One of the dubious pleasures of trying to live your life with one foot on each of two continents is that you become intimately acquainted with the airports of both countries. Instead of being merely transit points, they become meeting places, farewell venues, and the backdrop for emotional crises. I remember standing at passport control in Johannesburg International Airport (now O.R. Tambo) in 2000, making a final call to my mom on my mobile before flying to London, and crying until I had no tears left. I remember arriving back at Port Elizabth airport after a long sojourn in London, to find practically everybody I knew at the airport to greet me in a joyous throng. I remember a lunch at the airport in Johannesburg as being the last time I saw my dear friend Peter alive. I remember weeping miserably and publicly at Heathrow every time I had to say goodbye to Nick when we were living on separate continents. I remember the joy when Nick was turned away from a flight at Port Elizabeth airport and got to stay an extra night with me because said flight was overbooked.
Think of a human emotion and I can guarantee you that airports have it in bucketloads. But what they don't generally have in bucketloads is great restaurants. For years I did my meetings, greetings, catch-ups and farewells in a variety of deeply uninspiring fast food restaurants and coffee bars in O.R. Thambo Airport, where the constant flight announcements would drown out your emotion-filled words and serve as an unsettling reminder of your imminent departure. And then one day my friend Peter introduced me to Quills.
Quills is situated across the road from the passenger terminals at O.R. Tambo Airport in the Interncontinental Sun Hotel, South Africa's only 5-star airport hotel. Stepping into the serene lobby of the hotel after the chaos of the terminal is like arriving at an oasis after a long trek across the desert. You pad across soft carpeting as smiling staff greet you and find a table either in the chic African-themed restaurant (with its 18-metre long porcupine quill mobile), or on the terrace outside, and you instantly feel relaxed and pampered and about a million miles from an airport – and yet you only need to cross the road to board your flight. It is hands down my favourite place to spend time whenever I have to hang around O.R Tambo for any length of time.
On recent visits I have had a spectacular meze platter (feta, olives, caperberries, roasted vegetables, semi-dried tomatoes and lots of pesto) served on a gorgeous blue glass platter, and a roasted Mediterranean vegetable wrap, which came with translucently thin potato and beetroot crisps. Heaven.
The restaurant and its bar are open 24 hours, so the menu spans the full range from breakfast (continental and hot) to light lunches and snacks, to a la carte dinners – and of course excellent cocktails at any time. The only problem is tearing yourself away from the restaurant before you miss your flight If you have to spend time in transit at O.R. Tambo Airport or if you need to have a flying business meeting at the airport, I seriously cannot recommend Quills highly enough – it has changed my tears at the airport into tears of joy.
Intercontinental Airport Sun Hotel
Opposite Terminal 3
O.R Thambo International Airport
Tel. +27 (0)11 961 5400
This post is part of a new series for 2010 called Sundays in South Africa. The series started as a way of providing visitors with some ideas of what and where to eat during and after the FIFA World Cup 2010 which took place in June/July 2010 in my home country of South Africa! Although the tournament is over now, I will still try to post a review of somewhere South African, or a South African recipe, every Sunday as culinary inspiration for visitors. I can't pretend it is going to be a comprehensive guide to South Africa – but it will certainly be enough to give visitors some ideas! Click here for previous posts in the series.
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