Dear Mr Goss, leaving Hartford House this time around was more difficult than usual - we had a wonderful time as always, but more so after you took us on the stud tour.Read More
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"I can't remember when I've looked forward so much to dinner. Or breakfast."
- Dave Bullard
Former columnist of "Out To Lunch" (Sunday Times) and regular blogger on Politics Web, Dave Bullard and his wife Jacquie, recently visited Hartford House. This is what they had to say:
"The drive back yesterday was spectacular with the late summer sun showing the fields of cosmos at their best. But nothing quite matched the beauty of Hartford House and the Summerhill Estate.
We had the most gorgeously relaxing two days we can remember and Jacquie can't stop talking about it.
I've never really explored the Natal Midlands before so this was quite a revelation. Got some great photos as the sun came up but think I may need to come back for some autumn colours.
Jackie, the food coming out of your kitchen is sublime. I can't remember when I've looked forward so much to dinner. Or breakfast."
"A VISIT TO HARTFORD HOUSE"
By Michael Green
Not the way you would want to dine every day, but as an occasional treat, oh yes! (Review by Michael Green - former Independent Newspapers Editor)
About half a century ago, when I was a young journalist in London, I lived for a time at Miss Moor's Private Hotel in Craven Hill, Bayswater. I wasn't there for long; it was fairly expensive and I soon moved to more modest quarters
Miss Moor was rather a grand lady. She sent for me on my first day at her hotel, checked on my appearance and manners, and offered me a sherry as an introduction to London. I later discovered that she was a daughter of the last prime minister of Natal, Sir Frederick Moor (1853-1927), who held office before the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910.
Sometimes a wheel turns full circle, albeit very slowly. Recently I visited for the first time Hartford House, the celebrated boutique hotel and restaurant near Mooi River, 160 kilometres from Durban. It was once the country home of Sir Frederick Moor (and, presumably, of Miss Moore of the private hotel, one of his seven children).
This gem of the Natal Midlands was built on land granted by Queen Victoria to Frederick Moor's family in the late 19th century. Today it is part of a large estate embracing Summerhill, the racing stud where many of South Africa's champion racehorses have been born.
Hartford House itself has been splendidly preserved and modernised where necessary. It is a stately story late Victorian building with heavy sash windows, big rooms, high ceilings, brass fittings, teak and mahogany cupboards.
In terms of accommodation Hartford has 15 suites, but most of these are in additional more recent buildings standing amid the garden's immaculate lawns. My wife and I spent the night in the main building, in the Ellis suite, named after a famous racing family who owned the property from 1939 to 1990, when they sold it to the present owners, Mick and Cheryl Goss.
The furnishings were intriguing. The suite had a very big bathroom with an old-fashioned bath standing on its four feet more or less in the middle. In a corner, however, was a modern shower. The brass taps at the two hand-basins looked as if they had been installed by Sir Frederick himself, but there was plenty of hot water. In the bedroom was a fireplace and the widest double bed I have ever seen, one that would fit those old hill-billy stories: "When pa says turn, we all turn".
Victorian space and elegance, but with electric wall heating panels and a television set and a refrigerator and a well-stocked bar.
It is, however, largely the restaurant that attracts visitors from all over the country, especially at weekends, when Hartford's 30 beds are all taken. Meals are served in the house's capacious old dining room or on its wide verandah.
We dined in the dining room and it was a two-hour, five-course event. Hartford's chef is Jackie Cameron, a very good-looking, trim blonde who is still in her twenties. She was a student of Christina Martin, who died recently, and she has been at Hartford for nine years, in which time she has earned great praise from critics who know much more about food than I do. She appeared at the start of the dinner to explain what we were having, and she later returned to chat to the customers.
It is a set five-course menu for dinner, and this is what we had: roasted tomato soup with coconut sorbet; duo of trout with avocado, deep-fried seaweed, caviar, lavender flowers and frozen apple; shiitake crusted beef fillet with caramelised red onions, pommes amandines and exotic mushrooms: Midlands cheeses; tart marshmallows. Pommes amandines are potato croquettes with an almond flavouring.
It sounds a vast meal, but helpings are nouvelle cuisine; you have room for all of them in the end. It is all delicious, and quite adventurous for a conservative diner like myself. I mean, when did you last eat seaweed, or have coconut with your tomato soup? If you tell them about special dietary requirements they adjust to the situation.
Needless to say, all this is not cheap; Hartford House is not economy class. The dinner costs R370 a head. Breakfast the next day is wonderfully varied and elaborate but this is included in the hotel's B&B rate, which ranges from R550 to R2,030 per person per day.
The dinner wine list is appropriately upmarket, with imposing items at imposing prices. Wines by the glass are R40 to R65 for reds and R30 to R55 for whites. Here are some of the prices for white wine by the bottle: sauvignon blanc R160 to R320 (the latter being Shannon 2007, from Elgin); chardonnay R160 to R390 (Springfield Methode Ancienne, from Robertson).
And for reds by the bottle: cabernet sauvignon R210 to R550 (Kanonkop 2008, from Stellenbosch); shiraz R180 to R290 (Hartenberg, from Stellenbosch); merlot (R190) to R430 (Veenwouden 2007, from Paarl). I ordered a bottle of De Grendel shiraz for R180 and we were very happy with it.
Almost all the wines on the Hartford list are rated four or five stars in the Platter wine guide. Four stars means "excellent", five stars "superlative, a classic". The wine glasses were beautiful, long-stemmed, wafer-thin, and the service was first-rate.
