Nature & Nurture Part 1

by Rona Berg

On a quiet residential street in Sandhurst, one of the toniest neighborhoods in Johannesburg, the Saxon Hotel lies tucked away, waiting to unfold its many delights.

With 53 suites, six pools, a world-class spa, fine dining and an extraordinary collection of South African art, the Saxon is a magnificent five-star hotel, intimate in feeling and grand in its offerings. It also holds a cherished piece of South Africa’s history. In 1994, soon after he was released from 27 years in prison, President Nelson Mandela lived there for six months as the guest of Douw Steyn, the owner, while his own home was under construction. At that time, the Saxon was still a private residence, and Mandela stayed in what is now known as the Nelson Mandela Platinum Suite, where he worked on his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

The Saxon continues to be a sanctuary for guests seeking respite from their busy lives, with an enhanced focus on wellness and mindfulness experiences since it reopened last summer. The two-story Spa unveiled a new menu with innovative treatments geared toward providing relief from the stress and anxiety of modern-day living. Spa director Tanya Lopes has created a top-notch program, supported by skilled therapists who have the good fortune to work in a serenely beautiful environment that features eight treatment rooms, a Turkish Hammam, hydro area, flotation pools, saunas, outdoor treatment rooms and Rasul Chamber.

New signatures include Sleep Therapy and the Bellabaci Massage—a twist on cupping—as well as the deeply relaxing Soul Signature Journey, which incorporates African ingredients such as marula and moringa oils, rooibos leaves, shea butter, African potato and red African clay. Each treatment begins with a bespoke mindfulness journey for grounding and centering. At the Saxon Spa Juice Bar, guests can select skin-enhancing smoothies infused with protein, collagen, amino acids and more.

A new partnership with the exclusive Earth + Sky includes workout classes that screen in private suites, including Barre de Ballet, from Royal Ballet soloist Fernando Montano, at the Royal Opera House House in London; and Upper Body Calisthenics by Ultra Marathoner Ben Harrison.

On the culinary front, the Sarapana Garden, a sizable organic garden, helps source the restaurants on property, including Qunu, named after Mandela’s childhood village. Locally sourced, organic spirits from New Harbour Distillery are featured in the minibars. In 2017, the Saxon launched a plant-based menu, in addition to its traditional offerings, and, more recently, award-winning Head Pastry Chef Catherine Adonis unveiled a luxurious Vegan High Tea that is an elevated, fine-dining experience. The revolving menu has included Crepe Terrine (roasted peppers, chickpea, almond ricotta), Baby Onion Tart (onion, sherry vinegar, phyllo pastry), Potato and Leek Roulade, Ratatouille en Croute. Desserts include Vegan Chocolate Cake, Raspberry and Rosewater Macarons, Poached Pears with Vegan Ice Cream, Carrot Cake, Passion Fruit Tartlet.

Adonis is not only extremely talented, she is truly passionate about her work. “Ever since I was 16, I always wanted to be a pastry chef,” she says, and she obviously has a special calling. “I love morning and afternoon tea,” she says. “There’s been a conscious shift in consumers wanting to know ‘What am I eating?’ People have dietary requirements, but everyone can enjoy vegan food.”

Vegan bread is something of a no-brainer, since, according to Adonis, a lot of bread—sourdough, seed loaf—has always been naturally vegan. “You don’t need dairy, eggs or fat to make good bread, and that’s something that has been highlighted by veganism. We’ve been eating things that were vegan all along without knowing.”

The ingredient that she enjoys working with the most is chocolate. “One of the joys with vegan menus is the variety of things that are available to us as chefs. For example, Valrhona now makes a vegan certified chocolate—the ‘grand cru,’” she says, “though dark chocolate is inherently vegan.”

While we spoke, Adonis left briefly and came back with a chocolate-tasting platter that must have featured 15 different varieties of gourmet vegan chocolate: Top-quality chocolate with fruit puree that is the filling for certain macarons. Vegan chocolate made with almond milk. White chocolate for dulce de leche.

“As a pastry chef, being creative within confines, within parameters, that is what drives you,” she says. “If you could do whatever you wanted every day—what kind of challenge is that?”

And that about sums up the attitude at the Saxon, where the notion of rising to a challenge, being exceptional and pushing to excel, seems, well, baked into the DNA.

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