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.

Brookdale Health Hydro - A World Class Experience

I am reluctant to admit that it’s only recently that I made a long-overdue visit to Brookdale Health Hydro. It was a birthday gift for my mother’s - and she really deserved to join the many people who, since 1992, have been escaping from daily pressures and revitalising body, mind and soul at this KwaZulu-Natal haven - a tranquil sanctuary that promotes holistic recuperation.
Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

Brookdale is not a spa but a 'real' hydro; having never stayed at a hydro, I learnt this very quickly - and imagine my shock and horror when I was told that even if it was a birthday celebration there was no chance of popping a bottle of bubbly - not even a gin and tonic on a Sunday afternoon! Instead we were served a cup of ginger, cinnamon and lemon infusion. If you read between the lines you’ll detect a distinct lack of enthusiasm! While sipping on our tea my mom and I reminisced on previous indulgent birthday celebrations and we, with trepidation, wondered what we'd got ourselves into.

That evening we were briefed about the day's activities and it was only then that I realised some people stayed for the three days while others opted for the six-night rejuvenating package. At that stage I was pretty relieved that we had only booked for three days because I was already wondering how I was going to manage three full coffee-free days. I started conjuring up great plans to smuggle coffee into Brookdale. It was clearly evident who the regular guests were; they were already in their robes and comfy slippers - unlike us who were still in our party frocks!

Spa treatments, yoga, pilates, sundecks, indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, juice bar, outdoor pool, labyrinth, fully-equipped gym, private mosaic steam room and hydrotherapy baths... we were spoilt for choice. I was fast getting into this. There was a lot I hadn't tried before and my mother is always game for anything so I thought I'd better keep up with her over the next few days.

The advent of dinner saw my anxiety re-arise. What was I going to have to eat? Then I remembered my Heavenly & Healthy Foods - Brookdale's 21 Days to a Healthy Lifestyle. It's a cookbook on my bookshelf at home. The recipes and the pictures looked scrumptiously healthy and I was now keen to experience a hydro meal plan - to see whether the lettuce-leaves and carrot-sticks perception held true. Well, from my first mouthful - the most delicious, thick, farmhouse, vegetable soup - to the last breakfast, every mouthful was filled with love. Juliet Stephenson and her team are a remarkable force. Many of our top restaurants lack the quality of professionalism that you can expect at Brookdale, where you’ll find an authentic concern for everyone's wellbeing. Each meal is a  tasty explosion, yet they scream health as do the well-balanced, inspiring afternoon snacks. I loved the fresh, crispy Granny Smith apples with peanut butter - not a carrot stick or lettuce leaf in sight; only freshly-picked herbs, the freshest of fresh vegetables and top-quality, free-range KwaZulu-Natal Midlands meats. My eating patterns are true to most chefs and I realised I needed to re-look my diet. My mom and I were overwhelmed with the abundance of food. Lunch was the main meal of the day; dinner was light and I appreciated getting up from the dining room table knowing that I had eaten only 'good, fresh and healthy'. Our specific daily starch, vegetable and meat requirements had been analysed and balanced. This took dining to a completely different level.

All activities were geared to wellness and lifestyle management through diet, exercise and stress relief. The staff exceeded our expectations,

Gemma Dawn, in particular, stood out as not only someone I know from the area but as a person who was eager to share her knowledge. She conducted our aqua aerobics classes. I wish Gemma, the indoor pool and I were in closer proximity so I could do this daily. Fifteen minutes in the pool is equivalent to a 45-minutes workout on land. Now that's time management!

So impressed with the food was I that I asked Juliet's permission to showcase a few of her recipes in this column. These are just a taster to whet your appetite for a Brookdale visit where you’ll learn to cook with interesting textures and in-season ingredients. Your family won’t even question your new health kick because your meals will taste so good.

Brookdale's team supplied all the photos and some of their recipes include:

Whole-wheat scones served with avocado, pumpkin seed pesto and smoked salmon.

Baked oats with cinnamon crusted apples. I add cinnamon to as much as possible; it got me through three days of no coffee! I loved the crusted-apples suggestion. I may use it for a light-dessert option - a new take on apple crumble.

Wheat-free mixed berry, almond and polenta cake specifically for those who are gluten intolerant but ideal for all palates. I like it served in a new-age, stylish tin cup.

Ostrich moussaka stack with a lemon-herb yoghurt drizzle. Ostrich is lean and easy to digest. It is fast becoming available in our local groceries stores. I could eat yoghurt breakfast, lunch and dinner so I like the fact that it is used in many of the recipes - so much better than a lemon-butter sauce.

Roasted-vegetable cottage pie with sweet-potato mash is an interesting twist to this age-old dish. I like to add chickpeas too.

Lasagne - think vegetable and bean which can be made with corn or rice pasta for those who are gluten intolerant. I'm going through a bean phase and returned from my recent American trip with a variety of packets for my sous chef, Elaine Boshoff, and me to work with.


Asparagus & Strawberry Salad
Baked Oats with Cinnamon Crusted Apples
Beetroot with Fresh Orange Segments & Mint
Mixed Berry & Almond Polenta Cake
Ostrich Moussaka Stack
Roasted Vegetable Cottage Pie
Vegetable & Bean Lasagne
Whole Wheat Scones

The three days went by so fast... I could hardly remember my initial apprehension and was sad to be leaving. I don't remember ever being so well rested. The treatments were the cherry on the top - they induced complete relaxation, with the therapists really listening to my personal needs. Brookdale placed me on a level which I would never have reached on my own. It's not a luxury; it's a necessity and I shall certainly return. There's no better way to kick start a healthy living plan than to spend a few days at Brookdale.

On the way home my mother bought a box of green tea; if she could do without coffee for three days she was going to kick her old bad habit. I drink mostly tea these days and have been pretty good when it comes to my eating habits - in fact I have impressed myself! Thanks

Tony and Wendy Somers-Cox as well as their team for a world-class experience. I will be back - six nights for sure and who cares about coffee, bubbles and all those terrible temptations when you can leave a place feeling rejuvenated, healthy, slimmer and ready to take on the world. The Brookdale bite has bitten.


Send comments and food-related questions to jackie@hartford.co.za. I always look forward to hearing from you. For the latest on local foodie news add me as a friend on FACEBOOK, find me on Twitter - jackie_cameron and visit my website, www.jackiecameron.co.za.

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef
Hartford House
+27 33 263 2713