Every now and then, when my budget allows, I like to spend on nice things. But when, like me, you don’t convey a sense of affluence, you become accustomed to subpar treatment.
Of course the waiter will forget to give us menus. It’s no big deal if I’m disregarded and overtaken in a queue. And it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been asked an embarrassing number of times if I’m sure I want the steak.
That’s what comes with the normcore black woman aesthetic of tired braids up in a bun, unironed jeans, a plain white T-shirt and a worn-out tote bag.
It’s for this reason that my trip to the Sandton Sun was completely off-brand. For the next 16 hours I was to be transported to the 17th floor for an unrealistic and heavily orchestrated night of luxury.
On arrival, our home for the night greets my housemate and I with a glass-finished kitchenette and a lounging area. If we choose to entertain, the kitchen is fitted with ample cutlery and crockery, a Nespresso machine, USB plug-points and a full minibar. The lounge has a loveseat, a one-seater couch and a 48-inch screen.
On the kitchen island next to the instructions to sign in to the complementary 750MB of Wi-Fi are a cheese board and a bottle of red wine. There’s also a handwritten note thanking me for taking time out of my “busy schedule” to be here, another sure sign that the team knows I am here on reviewing business.
There’s very little time after checking in before our spa treatment is set to start. After putting our bags down we make our way to the spa, where it’s always day time. Our pampering takes place in one of the dual-treatment rooms, which try to mimic nature through the use of bamboo wallpaper. The full-body massage was a mindful choreography of compression, squeezing, wringing and rolling that rid the body of most of its knots.
After checking in, the first order of business was visiting the beauty and health space. (Supplied)
This was followed by a shower, fruit bowls, ice tea and almond muffins, and then we made our way to dinner
“Hi, I have an 8pm reservation for Zaza?” I say, with an uncertain tone. “Ms Hlalethwa we’ve been expecting you,” the host shrieks as a part of her performance. We’re told to sit “anywhere”. We choose to sit by the rooftop deck next to the fire-pit, taking in the skyline of the high-rise buildings we normally peer up at from the ground.
Our complimentary voucher worth R700 affords us the opportunity to order a bottle of wine, a well-done rump steak, a bowl of fries for the table and a vegetable bake. While waiting for our food, another host comes to check on us. He makes sure to tell us that we can eat the food guilt-free because the kitchen is focused on sustainability and uses ingredients only when they are in season. We nod, preparing ourselves for a night of grassroots advertising, hidden in small talk. After our meal, which was constantly interrupted by waiters (who knew me by name) checking in on us, we have just enough space left for a cappuccino and a chocolate milkshake.
With the ability to access shopping complexes Sandton City and Nelson Mandela Square from the hotel, we decide to walk off the heavy meals by perusing the window displays of luxury brands we cannot afford.
There are Prada, Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Giorgio Armani, Jimmy Choo, and Louis Vuitton. For business travellers, the Sandton Sun — and the shops — is in close proximity to the JSE, the Sandton Convention Centre and the Gautrain from the OR Tambo Airport is a 15-minute trip.
When we return from our brisk walk through the Diamond Walk shops, we flip through the selection of DStv channels looking for Moja Love. When we don’t find it, we decide to retire. In the bedroom we’re met by simple finishings: a desk that can serve as a vanity table, a floor-to-ceiling mirror and a king-sized bed that allows me and my friend to forget we’re sharing.
The Sandton Sun makes sense as a destination for the entrepreneurially bold and the luxuriously beautiful because it meets the needs of business and leisure travellers. Although we didn’t have the opportunity to use other amenities, such as the 24-hour gym service and the rooftop pool, the overall Sandton Sun hotel experience provided a memorable opportunity to really fake it in case I don’t make it in that way.
With conference and private meeting rooms, Sandton Sun seems ideal for business. (Supplied)
Then again, the treatment we received was most probably a result of me being there to adjudicate the quality of the hotel.
But authenticity is lost when surveillance is announced. All the parties involved know they must be at their best. That’s why the experience left me wondering what the purpose of a review is if the hotel staff know I’m coming.