The World Is Your Oyster; This Particular Oyster Comes with a Nostalgic Chic Aesthetic and a Quirky Wes Anderson Vibe, Uncovers Anji Connell

The award-winning Oyster Box Hotel is a national treasure with a wonderful old-world charm - a timeless icon and one of South Africa's most celebrated hotels

Renowned for its gracious hospitality and understated luxury, The Oyster Box Hotel commands a fabulous position on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Boasting stunning views of the iconic red and white lighthouse that inspires the hotel's wonderfully vibrant candy striped aesthetic, it is nestled in lush tropical private gardens on the Umhlanga Rocks Coastline of Kwa-Zulu Natal, just north of the city of Durban on South Africa's eastern coast. "Durbs", as it is fondly known, is widely hailed as the "Garden Province" for its rich flora and fauna due to its sub-tropical weather with rolling hills and a dramatic coastline. Durban highlights include the flamboyant Victoria Street Flea Market, much loved for its bric-a-brac, art-deco objets d'art and handcrafted ceramics. Buzzy Florida Road is the city's trendiest street where people gather to shop, eat, party and drink late. However, The Oyster Box Hotel is the ultimate destination of the area and it’s easy to see why as there are so many reasons to love it. Guests have been making memories here for years, celebrating weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, and successes. The Oyster Box Hotel has a heartwarming history that includes an enduring love story. The hotel began life as the Oyster Lodge in 1863, built as a navigational beacon for passing ships. A local family bought it in 1952, opening it as a tea garden. It later became a restaurant, then a hotel and all have remained custodians to the lighthouse.

The Style

The aesthetic is light, airy and colonial in style, with black-and-white terrazzo floors, wrought-iron balustrades, rattan chairs and superbly, the door attendants are attired in white Punjabi-style overcoats - a nod to the rich Indian heritage of Durban. The outfits are perfectly topped off with pith helmets, even during the steamy summers. The Oyster Box Hotel is reminiscent of the hotel greats - The Raffles in Singapore, The Peninsula and The Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong - albeit on a much smaller scale with impeccable service. Attention to detail and design extends throughout with rich pattern, texture, and colour and nods to Durban's Indian, Zulu, and colonial heritage.

The current owners, Stanley and Bea Tollman, met and fell in love while sampling oysters on the iconic terrace of The Oyster Box Hotel in 1952. Says Bea Tollman, “My husband and I first fell in love over a dinner of oysters at The Oyster Box in 1952. It was a very special night” she remembers, “And it was the night he spoke - in jest - of a dream to buy this hotel for me”. That dream became a reality in 2006, when they purchased the rapidly waning hotel to restore it to its former glory with a two-year renovation to enhance its original character, bringing it into the 21st century with the addition of two pools, a gorgeous spa and a 24-seat cinema. A further refresh was carried out in 2018 by Cape Town-based km2k_design.

The Oyster Box Hotel prides itself on exacting service and superb dining. Executive chef Kevin Joseph (who learnt his trade at Raffles Hotel in Singapore and Michelin-starred Tamarind and Claridge's in London) oversaw the six dining venues, the most loved dining experiences include the legendary Curry Buffet and the High Tea.

Executive chef Kevin Joseph

The Oyster Box High Tea 

The Oyster Box High Tea at the elegant Palm Court is a leisurely affair replete with palm trees beneath the waving fans and striking chandeliers - purchased from London's Savoy Hotel, when it closed for renovations in 2000, accompanied by the tingling dulcet tones of the resident pianist. The buffet table is generously laden with elegant cake stands with platters of savoury and sweet delights inspired by local culinary traditions and classic teatime sweet treats, including pastries, freshly-baked scones and cakes, and Bea Tollman's much-loved 'Chicken Mayo' sandwich, coated with flaked almonds.

The Mediterranean-inspired Ocean Terrace

The alfresco terrace is the place to enjoy a Mediterranean-inspired menu with the freshest local produce, seafood, wood-fired pizzas and the famous Curry Buffet in the evenings.

