Small But Perfectly Formed
Food & Home Entertaining|April 2017

In the Picturesque Wine Valley of Robertson Stands a Historic Landmark, as Steeped in Tradition as Its Owners. Like Father, Like Daughter, Abigail Rands Welcomes Us at the Door of the Victorian Robertson Small Hotel and Invites Us in.

Malu Lambert

The story of The Robertson Small Hotel starts with the story of a family. The closeknit Rands clan can often be found around a dinner table, braai or, indeed, having drinks on the porch of their country hotel. In a Victorian manor house, dating back to 1901 (a national monument), it’s the only five-star hotel in the Robertson Wine Valley.

The Small recently passed from the hands of a father to his daughter. Abigail has reimagined the hotel in every way possible.

“I’ve always loved sitting on the stoep with my family, admiring the palmstrewn garden,” she smiles, settling into an outdoor sofa, which has been upholstered in hand-drawn textiles by London-based fashion designer, Alexis Barrell. These rich tableaux of the Karoo’s fauna and flora can be found throughout the hotel, including in the 10 beautifully appointed rooms. The poolside rooms are a personal favourite, which open up to a private wooden deck, straight onto the swimming pool.

“Dad spent a lot of time in Robertson for business and he always needed a place to stay overnight,” Abigail explains, getting to the genesis of the story. “So, seven years ago, he bought this old Victorian house with a friend and turned it into a hotel.”

Her late father, Tim Rands (who passed away in 2016) was the owner of Vinimark, one of the largest independent wine specialist businesses of distribution and marketing in South Africa. He was also an instrumental force in many high-profile wineries, including Robertson Winery. Tim left the redesign of the hotel in his daughter’s more-than-capable hands, who studied – and even lectured – at the world-renowned Italian design school, Polimoda.

“The bones of the hotel are beautiful and I felt the interior spaces needed to be filled with art, nature and stories,” she continues. To help her achieve this vision, Abigail called on her long-time friend, designer Sophie Ashby, of Studio Ashby in London. From the get-go, the engine of this revamp ran on the spirit of collaboration, with local designers and artists creating tailor-made items to stitch together Robertson’s untold story.

The list of collaborators is eye-popping: the likes of Lisa Firer, Kat Pichulik, Smith Studio, House of Gozdawa (created a signature scent for the hotel), Michael Chandler and more. For the EM Bar, Michael Chandler hand-painted individual white porcelain tiles with scenes of Robertson’s town and surrounding nature. Poignantly, there’s a tile on the countertop with an inscription that simply reads, “This is for you Dad”.

At the bar, Abigail orders a Lavender and Gin Fizz, infused with home-made lavender syrup. Each creation in the range of cocktails contains an authentic touch like this – from the bar’s own tonic water, to syrups and cordials. There’s also an impressive Robertson-centric wine list, showcasing the best of the region’s wines.

We continue our tour. The designers were pushed beyond their comfort zones: Alexis was commissioned to work on the furniture textiles, while the hanging pendants in the reception was achieved by Design Afrika, who simply turned their baskets upside down. Accessory maven Kat Pichulik designed and made the hotel rooms’ exquisite key rings, and a rope installation in the hallway that reads “I am I said”.

The theme continues in the restaurant: Lisa Firer’s hanging lights are actually ceramic bowls. Also making a design statement is an abstract tapestry weave against one wall by Renée Rossouw.

Previously a branch of Reuben’s, the hotel has once again taken ownership of the restaurant and has called it, The Small Restaurant. There is seating both inside the manor house and on the patio beside the hotel gardens.

Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the menu is fittingly small and offers a classic breakfast menu, enhanced by local products. The pork sausage is made especially for The Small by a nearby butchery, according to resident head chef, Tiaan van Greunen’s recipe. The lunch and dinner menus are the same and include daily specials. The food is simple and sophisticated, Italian-inspired fare.

In another story of collaboration, chef Rose Ashby, of Spring Restaurant at Somerset House in London, created the menu with Tiaan. Together, they sourced produce from local farms and suppliers.

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