The word sommelier is derived from Middle French and describes a court official who was in charge of the procurement of supplies which were delivered, in ancient times, by pack animals. Go into French dialect and Old Provencal and you find the word ‘saumalier’ – the pack animal driver. So, when we think of a trained wine professional who advises on wine lists and food and wine pairings, we hardly imagine a fella who spends his time driving a pack of mangy mules, topping up the supplies of the medieval court.
I met a sommelier recently who took away all my preconceived ideas that these professionals are born among the vines and suckled on Pinot Noir instead of breastmilk and carry an air of arrogance that makes any wine amateur like me feel inadequate. You see, Luvo Ntezo grew up in hardship, looking at the vines as he walked the road and thinking he would be lucky to get a job, never mind taste the wines those faraway vines would produce.
He got that job, as a beer man for a Cape Town estate and his absolute enthusiasm, thirst for knowledge and gifted manner with people, have seen him progress to head sommelier at the One&Only resort, internationally recognised and considered the best young sommelier in the country. During a short tasting at Reuben’s, he taught me that anybody can learn everything there is to know about wine but only very special people can articulate the knowledge, make me laugh and have me change my perceptions about something I know very little, but I know what I like – or at least I thought I did.
Luvo opened my eyes to Chenin Blanc, which always came across as too floral – not enough citrus or fruit I now have a better understanding of the wine and its tropical fruit, as I have for Shiraz which, for me before, was a bit too earthy and better as a blending grape. He also opened my eyes to the fine white blends available, and one in particular of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay from Ashbourne with the sexiest Art Deco label on any wine shelf. I could have listened to him for hours but a table awaited us at Nobu and the popularity of this restaurant would have had us snacking peanuts at the bar for dinner had we missed our reservation.
Chef prepared us a menu of Edamame, Yellowtail Sashimi with Jalapeno, Baby spinach salad, Tiger Shrimp Tempura, Beef Teriyaki, Assorted Sushi and a Chocolate Bento Box, which sounds daunting but this food is meant to be enjoyed slowly, allowing time to meld sensational food, wine, people and conversation. And if you thought baby spinach salad was more café bistro than fine dining, this one from Nobu is a masterpiece and we all had seconds.
Now I’m not a big one for spa treatments and pampering unless my body is punishing me for the indulgent downfall of the night before, so my attention to detail on the pre-treatment form was non-existent and ‘sensitive feet’ went unaccounted for. It was tropical magic on One&Only’s Island in a monastically serene environment, every nasty that had ruined my morning was being massaged from my body, and then the masseuse reached my feet. The reflex action bent my knee and sent my heel heading toward her jaw. It missed and we parted as friends and I took solace in a glass of champagne in the quiet of the garden that was not 500m from South Africa’s most popular tourist attraction.
The Island is just that – a piece of urban paradise as tropical as your imagination takes you. While the main hotel gives you a perpetual view of Table Mountain, the Island gives you date palms, parquet wooden floors and puts you close to the water of the canals, where the fund managers who own penthouses in this neighbourhood paddleboard on a quiet weekend morning. This is where you find the pool and Isola, which serves a contemporary bistro menu al fresco poolside and is unsurprisingly popular as a wedding venue because of the island vibe.
There was a rather festive wedding taking place in the main hotel as we took the institution that is Afternoon Tea in the Vista Bar and Lounge. The marimba band had all sorts of passers-by joining in the dancing including an elderly gentleman in a robe holding a black book whom we thought was the priest. Turned out he was returning from a spa treatment and couldn’t resist a bit of a boogie.
To take full advantage of the view from the One&Only of Table Mountain and the city, you need to spend time on your balcony. A chance to have a quiet dinner without the antics of the night before gave us just that with a seafood platter served in-room and the mountain in all its lit-up glory as the backdrop – until Earth Hour struck and plunged the mountain into a black void. The rest of the city didn’t seem to care about Earth Hour and Cape Town looked as if its mountain had forsaken it – just blackness above the last line of lights between streets and mountainside. It came back, only to remind me why this aspect of the city from the foreshore, back up the mountain, is so iconic and unique and the One&Only feasts on this view from its prime position on the Waterfront.
Prepare for further indulgence at the breakfast table in Reuben’s which puts the Champagne and oysters in prime position to start your day with a smile of decadence. In true One&Only fashion the options are endless, offering a full buffet, as well as specialities off the menu to take breakfast into brunch and giving reason to take a walk through the V&A Waterfront or have yourself a Spa treatment to detox – remembering to complete the pre-treatment form accurately particularly if you have sensitive feet!
When we’re talking luxury resorts, there’s very little that differentiates the top 1%. They all have beautiful rooms, particulars in operations and setting, and they all intend for the guest to have a spectacular time and hopefully come back.
But the One&Only Cape Town gave me the most personal, intimate and pleasant experience I’ve had at this level of luxury hotel because of its people. From the gentleman who served us and cleared the table at breakfast, to the sweet housekeeper who cleaned up after us, the smiley faced porter who heaved our luggage to the room, my dear forgiving masseuse who nearly lost her teeth, the front desk staff who led us through an introduction to the resort, the guys at the door and the concierge always ready to help, management who dined with us as friends, and the pauper who became a beer man who became a great sommelier, every one of whom epitomises ‘sui generis’, the Latin phrase meaning ‘of its own kind’, ‘in a class by itself’, ‘one and only’.