Cocktail hour at 131 on Herbert Baker

Posted on Fri April 1, 2011.

There is something to be said about sitting at a table that was once fi t for a king. there is something to be said about interacting with strangers the same way you would with your best friends. there is something to be said about experiencing an ambience, a flavour and a view even a president would come back for.

There is something to be said about being hosted like you were someone signifi cant irrespective of your race, gender or creed. these were some of the thoughts that ran through my mind as my husband and I shared a moment having high tea followed by decadent cocktails, fine whisky and delicious treats while watching the crimson sun set over the Jacaranda City at the famous 131 on Herbert Baker.

Weather permitting, high tea is served on the front lawn of the boutique hotel. A charming waiter named William, attended to our every need. He overheard me mention a headache and within minutes I was swallowing two Panados with chilled cucumber water. After throbbing ache subsided, I was ready to experience all the decadence on offer. I chose a freshly baked scone with homemade strawberry preserve and Chantilly cream, with a freshly brewed cup of Java, as we enjoyed the warm evening breeze and caught up on some much-needed time together, especially after just becoming parents. After savouring the last crumb on my plate we were offered a further selection of sandwiches, pastries, cakes, freshly baked biscuits, canapés, and an assortment of muffins.

Not wanting to spoil our appetites for the ensuing candle-lit dinner hosted on a private balcony overlooking breathtaking views of the city, we opted instead for some sundowners and invited the owners Michael and sheri valente to join us. the men chatted about cricket (south Africa was playing a nail-biting World Cup match against India and won in the last over) as they sipped on Johnny Walker double Black - a blended whisky boasting charred and peaty tastes and sold only to the travel market in international duty free stores. The valentes converted the 45-year-old house, once owned by Michael’s parents, into a five-star boutique hotel which opened seven months ago just before the 2010 soccer World Cup and in time to host its fi rst guest a popular African president. the hotel’s signature restaurant Grissini (which means ‘breadstick’ in Italian) caters to the public but by reservation only.

As I sipped on my attractively presented Chocolate Martini - three parts Nachtmusik chocolate liquor, one part Frangelico and one part vodka, I was told stories how strict they are on privacy, security and exclusivity, so much so that when an affl uent member of the country turned up without a prior reservation he was denied access. there is no intention to be rude or arrogant in doing this- they only request prior reservation as a means of control and of course, the highest level of security and privacy.

My husband further experimented with the different labels of Johnny Walker – he loves the Green label while I opted for the strawberry Margarita and Citrus Blue Cocktails (all presented in a way that complements their make-up) and found that King Goodwill Zweletini and his party were partaking of similar festivities- the launch of a wine label called Bayede, only a few weeks previously. What makes this place extraordinary is that it is set in understated luxury, kept immaculate and warm by people who are always happy, always willing to lend a hand or offer themselves in conversation, and so in tune with their guests you never have to ask for someone to take your order, remove your plate or bring you a shawl. the spectacular ristorante Grissini which serves quality and freshly prepared meals at a competitive price, giving you value for your spend, is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner by reservation only. High tea is served on the manicured lawns Monsun between 10h00-12h00 and 15h00- 17h00 also by reservation.

CONTACT Address: 131 Herbert Baker, Groenkloof, Gauteng, 0001, south Africa e-mail: Call: +27 12 751 2070 / 1 / 2 / 3 / 4; +27 12 346 5537; +27 83 268 1866 or +27 83 253 1089.