GOURMET KZN MIDLANDS GETAWAYS
Extract from About Time - 1time Airlines
by Nicky Furniss
Step aside, Franschhoek and Cape Town, the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands may be on its way to becoming South Africa's next great foodie destination. This is thanks to the exceptional culinary skills of the number of world class chefs who have decided to call this part of the world home. Add to that some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, and a trip to the Mi
dlands is guaranteed to be simply delicious.
There is something comforting about waking up to the sound of whinnying horses and the smell of freshly mown grass. Perhaps because it conjures up childhood memories of days spent playing outside, and the excitement of farm visits.
But Summerhill Estate is anything but a normal farm. In fact, it is one of the country's leading stud farms, and the horses here are world class thoroughbreds more accustomed to the speed of the race track than the amble of a farm road walk. So renowned is Summerhill that the ruling family of Dubai have chosen to stable their priceless race horses here.
This certainly adds an aura of mystique to a stay at Hartford House, mixed with the kind of warm, unpretentious hospitality that the Midlands has become known for. Hartford House itself has played host to friends and acquaintances since it was first built as a family home in 1875. Nowadays guests are still welcomed as part of the family, although the accommodation options have expanded somewhat over the intervening decades.
Visitors now have a choice of colonial style rooms that take their cue from the architecture of the manor house itself, or for something completely different, they can elect to stay in one of the four Ezulweni ("in the heavens") rooms. These were built by local artisans using materials harvested from the estate or acquired nearby. Each has its own distinct flavour, but what is common to all four is their superb workmanship, as well as the breathtaking view of the adjacent trout lake and the rolling paddocks beyond it.
Visitors who can bear to leave the comfort of their rooms have much to keep them busy, from history and stud farm tours to walks and wellness treatments. But without a doubt, one of the main activities at Hartford - and one which deserves a fair amount of time and attention - is simply savouring its superb culinary offerings.
Executive Chef Jackie Cameron has spent the past nine years honing her craft and Hartford's culinary reputation to such an extent that the restaurant here has gone from a virtual unknown to being listed as one of the top ten restaurants in KwaZulu-Natal, and then to being a regular finalist in national restaurant awards. Sitting down to one of Jackie's cleverly conceived and perfectly executed five course set dinners, it is not hard to see why.
During her time at Hartford, Jackie has travelled overseas no less than 16 times, mostly to experience the cooking of other world class chefs, and these international influences are evident in everything that her stellar team produce. A recent trip to Denmark influenced much of the meal we experienced and in particular, our caramelised onion soup was a complete sensory experience - particularly as we had the pleasure of pouring our own portions, so that as well as the textures and flavours of the dish, we could also fully enjoy its amazing aromas.
Breakfast is a slightly more relaxed affair, but no less tantalising, and it serves as a wonderful showcase of some of the best of what the Midlands has to offer, from delicious local cheeses to locally caught trout, and homemade jams and preserves.
Under Jackie's expert eye, Hartford House has become one of the country's top food destinations. But unlike many of its contemporaries, it comes complete with so much more - a wonderful setting, unique accommodation options, a friendly welcome and that ever present sound of the clip-clopping hooves of magnificent horses.