The Legendary Curry Buffet

Durban has the largest Indian population, and many curry enthusiasts claim Durban has the best curries in the world - most would say are to be had at The Oyster Box Hotel. Delve into a spice journey and immerse yourself in the deliciousness of the deeply flavoursome curry dishes that continue to draw fans from far and wide to feast on a banquet of at least 11 curries. The Oyster Box curry fest remains a firm favourite, as does the famed fiery-hot beef vindaloo. Vegetarians can delight in the vegetable korma and sugar-bean curry. Delicious samoosas, [samosas] chilli bites, and lamb kebabs, sit alongside the pots of steaming curry. Traditional tandoori ovens turn out aromatic tandoori chicken and piping hot naan bread. All are complemented by the fabulously tasty homemade condiments, including pickles, chutneys, raitas, sambals and papadums. A selection of unctuous desserts follows when you are ready.

Breakfast Extravaganza

The extraordinarily generous breakfast is the most wonderful way to start the day! Indulge in a cornucopia of delicacies, from the salmon cured in-house to wild oysters plucked fresh from offshore oyster beds, delicious juices, cereals, meats, cheeses, and well, everything you might think to have, including a waffle and pancake stand. Plus eggs all ways and poached haddock!

The Grill Room

For more than 70 years, the crisp navy-blue-and-white Grill Room has been a destination for celebrations and occasions. It offers a fine dining experience with classic and signature menus created by Bea Tollman alongside contemporary creations. Highlights include Gueridon service where dishes are prepared table side, including dramatic flambé Steak Diane and Crepe Suzzette, followed by dancing - a firm favourite here during weekends.

The Chef's Table

Enjoy a unique perspective on the hotel's cuisine at the Chef's Table. Start with pre-dinner drinks in the Oyster Bar before a tour of the hotel kitchen, followed by a five-course culinary journey through the hotel's signature dishes with Chef Joseph as your guide.

Private Dining

Private dining takes place in the wine cellar beneath a glass ceiling in the Oyster Bar. Matched wines from the award-winning wine cellar are individually selected by the sommelier.

The Lighthouse Bar

The Lighthouse Bar and rooftop terrace is undoubtedly the stylish Durbanites’ hang out. A chi-chi interior with stunning ocean views and the iconic lighthouse, it's a must for sunsets and sundowners.

The Chukka Bar

A hidden gem, the cigar bar has the refined luxury of a classic "gentlemen's club" in the same vein as the revered Chinnery, at Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, and DUKES London Bar in St James, London.

The Rooms and Suites, and Villa Lofts

There are 86 "individually appointed" rooms and suites. Take your choice from splendid sea views or tranquil leafy escapes in the lush private garden, and add on a balcony, private terrace, or a garden villa with a plunge pool. The jewel on the crown: the two-level, 450-square-metre (4,840-square-foot) presidential suite with a private lift, a private study, his-and-hers bathrooms and a swimming pool.

The Secret Garden Spa

The award-winning spa nestled in the peaceful gardens is a gorgeous tranquil retreat to ease stress and reinvigorate the body and mind. Indulge in the fabulous steam treatments in the traditional Turkish hammam and wonderful massages using crystal- infused oils. There are several treatment rooms, a guest lounge, the Tranquillity Lounge, a plunge pool, a hydrotherapy bath, and a top-floor relaxation room with healthy drinks and snacks and the odd naughty nibble.


The hotel has a stunning collection of contemporary South African artworks - over 80 works of richly coloured and socially provocative art by leading KwaZulu-Natal artists.

The Hotel Boutique

A lovely gift shop where a recommended best buy is “The Oyster Box Hotel” book by Assouline. This is the perfect memento with the full story of this wonderful place and only available from the hotel itself.

The Cinema

In the evening or on a rainy day, you can enjoy movie classics in the 24-seat cinema with tasty treats, including fresh popcorn, marshmallows, old-fashioned fruit chews and lollipops.

The Beach

Spend a day in the famous KwaZulu-Natal sub-tropical sun on the beach under the candy striped umbrellas.

The Oyster Box Hotel casts its spell on you. It has a special feeling. No wonder so many speak of it with such endearment and return again and again. There is no doubt that time spent at The Oyster Box Hotel will leave you with magical memories to last a lifetime.

Words: Anji Connell
Published on November 04, 2022