“Funky art, palatial bedrooms and gourmet dining at one of South Africa's most seductive oceanside hotels”
Birkenhead House's 11 guest bedrooms are as festive in feel as the rest of the hotel; any one of them would be worthy of a honeymoon night or any other celebration. All-white walls, curtains and bed linen coupled with buff-coloured marble floors provide a neutral canvas for a decorative eclecticism which marries rococo, boudoir and contemporary furnishings with free-handed gusto.
Rooms are classified in 4 categories according to their size and views: they're numbered in ascending order back from the ocean. Top of the league are the Deluxe Superior Rooms with their jaw-dropping views, quickly followed by the Superior Rooms. Whilst Luxury Rooms earn their status thanks to their sea views and terraces. There are just 2 Standard Rooms; these lack sea views and are furthest from the sea. The top dog is (Deluxe Superior) Room 1, where you feel as if the ocean is lapping right up to the foot of your magnificent Louis Farouk bed and you awake to a stunning sunrise over Walker Bay.
There are zebra skin pouffes, gilded Empire stools with Osborne & Little fabrics, shagreen covered dressers, tables in funky shades of greens and reds, and antique writing desks; it's showy, ritzy and has oodles of sensual appeal. All rooms also have a full quotient of gadgetry like plasma screen TVs, DVD players, bar fridges, dimmer switches, hot and cold air-conditioning and phones. Expect treats like a bowl of fruit, a bottle of bubbly, a surprise gift from the Bidens, turn back and chocolates last thing and, if you fancy it, breakfast in bed.
Expect your bathroom to be every bit as regal: most come with freestanding bathtubs, walk-in rain showers, twin sinks set in a big sweep of marble, jazzy shell-lined mirrors and more striking art work. Not to mention every conceivable extra: huge fluffy towels, silk bathrobes, heated towel rails, magnifying mirrors and a big range of bath products courtesy of Charlotte Rhys.
The highlight of our stay at beautiful Birkenhead was dining by candlelight in its oceanside dining room, as gulls winged their way home past the setting sun. Weather permitting, tables are shifted out to the terrace, getting you even closer to the surf.
A setting this special seems to require a bit of sartorial effort for dinner; the waiting staff slip into black uniforms and move easily between the candlelit tables: one takes your food order, another your wine and a maître d' to talk you through the evening's menu.
Dinner follows a 4-course formula with a choice of starter, main and dessert. I couldn't find fault with any aspect of my meal. For entrée I went for the brie and broccoli tart with green vegetables, rather than a tomato, basil and crispy bacon risotto: it was scrummy. Next came an excellent borlotti bean soup followed by a choice of main course: lamb shank accompanied by mash and crispy mange-tout beans, or Cape salmon served with dauphinoise potatoes, baby carrots and a lemon butter sauce. The sound of the sea seemed to suggest 'salmon' and it proved to be just the biz, whilst the perfectly seared crème brûlée ended my repast on just the right note.
Dinners include house wine served à volonté: you're offered a choice of a dozen whites, the same number of reds, a couple of rosés and an informative wine menu. There's also a reserve wines list - paid as extra - highlighting wines from the major appellations of the Cape. I was amazed at how little mark-up there was on each listing; and there's a great choice of classic champagnes: Dom Perignon, Bollinger, Billecart, Pol Roger and Moet & C.
At lunchtime the focus shifts back to Birkenhead's inner patio which wraps round a second split-level pool. This is a much lighter event both in ambiance and content, highlighting salads and all kinds of fresh fish delicacies, again your wines and soft drinks are included.
You can expect a really excellent breakfast, too. A huge buffet of cereals, cold cuts, cheeses, yoghurts, fruits, fresh juices, nuts and dried fruits, freshly baked breads and smoked salmon is laid up to one side of the sea-facing drawing room. Then, if you're game for it, you can order the cooked breakfast of your choice.
No children under 10 are accepted and, to our mind, this didn't feel the sort of place that would be suitable for teenage kids either.
If you are keen to stay in Hermanus with children, we recommend you enquire about a room in the adjacent Villa, which accepts children of all ages. The décor and location may not quite match the House, but it's still pretty indulgent stuff. There's a large TV room and a children's play area, and babysitters can be arranged. Request on enquiry.
Rooms 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 can be made up as triples for older children.