, thank you so much for your comment (and your kind words about Angama). The rest of the team is very envious of their fantastic trip but we're so happy they enjoyed themselves. P.s. Azei is looking younger than ever, it was probably a trick of the light.

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