As we step off busy Buitengracht Street into the cool, quiet lobby of the Coral International, I am struck by the stark contrast. I feel tempted to stick my head outside again to make sure that the bustling Cape Town street is still there. But before I can do so, a doorman in tails has taken our luggage and is whisking us efficiently towards the reception area.
We are greeted with iced tea and dates and I am reminded of my stay in Dubai. Without the kitsch. Where the plush hotels in Dubai bombard your senses with brightly coloured carpets, over-the-top themes, and far too much gold, this five-star hotel is understated and tasteful. Bar a rather elaborate chandelier in the lobby, the decor is restricted to subtle geometric designs, muted earthy colours, cool marble, and elegant carpets.
Hints of relaxed Capetonian friendliness sneak out between cracks in the professional demeanour of the staff. It's a good thing. Kyle, who takes us up to our room on the eighth floor, lets us in on the hotel's secrets ? Al Zaeem, the lively shisha bar which fills up with trendy locals as soon as the sun goes down, and Mezbaan, the hotel's Indian-themed restaurant. He also mentions, a little conspiratorially, that although the hotel is a 'dry hotel' ? Coral International is a Muslim-friendly hotel which provides prayer rooms and Halaal food ? guests can bring their own alcohol and drink it in the hotel rooms.
Our room ? which is more of a suite than a room ? has all the trappings one expects from a five-star hotel. A comfortable lounge and dining area; two large flat-screen televisions with a wide range of channels (including some unfamiliar Arab ones); and a spacious and beautifully-finished bathroom (stocked with luxurious Moulton Brown toiletries).
While my partner enthusiastically tests out the room's espresso-maker, I step out onto the balcony. What a view! Being on the eighth floor certainly has its advantages ? especially when your hotel is tucked away in town and is competing with various skyscrapers for views of this spectacular city. To my left, the colourful Cape Malay Quarter stretches up the side of the mountain and in front of me, just beyond the face-brick of the city, the picturesque waterfront and harbour.
We take Kyle up on his suggestion and visit Mezbaan for dinner. With a few well-placed Indian artefacts, saturated colours, and beautifully-detailed textiles, the decor at Mezbaan is rich, yet simple. The atmosphere is enhanced by the music, the Kurta-clad waiters, and the fact that most of the other guests in the restaurant are of Indian descent.
Mezbaan specialises in North Indian cuisine and, with eyes considerably larger than our stomachs, we opt for the Thali Menu ? a tasting menu which offers up a selection of the finest the restaurant has to offer. When it arrives, there are so many dishes that there is little space left on our table for our mango lassis. Not deterred ? as I usually am ? by the desire to quell the fire in my mouth, I manage to work my way systematically through the Dal Makhani (a lentil dish), the Paneer Makhani (cubes of cheese in a rich tomato gravy), and the Aloo Badam Dum (potato in a tomato and almond gravy) before I concede defeat.
Reasonably priced for a restaurant of its calibre, Mezbaan is well worth a visit. The impeccable service, genteel ambiance and delicate curries create an experience that is much like the food ? full of flavour, but not an assault on the senses.
We wrap up our weekend stay at the Coral International with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel's other restaurant, Al Nafoora; browse the decadent (and exquisitely-wrapped) chocolate on offer in the Patchi gift shop; and leave this oasis in the city feeling relaxed and refreshed. And perhaps a few kilograms heavier.
Coral International Cape Town is offering an exclusive offer for iafrica.com readers ? pay for two nights and stay for three, for just R3950! Based on a minimum of two people sharing, this offer includes bed and breakfast as well as an exclusive Patchi Chocolate Hamper together with other Arabic eats and treats on arrival. Subject to availability. To book, call 021 481 3700 or visit www.coral-international.com/capetown.
To celebrate the opening of the hotel we're giving away one of these fabulous packages ? win a two-night stay for two people including bed and breakfast, and one dinner at the Mezbaan signature restaurant! You'll also receive an exclusive Patchi Chocolate Hamper together with other Arabic eats and treats on arrival! All you have to do to stand a chance of winning is fill in your details below!