The Alphen Boutique Hotel in Constantia was declared a national monument in 1973. Pictures: Janine Smith
The Alphen Boutique Hotel in Constantia was declared a national monument in 1973. Pictures: Janine Smith
The grounds of the hotel are well looked after and the surrounding oaks offer plenty of shade for quiet moments of contemplation.
The grounds of the hotel are well looked after and the surrounding oaks offer plenty of shade for quiet moments of contemplation.

When I told my mom I would be spending some time at the Alphen Boutique Hotel in Constantia, she was almost as excited as I was. “Oh, we used to go there back in the day and it was grand,” she cooed. Back in the day, this regional landmark was the place to see and be seen – and now, after an extensive revamp, it’s ready to continue a tradition of top-class hospitality in fine style.

Situated on just over 11 acres of land, the Alphen was originally part of the Groot Constantia Estate and has been evolving constantly since the late 17th century. Its rich history is as colourful as some of the people who have stayed there over the years. Iconic figures including Cecil John Rhodes and Lord Charles Somerset put their boots down on its carpets. Mark Twain and George Bernard Shaw enjoyed its hospitality, perhaps pondering new ideas in the shade of its many oak trees. Today, the manicured gardens offer guests curtained sunbeds and a poolside bar to sit and sip cocktails or just watch the world go by.

The hotel is an all-suite establishment and you can choose to stay in a Cool Room (bedroom and bathroom only), Amazing Room (with private lounge), Stunning Room (terrace with a view) or the honeymooners’ dream, the Magic Room. Our home away from home for the night was the Amazing Room and the “wow factor” certainly makes its name appropriate. The sumptuous palette of gold, silver, black and royal purple would be overbearing anywhere else, but the dramatic colours and textures are balanced against the snowy linen on the extra-length king-size bed and various pieces of statement furniture in white leather and muted upholstery. The overall decor - bold and yet minimalist - is a thorough mix of old and new, and the Alphen has managed to hold onto its roots while incorporating the opulence and glamour of yesteryear into a functional, well-equipped space to relax.

Our evening at the hotel’s signature restaurant, 5 Rooms, was as much about the people as it was about the food. Our reservation was for 7pm and when we arrived, other diners were few and far between – a confirmation of my long-held belief that Cape Town’s beautiful people only emerge after 9pm. Sure enough, the first two hours were delightfully quiet and we capitalised on the intimate atmosphere during a three-course culinary adventure.

My husband, the carnivore, was thoroughly impressed with the mix of meaty fare on offer and sampled the salmon carpaccio with capers, red onions and balsamic syrup. My avocado and rocket salad, with shaved parmesan and toasted pine nuts, was an absolute taste sensation! I had reservations about the success of such a seemingly simple dish, but it was the combination of strong flavours that made it work so well... I’m no Nigella, but the peppery rocket, creamy avocado, sharp parmesan and salty pine nuts blended beautifully. A winning recipe, for sure!

For the main course, I chose the crumbed chicken fillet with marsala wine, paired with side orders of shoestring fries, cinnamon-dusted roast butternut and sauteed green vegetables. Hubby decided on the Alphen ‘Hunter’ fillet in a peppercorn rub, which was flambéed in brandy and tossed with smoked bacon, wild mushrooms and pearl onions. Delicious!

And then it was on to dessert. Ah, dessert... You’re in trouble if you have a sweet tooth at 5 Rooms because the chefs have gone out of their way to create a selection of treats guaranteed to tempt any palate. Pudding goes in a different tummy, after all! My caramel creme brulee with honeycomb ice-cream was heaven on a spoon, and my man couldn’t say enough good things about his white chocolate and cranberry tart, served with milk chocolate mousse and dark chocolate sorbet.

The bill at the end of the evening was just shy of R750, including the drinks - a bottle of mineral water, two Millers beers, two glasses of Durbanville Hills chardonnay and one glass of Allesverloren port – and excluding the service charge.

Breakfast the next morning was a casual affair at La Belle. The Alphen’s cafe and bakery is open from 7am to cater for early risers and can accommodate guests inside near the deli or on the terrace under the trees. We sat outside and soaked up as much as sun as possible while trying to decide between the French toast with homemade banana rum jam and make-your-own omelettes with a variety of fillings. In the end, I devoured a three-cheese and spring onion omelette while hubby got stuck into a very hearty English breakfast. For the health-conscious, La Belle also has an extensive raw juice menu. Try the Green Peace – a spinach, celery, cucumber and apple juice concoction. Don’t be put off by the strange colour – it’s delicious and nutritious and will give you an energy boost. If tea is your thing, grab a cup of Moroccan Mint or China Rose while making use of the complimentary Wi-Fi.

The Alphen is offering special introductory rates until the end of April this year to celebrate its recent revamp. Contact the hotel on 021 795 6300 or visit their website (www.alphen.co.za) for more details. - IOL