Do you remember that scene from the 1997 movie Titanic, when protagonist Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) walks down a sweeping staircase into the first class dining hall bedecked with shimmering chandeliers, wood panelled walls, and white-linen tables coruscating with glassware and quality cutlery? That’s how we felt walking into the Lord Nelson Restaurant… without the choking sense of snobbery or impending doom, of course.
With its ornate ceilings, plush botanical tapestries, wood panelled walls, and even first-class chairs that once belonged to the iconic Union-Castle Line ships, is it any wonder this timelessly elegant signature restaurant of the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel brings to mind bygone eras of luxury ocean travel? Fine food, wine, and service perfection aside, this is what I loved about the Lord Nelson. The establishment lovingly preserves the old world romance and glamour of high-end dining; experiences that have become lost in our current obsession with casual fine dining and inventive gastronomy you’re encouraged to eat in jeans and sneakers.
A meal at the Lord Nelson is a reason to don your best dress or suit, to spritz yourself with designer perfume, and skip lunch in anticipation of an evening that will join the ranks of your all-time most memorable dinners. At the same time, it is neither pretentious nor intimidating and you are unlikely to encounter folk such as those snobby old fools on the Titanic (unless your in-laws share such an insufferable disposition.)
And so we wafted into the Lord Nelson’s elegant dining hall and took our seats to embark upon a dining experience that has served as the inspiration of these flattering descriptions.
Epic, three-course dining experience
The Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel first opened its doors in 1899 with the Lord Nelson Restaurant being the original dining hall. Today, the restaurant pays homage to the elegance of British fine dining tradition, which has been seamlessly blended with the romantic history of the Cape, its cuisine, and local ingredients.
As we admired this heritage, our lovely server Lisa introduced us to the menu and the wine list. At this juncture, it must be mentioned that throughout our evening, we were assisted by three of the restaurant’s servers, all of whom had the poise and polish of highly trained butlers and all intimately acquainted with the wine list; so much so that they were able to make valuable, insightful suggestions on pairings. This is not something you come by everyday, even in high-end restaurants, which usually have a sommelier on staff to do that.
With our wine and menu selections made, the meal began with a flute of the Domaine Des Dieux Rose of Sharon MCC 2010 for me, and the La Motte Pierneef Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2017 for my partner. Now, I have always postulated that the bread course served by a restaurant is a pretty reliable litmus test for the calibre of what’s to follow. If the basket arrives warm and fragrant with a delicious variety of breads and herbed and salted butters, and is essentially impossible to resist, even at the expense of precious stomach space, then you can pretty much count on the food being exceptional. I’m pleased to say that the Lord Nelson Restaurant proves my hypothesis.
For starters, we chose the scallops with sweetbreads, prosciutto, celeriac purée, and a sharp celeriac slaw with capers and lime; and the twice-baked asparagus soufflé with horseradish cream and winter greens. For mains, we chose the absolutely divine beef Wellington, cut and portioned for us tableside and served with a Chef’s salad, a medley of vegetables, new potatoes, béarnaise sauce, and beef jus. The beef was cooked to perfection: medium rare and wrapped in flavourful herbs and a crispy pastry crust.
[Alas, we were about halfway home when we realised we had forgotten our precious “doggy bags”. We spent the remainder of the car ride in stony silence, grappling with the intense grief of the loss of a next-day lunch that would have been epic.]
Such a meal required a wine of equal calibre and so, with the helpful assistance of our server, I selected the full-bodied yet velvety Springfield “Work of Time” 2012 Bordeaux style red blend and, my partner, the rich, wooded Avondale Anima Chenin Blanc 2016. It was a feast, the likes of which I shall forever remember and pine for.
In spite of the fact that our stomachs were encroaching upon the abdominal space typically occupied by our lungs, we couldn’t pass up on dessert and so I chose the baked Alaska, an ice cream and cake topped with meringue, which is doused with brandy and lit on fire tableside. It’s quite the show with the added bonus that you can decide on how well done you like your meringue. My partner, being an ardent devotee to the fruit, chose the “guava fool”, a delicious guava mousse dessert served with macerated guava and rooibos sorbet.
Our dinner had come to a most sweet ending, aided in no small part by the talented performance of self-taught (just don’t ask him to read sheet music) pianist Henry Dike.
Unforgettable evening out
For one blissful night, we relived the romance, the elegance, and the glory of eras passed at the Lord Nelson Restaurant. The food lived up to the luxury surroundings and promise of “tradition-meets-innovation” and the service was sheer perfection. Best of all was the sense of accessibility and approachability; of belonging and warm welcome. The Lord Nelson Restaurant is far from some stuffy, snobby establishment that only German tourists can afford to eat at. Anyone and everyone can dip their big toes into this kind of luxury, even if you have to borrow a suit for the occasion – and if that’s what it takes to get you to the Lord Nelson, then I most ardently recommend that you do. It’s an experience not to be missed!
The Lord Nelson Restaurant is open Monday to Saturday, 18:30 to 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email email@example.com, call +27 (0) 21 483 1000, or go to the Mount Nelson’s website.
76 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town