October 2016 update: The old Westcliff Hotel, now the Four Seasons, reopened and briefly resumed its high tea offering, before stopping it again. What a bummer.

A few of you expressed surprise at my last post about the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Apparently y’all didn’t realize that I am a cultured young lady. (That’s right, I’m cultured. And young.)

If you were surprised to learn that I enjoy classical music, you’ll also be surprised that I love high tea. Ever since my first afternoon tea — with my mother at London’s Fortnum & Mason Department Store in 1994 — I’ve been enthralled by the ritual of drinking from delicate china cups, nibbling cucumber sandwiches, and gorging on fresh scones with clotted cream and bite-sized desserts.

Cucumber sandwich

The cucumber sandwich. So simple and yet so delicious.

I live around the corner from the Westcliff Hotel, which until a few weeks ago was the pre-eminant spot in Joburg for high tea. But alas, I never got around to going and now the Westcliff is closed for a nine-month renovation. (I did try to do the Westcliff tea a few times but it was always booked when I called, plus I kept putting it off for financial reasons.) The Westcliff will re-open as a Four Seasons Hotel in mid-2014.

Strangely, since the Westcliff closed I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy high tea at two other lovely Joburg spots: the Saxon Hotel and 54 on Bath. I may have missed my chance to have tea at the Westcliff, but at least I can tell you about the best places to have tea now that the Westcliff is closed.

A month or so ago, I was invited to the launch of the new high tea at the Saxon. The Saxon, in the northern suburb of Sandhurst, is the poshest boutique hotel in Joburg with one of the city’s most highly acclaimed restaurants. I had never been there before. (I may be cultured but wealthy I am not.)

Champagne

The Saxon’s grounds are stunning and I received complementary champagne upon arrival. I was also amused by the fleet of giant white BMWs that line up to ferry guests between the parking garage and the hotel entrance. The parking garage and the hotel are about 75 meters apart. 

High tea at the Saxon is a bit different from a traditional English high tea. Rather than a set meal that is brought to your table, the Saxon serves a high tea buffet with a huge selection of items. Tea is served in the Saxon’s Piano Lounge and costs R395 (about $40) per person.

Saxon spread

The Saxon high tea spread.

R395 is definitely expensive by Joburg standards. But I must say, the meal I had at the Saxon was spectacular. In addition to the amazing desserts and traditional tea sandwiches and scones, the buffet includes all kinds of non-traditional items, like sushi, cake pops, and tiny culinary creations that I couldn’t even identify.

Saxon plate

My savory selections.

Saxon dessert and tea

My second Saxon dessert plate. (The first one was jammed too full and didn’t make a pretty picture.)

Pallu

This is Peta Eggiert-Symes, who runs a Jozi clothing boutique called Pallu. Peta is fabulous. Had to include her.

The best thing about high tea at the Saxon is the tea itself. In addition to the food buffet there is an entire buffet of tea, presented by a local company called Yswara. All the tea is grown in Africa and is beautiful as well as delicious.

Saxon tea samples

Tea leaves that are almost too pretty to drink.

A couple of weeks before having tea at the Saxon, I won a voucher for a free high tea at 54 on Bath, a Tsogo Sun hotel in Rosebank. (Thanks to fellow blogger MzansiGirl for running such a cool contest.) The 54 on Bath high tea is a bit more traditional and a bit less grand than the Saxon high tea, but equally enjoyable in my opinion.

tea setup 54 on Bath

The 54 on Bath lobby, set for tea. Normally tea is served on the rooftop terrace but it was pouring rain the day I went. I’ll have to go back another time to check out the rooftop.

Scones

The scones at 54 on Bath are awesome.

54 on Bath serves high tea the old-fashioned way — on multi-level trays with sandwiches at the bottom, scones in the middle, and desserts on top. You can order seconds, and there is also a buffet with extra scones and additional items if the set tea isn’t enough for you (although that is unlikely).

54 tea

I wish I’d taken the time to get a better picture of the 54 on Bath tea presentation. But the light was very low and I was too focused on eating.

54 on Bath also offers a wide selection of teas, both traditional and exotic, and you can try as many as you want.

Tea bag cookie

I especially like the tea-bag-shaped cookies.

Traditional afternoon tea at 54 on Bath costs R165 (about $17) per person, or R245 ($25) if you want a glass of champagne with your tea. You can also have just tea and cake for R65 ($7). Definitely call several days in advance if you want to book on a weekend, as seats fill up quickly.

I like the Saxon buffet concept, but I also like having my high tea the old-fashioned way. It was nice to experience both. I would definitely go back to both places, although I’m more likely to return to 54 on Bath since it’s closer to my price range. The Saxon tea is totally worth the price for those who can afford it though.

Quick side note: A few months ago, while researching the northern suburb of Rivonia for the SandtonPlaces book I’m working on, I discovered a place called the Contessa Tea Connoisseur. Contessa does not serve a traditional high tea, but it has the widest selection of teas that I’ve found anywhere in Joburg. Also, the food is phenomenal. If you’re a serious tea drinker (or you just like good food), I would highly recommend a Contessa tea pilgrimage.

Rivonia - Contessa cake

Oolong tea and lemon cake from the Contessa Tea Connoisseur. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

I cannot believe I’ve written 1,000 words about high tea. If you’re still with me, I imagine you’re hungry. I know I am.

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