Birkenhead house, south Africa: hotel & restaurant review
We review Birkenhead House outside Hermanus, a boutique hotel with Cape Malay menus, fabulous South African wines and whale-watching on the doorstep
All-inclusive means many things but at Birkenhead House, perched above the beach outside the coastal town of Hermanus, it stretches as far as whale-watching; time your visit right and you can watch majestic southern right whales cavort in the Atlantic below while you tuck into breakfast, or a cocktail, on the hotel’s terrace. But then this isn’t all-inclusive as you know it. There are no wristbands, no all-you-can-eat buffets. Instead you’re free to pour yourself a drink from the bar, crack open a bottle of fizz when you feel like it and order from an à la carte menu. I floated around in white linen and felt like I was in the pages of a classy interiors magazine.
Tom Kerridge said Birkenhead House was the highlight of his trip to South Africa – I agree. Birkenhead House chef Ziyaad Ozayr Brown sources everything from within 10-15 km of the nearby Klein River, including a glorious array of local artisanal charcuterie and cheeses from Klein River Farmstead (kleinrivercheese.co.za). Being Cape Malay, a lot of his dishes have Malaysian and Indian influences, marrying a love of spices with a penchant for the sweet and coconut-y. The menu changes every day but I loved laksa-style giant prawns and South African street food specialty bunny chow – a hollowed out mini bread loaf filled with chicken curry. The flatbreads, cooked to order by two local women, were some of the best I’ve ever tasted.
This is South Africa, so the wines are fabulous and, here, you can try what you like and only pay extra if your eyes have strayed to the ‘vintage’ pages of the list.
The hotel’s 11 rooms are beach house in style, luxurious but not in an over-the-top way. Many are sea-facing, (all have their own balconies) and room one has unparalleled ocean views, while five has a ‘honeymoon plunge pool’. Each one comes with a little bar laid out on a tray; I didn’t touch the spirits and mixers but a half bottle of MCC (Method Cap Classique, South Africa’s take on methode champenoise) was immediately taken onto the terrace and it’s cork popped.
The buffet has been given great thought with fresh fruits and berries and little jars of natural yoghurt topped with home-made fruit purée or granola. The cheeses, charcuterie, pickles and chutney are top notch and there are plenty of hot choices, too.
Get up early to catch low tide and climb down the steps in front of the hotel to pick your own mussels from Voelklip rock with Ziyaad. The water is freezing and induces fits of the giggles as you pick your bivavles but the end result is seriously good. Return to the kitchen and Ziyaad will show you how to cook them Cape Malay style, with lime, ginger, chili, coriander, turmeric, lime leaves and apricots.
Double rooms at Birkenhead House start from £260 including all meals, drinks and snacks (birkenheadhouse.com). Return flights from Heathrow to Cape Town (via Johannesburg) cost from £941.00. (flysaa.com). More info: hermanustourism.info.
Written by Audrey Gillan
First published December 2015
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