This is the view that knocks the breath right out of you when you walk through the doors of The Oysterbox Hotel in Durban. And it’s a good thing too, because let me tell you, you’re going to need that extra room for all the dessert you’re going to eat! I probably don’t need to tell you that The Oysterbox Hotel is a South African icon. The Durban beach front just wouldn’t be the same without it’s red umbrellas and white facade inspired by the equally iconic Umhlanga Rocks lighthouse.
Another icon of the hotel you probably would have walked straight past when entering the hotel; curled up on his favourite chair in the lobby is Skabenga, the infamous Oysterbox cat, who, naturally, has his own Facebook page (but then again, nowadays, who doesn’t?!). I tried to snap a few pictures of him – but like any celeb, he had no time for me. Something about calling his agent. Pfft. Skabenga spends most of his days napping and once in a while will get up to check that everything is running according to his liking – and judging by the size of his belly he does regular kitchen inspections!
Many Durbanites will tell you that their childhood highlights are visiting the Oysterbox for special occasions which almost always include the legendary high tea – and since I’m not from around here, I had lots of time (and treats) to make up for! In the centre of the hotel’s luscious Palm Court, underneath ceramic chandeliers brought in from the Savoy Hotel in London, a large sturdy table is laid every afternoon – it needs to be sturdy what with the amount of pastries, cakes and desserts that executive pastry chef Joanita Venter and her team put out each day; macarons, delicate fruit tarts, cake in every flavour imaginable, cookies, marshmallows, scones, eclairs, cupcakes, sandwiches – everything you would ever want and need is laid out on the finest porcelain plates and cake stands.
But that’s not even the best part! You know how I live my life with the mantra: Life is short, eat dessert first? Here at the Oysterbox, they welcome it, nay they encourage it! Every night, between 6pm and 9pm, the high tea turns into ‘Evening Indulgence’ where you can pop in, at any time to feast on treats. No one will judge you whether that may be before dinner or after – have I mentioned how much I love this place?!
My absolute favourite is and always will be owner Mrs Bea Tollman’s legendary triple-baked cheesecake. I once had the fortune of sitting next to the great Mrs Tollman at a media dinner (who is definitely the most graceful woman I have ever met) and I remember falling in love with her love for her hotels (or ‘children’ as she called them). Along with her husband, Mrs Tollman has spent six decades building an award-winning collection of 17 five and four star boutique hotels around the world. While I had the chance, I tried my luck and asked if she would share her famous cheesecake recipe with me, and without blinking she reached into her handbag and handed me a copy of her cookbook. It is this generosity that pours over into her beautiful hotels and it’s with that same generosity in mind that I shared her recipe below (I think she’d approve!).
Mrs Bea Tollman’s Legendary Triple Baked Cheesecake
This recipe has been called’ the best cheesecake in the world’ and was created by the lauded hotelier, Bea Tollman, the founder and president of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection.
(Makes 2 cakes)
250g digestive biscuits, finely ground
415g white sugar
120g butter, melted
1t round cinnamon (optional)
1.35kg full fat cream cheese
6 free-range eggs, separated
1vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 ¾ cups sour cream
For the topping
1 ¾ cups sour cream
Preheat the oven to 190°C. To make the crust, mix the biscuit crumbs, 65 g sugar, melted butter and cinnamon, if using, until well blended. Press the mixture into two x 24-cm springform cake tin, making a thin, even, layer and bake for 7 minutes. Allow to cool, then chill for an hour. Reduce the oven’s temperature to 180°C. To make the filling, beat the cream cheese with 175 g sugar. Add the egg yolks, vanilla seeds, vanilla extract, salt and sour cream and beat thoroughly, scraping the bowl. Beat the egg whites with the remaining sugar. Fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture and very gently pour into the prepared cake tin. Wrap the bottom of the tin in tinfoil, place in a water bath and bake for 1 hour, then turn off the heat and leave in the oven for another hour. Remove, cool on a rack, then chill for 12 hours. To make the topping, preheat the oven to 100°C. Mix the sour cream and sugar, spread over the chilled cheesecake and bake for 20 minutes. Finally, chill for 24 hours before serving.
Note: This makes 2 x 24cm cheesecakes so half the recipe for 1, or just go with it and eat both 😉
TIPS You’re going to want to splurge and stay the night (as if you need reasons!):
1) Look at the view from our room?!
2) The breakfast buffet is AMAZING – four words: bottomless bubbly and oysters. It will change your life.
3) Executive Chef Kevin Joseph is the curry king of South Africa and you need to know why – book for the curry buffet. Just do it.
4) Maitre d’, Hendry is equally legendary for his Crêpe Suzette’s in The Grill Room – done old-school, at your table. Run, don’t walk people!