It’s that Oscars time of year, when as an antidote to austerity, glamour and everything synonymous with it – from shimmering ball gowns to Black Sea Beluga, glossy red lipped smiles to lush red velvet carpets and popping champagne corks to piped musical crescendos – are serendipitously, politically correct. Short of Hollywood there are not too many local venues, that are going to live up to ‘March Madness’ and illusions of white gloved, white collar grandeur, unless of course, you happen to be one of the KZN cognoscenti – or dare I say royalty, or a real movie star – in your own right. In short, if it truly is a luscious, luxurious environment, you seek to escape to be properly pampered, then look no further than The Oyster Box – otherwise known internationally as “The O.B”.
Ironically when you arrive at the threshold, of unequivocally, the most popular hotel in the country, you are met, not by imposing architecture, Doric columns and dead pan butlers. On the contrary you are confronted by a canopy of frangipani, an antique rickshaw and diminutive classic cars – all very tongue in cheek – colonial with a casual twist, like a Bloody Mary, with some added extra spice. You can’t put your finger on it exactly but you know you want more.
If you are surveying the world through proverbial rose tinted sunglasses, then take them off and feast your eyes on real red and all those time honoured features, that are an integral part of Umhlanga Rock’s La La Land: There is the recently renovated candy striped lighthouse, the vermilion stripes of which extend to the umbrellas and loungers, lining the pool deck and verdant green lawns. There are the roll out crimson awnings capping the colonial fans and wrap around verandas of every floor of this Moroccan styled building and the gleaming red leather banquettes of the Lighthouse Bar. Indeed you are swaddled in a swathe of rich red and so too the promise of all things romantic and alluring – not least of all the superlative views, state of the art spa and spectacular array of food.
Most international guests waft, like the school of dolphins, following the shoreline backwards and forwards from the pool to the restaurant and back again, dictated to only by tides and sunrise and sunset. Breakfasts are as legendary as the Oyster Box High Teas, which I consider unsurpassed. This is food glorious food and gargantuan portions of it, on tables groaning under the weight of the spectacle. I have never seen red velvet pancakes on offer, anywhere else in the world – not even in Beverley Hills on the eve of the Oscars. Pink chequered cucumber sandwiches, dipped in beetroot juice, is another recipe Buckingham Palace should borrow from Bea Tollman, who personally compiles all Red Carnation hotel menus with a passion, unprecedented by any celebrity chef. And then there are the imported cuisine artisans, like Wenxui Lui, flown in from Bejing, to flamboyantly conjure up artistic sushi platters, the ‘pearls’ in the incandescent counters of The Oyster Bar. The latter also boasts a transparent floor, conveying the submarine sensation of looking down beneath the waves, to showcase a private wine cellar and a table inviting further tastings.
In fact whatever you happen to stroll past or through in the this hotel, you will pause to engage curiously. The eclectic collection of African art, the antique objets d’arts, coffee table books, mosaics, trompe l’oeils all contributing piece by piece, to the colonial history and sensational seaside location of The Oyster Box. Baskets of the latest bestsellers and free containers of sun block are strategically placed near the pool bars. Glass jars of marshmallow fish and sherbet sweets await you on a trolley at the entrance to the cinema. Popcorn and “Umhlanga Schlings” will be served to you mid movie. This is Cinema Prestige on steroids. You don’t have to wait for Ellen DeGeneres to order the pizzas. The pizzas and cocktails will arrive as the thought arrives. Decadence around every corner.
No halcyon star studded night, at The Grill Room is complete without live music serenading you. One is compelled in between succulent mouthfuls of Garlic dusted Chardonnay Prawns to leap onto the dance floor and set it alight, faster than the flames searing Crepes Suzette.
Whilst privacy is paramount in this precinct, which undoubtedly attracts her fair share of glitterati and only the odd unruly monkey might get too close for comfort, the one familiar face impossible to ignore and to aspire to approach, is that of Wayne Coetzee, General Manger and very model of a modern major general. His staff love him, the guests love him and his sharp sense of humour and if you leave the threshold without meeting him, you have left behind more than your obligatory footprints in the sand. Coetzee is to The Oyster Box, what David Rattray was to Rorkesdrift and Isandlwana – a film star in his own right – the life blood of their respective establishments, they care deeply about and have made respective lifelong commitments to. It is appropriate, that Coetzee appears on page one of a newly launched book, capturing the essence of this iconic hotel and the vicissitudes of her indelible facade.
If there were an Oscar to bestow, for perhaps a remake of “High Society”, or a sequel to Hotel California –“Hotel Super Califragilistic” …then Coetzee and his extraordinary team at The O.B should be the red carpet recipients, for creating a little slice of heaven, along a long slither of paradise.
Written by Deborah Curtis-Setchell