We have written about a number of Afternoon/High Tea offerings in Cape Town and the Winelands, including those at the One&Only Cape Town, the Mount Nelson Hotel, Grande Roche, and Grande Provence.  While I have previously been to pop in at the Cape Grace Library lounge, I tried their ‘Traditional Tea’ for the first time on Thursday.   I  found it disappointing relative to the other Afternoon Teas I have experienced.

The Cape Grace hotel introduced a Sugar Buffet about a year ago, and I always enjoyed it, being a beautiful selection of sweet treats, including sweets such as Jelly Tots and Smarties, and each item cost R8.  Now each item costs R12, and the number of treats has reduced dramatically.  Waitress Laeticia told me that it was because hotel guests would help themselves to the sweets, and apparently did not understand that they had to pay for them. 

Compared to the displays of the Afternoon Tea at the One&Only Cape Town and the Mount Nelson, the Afternoon Tea at the Cape Grace looks like a poor cousin, mainly because they do not display all their ‘Traditional Tea’ items – one chooses two of the Sugar Buffet items displayed on the table as part of the Traditional Tea, and the hotel adds three finger sandwiches (one each with cucumber and spring onion cream cheese, egg and aioli and watercress, and smoked salmon, rocket and avocado), specified on the menu, as well as a miniature sultana and orange blossom honey scone and a traditional scone, served with homemade strawberry jam and whipped cream.  The cost of R75 includes a cup of tea.  The Sugar Buffet table contains Pecan Nut tarts, Lemmingtons, Chocolate chip cookies, Blueberry and almond cookies, Oat cookies, Shortbread cookies, Ginger cookies, Koeksisters, Macaroons, Raspberry cupcakes, and three types of fudge – vanilla and nuts, white chocolate and cranberries, and dark Chocolate.  I asked waitress Nqobile to tell me what all the items on the Sugar Buffet display were, and she rushed through them, and was not very clear about what the items were – e.g. the fudge plate, on which the items looked like small slices of cake.  She looked very annoyed when I asked her to call her superior!  

The seven items are put together on a cake stand, brought to one’s table. A sideplate and material serviette with a Hepp Exclusive (the same cutlery brand is used at Azure restaurant  at the Twelve Apostles Hotel) knife was brought to the table.  It was cold in the lounge, with the airconditioning set too cold and a door to the terrace was left open.  No fire was lit.  It took more than half an hour before the stand was served.  The cappuccino itself took some time, and the charge for this was a problem, as it was at the One&Only Cape Town on my first visit to their Afternoon Tea, in that the ‘Traditional Tea’ only includes tea, despite the trend to more coffee drinking.  I was charged in full for the cappuccino, and not just for the difference between the cost of a cup of tea and the cappuccino.  A manager kindly had the cappuccino cost removed.

The Lounge menu also offers other options for the Afternoon Tea: ‘Sugar & Bubbles’ costs R110, and is an unlimited supply of items from the Sugar Buffet table with a glass of Graham Beck Rosé.  Alternatively, for the same price, the ‘Sugar & Spice’ option allows one to eat an unlimited number of items from the Sugar Buffet table, as well as receive hot Malay-spiced sandwich snacks.  I found the service in the lounge disappointing for a hotel that wins accolades as one of Cape Town’s best, and there appeared to be little managerial supervision in the time that I spent at the hotel.   The Cape Grace cannot compete at all with the Afternoon Teas presented by its competitors One&Only Cape Town and the Mount Nelson, with a very small offering, most of which is not displayed in the lounge.  For the few guests in the lounge, and no one else having the Traditional Tea, the half an hour wait to make the three sandwich fingers, and organise the scones and whipped cream, was unacceptable.  There was no attempt to make the display look particularly attractive, as at the One&Only Cape Town, and it makes one think that the Cape Grace is not serious about its Afternoon Tea service.  Even though it only costs about half of that of its competitors, one does not feel that one gets value, as one is only allowed a specified number of items.  The starting time at 11h00 is much earlier than any of the other Afternoon Teas I have tried.

Cape Grace Hotel, V&A Waterfront. Tel (021) 410-7100.  www.capegrace.com (The website has a page for the Afternoon Tea, but the main photograph of the Sugar Buffet is no reflection of what I saw on Thursday – it looked like the display of the Sugar Buffet that I saw a few months ago, when there were more sweet treats as well as the sweets on display, and the bell jars had attractive ribbons on them.  The Image Gallery has no photographs of the Afternoon Tea at all).    Daily.  11h00 – 18h00.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:  www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage