Still The Country's Most Sought After Dinner Table
Dinner at Hartford House is always a treat. After all, this boutique hotel and stud farm has been at the forefront of fine dining in the province for many years, and under Jackie Cameron won numerous best restaurant awards.
I was invited to try the menu of new chef, Constantijn Hahndiek, formerly of Osa and from the Cape. He's affectionately known as Tijn for short. He's cooking up a storm.
Lunch was a relaxed affair, on the wide verandah on a warm winter's day. It's a simple concept from the kitchen, with dishes changing daily. Starters include a soup of the day, or "From The Veg Patch" option. Terrine of the day and fish of the day complete the picture. Luke opted for the Duck Terrine, layered with apricots, and garnished with kumquat compote. It was served with a micro herb salad and slices of homemade bread. It was a hit. I opted for the veg patch. We'd taken a stroll through it already. This was an elegant salad of heirloom beetroot served with a local goats cheese and pea shoots. It was an inspired dish, playing with the different colours, textures and tastes of the heirloom beetroot – white, yellow, red and white swirled, orange – all set off with the blood-red swirl of beetroot purée.
Mains of the day include grass-fed beef, or pork, or feather or fish, plus another option from the veg patch. I fancied the lightly-smoked trout simply pan-fried atop new potatoes and topped with a wicked hollandaise. Another treat. Luke went for the gnocchi in a rich goat's cheese sauce. I forget the full list of ingredients, but it included roasted tomatoes and pesto. The gnocchi was deliciously light – none of these potato bullets so often served in Durban – and the richness of the sauce complemented it. Luke demanded the chef share the secret. Later we found out: don't overwork the potatoes. We didn't go the dessert route, knowing there was a substantial dinner to come and instead walked the grounds, which now, will be in the first flushes of spring, and fed the horses, and lazed by the dam.
Dinner at Hartford often starts with a few glasses of bubbly in the bar, but this time we were ushered into the formal dining room. It started with the bread platter – something of a Hartford tradition, followed by a soup that celebrated the essence of heirloom carrots. Here, the simple root veg were given some finesse, the bowls presented with orange, yellow, purple and white carrots and you filled them up with a vial of the essence – the soup. Next up was Warthog in sticky soy served with an apple crisp, burnt radish and tapioca that had been cooked in the stock. A fascinating dish I enjoyed, even if I am not the most ardent fan of tapioca. Next up was another unusual combination – corn and Langoustines. But it worked a treat. The sweetcorn chowder was made with the Langoustine stock and spikes with a little prosciutto. While chef finished up with a superb duck dish. This was served with a garlic purée, claybaked potatoes – yes, they were coated in an edible clay and they sat like quail's eggs on the plate, one green, one white – and with rooibos, honey and orange touches. The duck breast was perfectly cooked, the skin crisp, the meat pink. This was a real treat. We washed it down with the pick of South Africa's Pinot Noirs – from Newton Johnson.
And then for dessert, a little drama – liquid nitrogen meringues whipped up at the table in a bowl of icy fire. These were served on a dessert spoon and we all had fun breathing cold "smoke" across the room. It was followed by a dish simply titled "Everything Rhubarb." It was an artful creation that included, for want of a better term, a mousse fringed by a jelly, with an ice-cream and macaroon, complete with popping candy – a fitting tribute to this much-maligned vegetable.
My compliments to the chef. Hahndiek shows both imagination and flare, and produces dishes with great flavours. Hartford is in great hands. His food might not be as rich as his illustrious predecessor, but that meant I was able to face breakfast the next morning.
Breakfast is no longer the three-course affair it used to be. Instead there is a buffet table with all the options, homemade granola, fresh farm yoghurts interesting juices – I had the beetroot shot – a selection of meats, local cheeses, breads, scones and sweet stuff. Luke raved about the fact they made him his favourite – savoury oats topped with a poached egg. I looked no further than the eggs benedict. When it comes to this dish, I admit I am an addict. This was one of the best I've had in a while. The bacon is smoked locally and cut slightly thicker. It was crisp and the soft eggs melted under that hollandaise. Later, I longingly eyed the blueberry brioche, but it was not to be.
Extract From The Mercury - by Frank Chemaly