Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

FOOD AND TRAVEL DURBAN : AN INSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE

Hartford Guests Charles and Jane van der Spuy with Richard Salmon / Food And Travel Durban (p)

Hartford Guests Charles and Jane van der Spuy with Richard Salmon / Food And Travel Durban (p)

CLIVE AARON : EATMEGOURMET

Following is an article written by roving foodie, Chef Clive Aaron, which appeared recently on his new blog Food And Travel Durban :

One of the benefits of not having to keep the hours of a  working Chef is that I can resume all the regular activities that I could not  while slogging out 18-hour days! Undoubtedly, at the top of my list of  re-discovered pleasures is the time to eat out again in fine  restaurants.

I  recently had the immense pleasure of returning to Hartford House in Mooi River.  The opportunity to sample Jackie Cameron's cuisine again was the biggest draw of  the weekend and added more anticipation to the trip. At 26, Jackie has been at  Hartford now for 7 years and since my last visit just over a year ago, her style  has evolved further. While rooted in French classicism, her style benefits from  the wealth of global exposure. The best way to describe this style is "Modern  South African", a term which has not yet found a comfortable place in the local  cooking lexicon. Now, a lightness of  touch, a more daring juxtaposition of flavours and a greater reliance on  seasonal, local produce is evident in her execution of the dishes we were  treated to.

Dinner started with drinks at the bar accompanied by delicate canapés  which got the tastebuds primed for the dinner to follow. Jackie's menu is  structured along a 5 course set menu (you need to inform the kitchen in advance  of any dietary restriction). The starter of Garden Pea soup with Parma Ham ice-cream was topped with oven-dried slivers of local ham cured in the Italian  style. The freshness of the peas was more than evident with the counter-point of  the ice-cream adding both surprise and dimension to the  soup.

The highlight  of the dinner for me was the next course: A smoked salmon salad. The smoked  salmon came wrapped in Nori, quail eggs, micro herbs, croûtons and caper berries  and was accompanied by a horseradish cream and lemon olive oil dressing. This  was a beautifully presented dish where the produce shone. Every element on the  plate proved to be a sterling supporting cast to the salmon. Lightness of  texture combined with complexity of flavour to turn this simple-sounding dish  into one worthy of Michelin star status.

The main of Dijon-blackened beef fillet topped with a shiitake butter and accompanied by truffle-infused creamed potatoes with seasonal asparagus and truffle sauce sounded interesting enough. However, the attention to detail in the execution  resulted in a tender-as-butter fillet, still beautifully rare in the middle with  intense, juicy flavour. The truffle flavour was difficult to detect but the  shiitake butter brought an amazing earthy depth to the dish. The supporting asparagus, with their clean  flavour, was a perfectly judged accompaniment. This dish, more than any of the  others on the night, demonstrates Jackie's ability to turn the (somewhat)  ordinary into food to make any foodie weak at the knees.

With  a new pastry chef forming part of Jackie's brigade, dessert has become a more  creative effort. We were treated to what can best be simplified as 'doughnuts  and tea'. A not-too-sweet spiced chai latte accompanied the doughnut together  with fruit compôte, a smattering of thick dark chocolate sauce and Crackle-Pop  ice-cream. The ice-cream came topped with small shards of candy which exploded  in the mouth. I loved most the surprise and playful element of this course. I'm  sure with more guidance and experience the offerings from this kitchen section  will no doubt become even more delectable.

At  the level that Jackie is cooking at, it is inevitable that some guests will  complain over the merest flaw. Regrettably, I'm going to be one of them: We ended  with a Midlands cheese board accompanied by pickles and relish. This course, was  not up to the standard of the rest of the meal. The cheeses, as ordinary as a  super-market bought cheese platter, did not inspire. The Brie could have been  served closer to room temperature and the platter as a whole could have been  better structured in the "less is more" vein. This criticism is of course to  nit-pick.

The  multi-award winning wine list caters to even the most picky wine connoisseur;  with a range of price points to suit smaller budgets as well as those wishing to  splurge. The evening's menu featured two wine recommendations: Glen Carlou  Quartz Stone Chardonnay 2005 and Meerlust Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. These were  also available by the glass. Jane and I particularly enjoyed the Chardonnay  which was a beautifully balanced affair of subtle acidity with lemon overtones  and butteriness - all underpinned by finely balanced oaking.

Service was  nearly flawless and Jackie and her team deserve every accolade they have won  (and those which I have no doubt will follow). It is no wonder that they have  been rated the 10th best restaurant in the country - an accolade I'm sure they  will replicate this year! In the words of the Michelin guide: "Worth the  journey".

food and travel durban