The Oyster Box Hotel has been a feature on Umhlanga beach for decades and even if they had never set foot inside, Durbanites would certainly think of it when a Vaalie asked the inevitable “Where should I stay in Durbs?” Many of those Vaalie families who took this excellent advice would come back, year after year, to stay at this seaside establishment.
In late 2007, however, it was starting to become apparent that the hotel was in need of a facelift and in stepped the Tollmans of the Red Carnation Hotel group. The Tollmans themselves have a long association with the Oyster Box, having sat across the table from each other in the restaurant on their first date and spent their wedding night in one of the suites.
The Oyster Box closed in 2008 for major renovations and re-opened again in late September this year.
The result is breathtaking. As we drove into the parking lot it was apparent that this experience was going to be special. All the staff are dressed in outfits which exude charm, from safari suits, complete with pith helmets, to all white suits accessorized with turbans. The managers are in tuxedos and the ladies in reception in exquisite Indian inspired garments.
The signature elements are still there: the beautiful wooden revolving door and the grand staircase but the new décor is magnificent. I couldn’t quite believe I was still in Durban. Generally, I consider hotels to be just for tourists and wouldn’t think of meeting a group of friends for dinner or a drink in one in my hometown. The Oyster Box has forever changed this opinion, though. The hotel boasts three restaurants and three bars, each with their own character. The décor is a fusion of styles with something that will appeal to everyone. We had a drink in the Lighthouse Bar, outside on the balcony overlooking the lighthouse and the breaking waves of the Indian Ocean. We have often lamented the lack of “rooms with a view” in Durban, but this is more than we could have hoped for. It must be quite heavenly to arrive in time to see the moon rise out of the sea, something which is on our to-do list this holiday season. The Lighthouse Bar is quite eclectic in style with dark wood, Persian rugs, chairs covered in red patent leather and lighthouse figurines dotted all over. There is plenty of place to sit and nurse one of the creative cocktails on offer.
With so much else to explore, we moved off downstairs via the glass lifts, stopping every few steps to examine the art and objets on display. My husband was particularly taken with the aptness of a Nelson Mandela original painting of the Robben Island lighthouse just outside the Lighthouse Bar. It is this kind of attention to detail that had us completely enchanted.
Our next stop, after taking in the Palm Court restaurant in the courtyard area with its black and white tiles, double volume ceiling and sweetie jars, was the Oyster Bar. The décor here is opulent with detailed and textured fabrics covering stunning seats. I was once again delighted, this time by the fans over the bar. Made of wicker and mounted on a bronze rod, they swayed backwards and forwards in the manner of a servant fanning a colonial mistress. The barstools are oversized dining room chairs which allowed us to perch up and lean on the white marble bar, looking over the floor towards the glass ceiling of the underground wine cellar which doubles as a functions room for about a dozen people.
On this particular visit we had popped in on our way somewhere else and so had no time to dine in the Grill Room, Palm Court or Ocean Terrace, although we did glance in at them all. The Ocean Terrace was my favourite with a duck-egg blue and white colour scheme and the offer to help myself to some sweets from the jars filled with everything from liquorice to boilings.
Apparently, we missed a lot on our quick visit – we didn’t even see the Chukka Bar or the functions rooms, one of which (The Pearl Room) is all white from floor to ceiling, or the cinema and I am desperate to go back. In fact, as we were leaving, I remembered that the Oyster Box used to accommodate resident guests and asked the receptionists how one would go about installing yourself in a suite here. Alas, this is no longer a possibility, so I shall have to settle for making the Oyster Box a regular spot to socialize.