It was just me and the man in the very small navy-blue bikini briefs lying on lounge chairs at the top of the infinity pool. The afternoon sun finally came out after a misty morning and we were surrounded by palm trees identical in height and so perfectly manicured I kept inspecting them for signs that they were actually cellphone towers.
My neighbour had a thick gold chain around his neck, another around his wrist and a fat gold ring with some sort of inscription that I could not quite make out. He also had the orange tint of someone who has been in the sun for years at a stretch, his stomach protruded completely free of fear of exposure and, just below it, a startling mass of hair peaked out of the top of his tiny costume.
I am sure he was a Russian oligarch, transported in his sleek luxury yacht, which was certainly the one I saw parked in the dock nearby, and in town for a rest at the One & Only before heading off to, say, the Maldives. His wife, surely a leggy blonde dressed in Chanel loungewear and 20 years his junior, was at the spa — 10 treatment rooms, a yoga pavilion, dry and wet saunas — getting a hot stone massage and a black diamond foot scrub.
I tried to sit closer, intending to strike up a conversation in order to confirm my suspicions, but my pool mate slept the whole afternoon. I think he was in a food coma.
It was understandable. In fact, it is actually difficult not to enter a food coma while staying at the One & Only. Consider: you walk into the hotel with its dramatic floor-to-8m-high-ceiling glass windows that look directly on to Table Mountain and on your right is Nobu, one of the world’s greatest sushi restaurants. On your left, with a three-floor, glass-encased wine cellar stocked with 5 000 bottles, is Reuben’s, the largest of Reuben Riffel’s three restaurants in the Cape, which serves the sort of home-cooked meals you only wish you could cook at home.
Back in April 2009, when the One & Only launched in Cape Town, Sol Kerzner threw one of the blingiest bashes the Mother City had ever seen, with celebrities such as Morgan Freeman, Sharon Stone, Matt Damon, Mariah Carey (whose security staff was said to be larger than Nelson Mandela’s and Graca Machel’s) as well as Robert De Niro, who partnered with celebrity chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa on Nobu. Gordon Ramsay was there too, to see off his latest venture, Maze.
Alien Hollywood concept
Kerzner had banked on celebrity selling. But he did not count on opening to the worst economic meltdown the world had ever seen. The foreign market, which the One & Only had its intentions set on, was not travelling. Within 15 months, Ramsay’s Maze collapsed after months of rumours, with the hotel finally pulling the plug in July 2010. On top of all that, locals spurned the place, seeing it as some alien Hollywood concept dropped on to the V&A Waterfront, that other shopping mall-cum-tourist trap they love to hate.
A friend, who agreed to meet me at the Waterfront, sneered that I could “walk from the One & Only —of which there are 13 in the world”. (Actually I counted nine, including one in the Bahamas, the Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, two in Dubai, plus the one opening in Hainan in the South China Sea and the latest, which was announced last month, in Montenegro.) But she had a point. And the point was that most Capetonians will come to the Waterfront only to show it to overseas visitors, or for the sushi at Willoughby & Co, a habit I find difficult to fathom.
A few more steps and their sushi lives could change forever. Who else is doing tuna and salmon on hot miso chips or in tiny crispy taco shells with a tomato salsa that is so good you will want to cry? Nobu’s baby spinach salad with lobster, dry miso, parmesan cheese and truffle oil is the best salad I have ever had and the new sashimi tuna — lightly seared and served with sesame and olive oil, ginger garlic and chives and finished with a citrus soy — was sublime. Never mind the “MIA margarita” with its inventive mix of passion fruit, Japanese shichimi, lime and honey and Sauza Hornitos tequila.
Just the in-house Nobu is enough to bring in the likes of Denzel Washington, Richard Branson and Charlize Theron, who stayed there with her mom on their last visit to Cape Town. But it is not just about the food. According to the Sunday Times, in February the last of the three privately owned penthouses sold to a Nigerian businessperson for R55-million — for an empty shell with a private lift, glass-encased bedroom suites and a private terrace and swimming pool.
The One Penthouse, sold before the hotel even opened in 2008 for R110-million, is part of the “pool” of hotel options and sprawls over 1 200m2. It has two swimming pools, a dining room, “several” lounges with fireplaces, a fully equipped gym, state-of-the-art kitchen and a sauna.
I stayed with the plebs in a world where plebs shell out more than R6 500 in high season a night in a room that looked out on to the mountain and came with its own balcony, a pillow menu (soft, medium, hard, hypoallergenic, orthopaedic), a scent menu (silent moments, magic moments, fresh beginnings, bed of roses), a shower the size of a walk-in closet, a Nespresso machine, a flat-screen TV, a DVD player and a turn-down service that left Lindt chocolates at my bedside.
The hotel’s marketing team is keenly aware that it is the locals who will keep it going during the winter months, so it has introduced a series of specials that include accommodation, spa and dinner at Nobu or Reuben’s, which promptly replaced Maze when it shut down. And with Riffel as an additional drawcard, the hotel is succeeding in its mission.
Riffel sat with us at the chef’s table, which overlooks the restaurant in a loft next to one of the entrances to the wine cellar, looking like he had just walked off the Robertson’s Spices advert, grinning and humble the entire evening despite being called away to sign 15 of his latest cookbook, Reuben Cooks Local, for a group from an IT company that was dining downstairs.
I had the house special: chilli-salted squid with cucumber, nuac chum dressing and lime mayonnaise, and for the main I ordered what he did: the Chalmar rib eye with pearl onions, brandy and butter sauce and a potato purée with horseradish so good, I wanted to drink it. Riffel is often at the restaurant, cooking on Thursdays in winter in the open kitchen, a huge draw for Capetonians who come from everywhere, he said, including Mitchell’s Plain, for special occasions such as hen parties, birthdays and anniversaries.
With the winter special on through September, this is your chance to do as the oligarchs do. If you are lucky enough, you might end up in a food coma too.
Travel to the One & Only, as well as accommodation and meals, was provided by the hotel.
Perfect weekend getaway for: A luxury gastronomic experience for a couple and/or the kids. The complimentary KidsOnly club has activities scheduled throughout the day.
Accessibility: Located at the V&A Waterfront
Cost: Winter specials at the One & Only began on April 1 and include:
The One Escape starts at R2 999 a night for a room.
The Only Spa Indulgence starts at R3 699 a night and includes daily complimentary breakfast at Reuben’s, as well as a 45-minute spa treatment for two guests.
Reuben’s Retreat starts at R3 449 per night and includes daily breakfast at Reuben’s as well as dinner for two.
The Cape Duo starts at R3 625 per night, with a minimum of two nights, and includes a Nobu winter bento box dinner for two as well as a choice of a 45-minute spa treatment.