A tale of two sparkling waterfront jewels
THE beauty of the fact that two five-star hotels have opened within a few months of one another at Cape Town's Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is that they are different enough to be complementary. This is why the small R75-million Cape Grace and the large R250-million Table Bay are bound to find their own markets.
The first to open, the Cape Grace, toppled the status of property developer Leon Markovitz and lawyer Abe Swersky's Victoria & Alfred as the only full-service hotel right on the waterfront. It is a sophisticated sister to Chippy and Cynthia Brand's Mount Grace in the Magaliesberg near Johannesburg which was recently devastated by fire.
The Cape Grace overlooks the soon-to-be-developed yacht basin and the working harbour. It has 92 rooms and two suites and was partly funded by the sale of 10 luxury suites. These are available for rent when they are not being used by their owners, one of whom is SA-born but UK-based cookery guru Prue Leith.
The Cape Grace is a family affair - Brand's son Charles runs it, while brother Stuart and brother-in-law Peter Moore are involved with the Grace Hotel being built in Rosebank, Johannesburg. This is part of its charm and one of the reasons it is so different from Sun International's first metropolitan hotel, the Table Bay.
This has more than 300 rooms and is much grander than the Cape Grace. It is couture silk to the Cape Grace's cashmere. And if a night in one of its rooms won't cost much more - R1 400 for a standard room for two to the Cape Grace's R1 300, though both are currently offering winter specials - living high on the hog in its elegant public areas certainly will.
If you fancy yourself as a jetsetter, you will probably prefer the Table Bay. Its decoration - a fusion between the Victorian and the contemporary - is eye-poppingly luxurious, whereas the Cape Grace's is low key and cosy. Its access to the new, cosmopolitan part of the Victoria Wharf shopping mall is easier - up an escalator - whereas you have to walk through the waterfront to get there from the Cape Grace. And its top restaurant, the Atlantic Grill, offers more of a gourmet experience - at a high price, of course - than the Cape Grace's only restaurant, the breezily nautical Quay West.
I don't think I've eaten better food in a hotel than at the Table Bay. It has two restaurants - the second, the Conservatory, adjoins an inviting bar - supervised by chef Ian Mancais. In mid-April, when the hotel had just opened, I hosted a dinner for five at the Atlantic Grill, which centres on a wine cellar housing 4 000 bottles. Not a single dish out of at least 10 brought forth anything less than a rave.
Not that there is anything wrong with the Cape Grace's all-purpose Quay West restaurant, which leads onto the pool deck. Its chef has a flair for taking inspiration from the foods of diverse cultures and mixing them with imagination.
The Table Bay also has excellent conference (the ballroom seats 200 for dinner), gym and beauty centres, whereas the Cape Grace has only a small boardroom seating 12 and no gym or beauty centre. Both have fabulous pool decks.
If you prefer the kind of ambience that harks back to a gentler era, however, you'll prefer the Cape Grace. For one thing, its standard rooms are far bigger at 47 square metres than the Table Bay's and they are equipped with dressing rooms and small balconies, whereas the bigger hotel's are not. Cape Grace rooms also have the kind of thoughtful touches you find in good country hotels: Floris toiletries, a tin of rusks, fresh milk, a pile of useful books with local themes, ceramic ashtrays and so on.
The service is cheerful and personalised, whereas it tends to be snootily formal at the Table Bay. You will mind it more at the Table Bay when things like table reservations go wrong, as they did when I was there.
The Cape Grace also has one of the most appealing public rooms I've ever come across in a hotel - a fireplace-centred library complete not only with all the day's newspapers but also a wonderful collection of books. Take your pick. ý Linda Stafford is a senior editor of the FM.