There is plenty to do at Hartford apart from eating and drinking. By arrangement you can visit the Summerhill Stud, which includes the stallions of the Rulers of Dubai. You can ride horses yourself (but not the stallions). The estate has splendid gardens, a swimming pool, tennis courts, conference facilities and a chapel. Other attractions within reasonable distance include fishing; a game conservancy; a "wellness centre" offering body treatments, facials and a sauna; tours of Drakensberg sites such as Giant's Castle and Kamberg; hot air ballooning; helicopter flights; Zulu dancing. Many of these activities are of course by arrangement.
I would guess, however, that the biggest attraction is that elegant old dining room and its superb haut cuisine. Not the way you would want to dine every day, but as an occasional treat, oh yes!
Moses Mabhida Stadium - Durban, South Africa
(Photo : Phil Muller)
"WILSON BAYLY HOLMES-OVCON LTD"
The FIFA World Cup has been the gathering ground for the world’s best football commentators, and we have been treated to a veritable feast of entertainment from these giants of the sporting spoken word. Almost to a man, they have proclaimed the stadiums in South Africa the best in the world, and that’s some statement coming from territories that’ve generally looked upon South Africa as the southernmost tip of the darkest continent. The man behind the building or the revamp of nine of the eleven venues, is Mike Wylie of Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon Ltd, who together with his lovely wife, Wendy was a recent visitor to Hartford. They were on the pilgrimage so many businessmen take these days to Grace Land, home of Moneyweb's founder, Alec Hogg and his new bride, Jeanette.
You may well ask, in the context of a construction landscape which embraces the giants Murray and Roberts, Group Five, Grinakers and the like, where WBHO have sprung from. You need only study their annual reports from the last decade to know the answer. In its own quiet way, this is a company which has stood up and been counted as much as any in its sector on the JSE when it comes to performance, and like Hartford House in the culinary world, they’re the log leaders.
GERHARD PATZER - GM HILTON HOTEL DURBAN
Gerhard Patzer, legendary General Manger of Hilton Hotel Durban, had this to say about his recent stay at Hartford House.
“I had a fantastic stay in your hotel and your staff are extremely friendly and the food was excellent. Paula showed me around your farm and I have to say it was very very impressive. Gill obviously enjoyed the stud farm section which made her weekend”.
OF FINE COMPANY AND FINE FISHING
We’ve had a great time of it in recent weeks at Hartford, and we’re always flattered by the visits of people who travel thousands of miles to see us. Not only do they add to the tapestry of our life experiences, but they’re the reason we exist. You see, to serve is a matter of dignity for those of us who live here, and through their visits, our guests provide us with the opportunity to express our pleasure at having them here.
Though Hartford has become a “must do it” for a good number of our self-respecting countrymen, most of our traffic at this time of the year comes from across the world, mainly the northern hemisphere.
At dinner last evening, in a dining room of twenty-odd, we were just four locals, with the rest from Ireland, France, England and the United States. And what a company they were. We felt we’d known them for years, and by the end of lunch in the stud office the following day, there was something of a “raucous caucus” at the boardroom table.
While he was with us, Paul Helmbold gave the lie to those who claimed in recent days that there were no fish in the Hartford lakes with a haul of five fish over 2.5 pounds, while his wife Rachel, gifted horsewoman that she is, couldn’t resist the temptation of teaching the Goss grandchildren the disciplines of good horsemanship.
Our lives are built on memories of these visits, and we hope, whenever our guests pass this way, they’ll feel they’ve done the same.
Mick Goss enjoys a moment with Ben Jonsson
(Photo : Hartford House)
Among many anecdotes to have emerged from the Jonsson 80th birthday celebrations, were these two. According to the Guinness Book of Records, there is only one other set of living triplets who are slightly ahead of the Jonssons, the threesome having chalked up 93 years. The Jonssons trail by just 13 years, but knowing their history of longevity, it’s a good bet our “triplets” still have a good bit of wind in their sails. Either way, it’s a remarkable story of triumph against the odds, and it’s our bet the Guinness Book is in danger of having its pages rewritten. For the record, an elder sibling Hugh, was the breeder of Jet Master greatest South African stallion of all time, who’s just recorded his third consecutive Sires championship.
The second anecdote worth repeating is the connectivity in racing between Ben and the Goss family. As a young man recently out of school, Ben made his first investment in a racehorse, acquiring a colt from Mick Goss’s grandfather, Pat Goss Snr, in the mid 1940’s for the princely sum of £50, quite a bit of money in those days.
Legend has it that Ben had only £35 from his savings to spend, and had to borrow the remaining £15 from his employer, which he redeemed at £2 a month. Unable to afford the training fees, Ben leased the colt to the grandfather of David Pianel, famous for his association with the studs of the Rowles family (Ivanhoe) and Sydney Press’ Coromandel Stud.
For what its worth, Ben’s colt won two heats on the same day at the Lions River gymkhana, and then promptly suffered a heart attack which put him down. Prior to that he hadn’t been able to pull off a win at the major courses, hence his dispatch to a gymkhana meeting, though we shouldn’t demean gymkhanas too much, because they were quite competitive affairs in those days.
Either way, we’d like to think we’ve moved on at Summerhill!
IT'S NOT ONLY TOUGH HORSES:
IT’S TOUGH HUMAN BEINGS, TOO
The celebration by Summerhill this past weekend of the two most victorious racehorses of the past 50 years, Sentinel and Hear The Drums, coincided with the celebration of a quite remarkable triple 80th birthday for the Jonsson family.
In all its history since its establishment in 1875, only four families have darkened the front door to Hartford House, namely the Moors, who produced a Prime Minster and a Senator (1875-1937), the Jonssons, (1937-1939), the Ellises (the most successful private racehorse owner/breeders of their era), and the present incumbents, the Gosses. It was rare in the 1920s, for any family to remain intact from birth to 80, yet the Jonssons with their history of longevity, produced triplets which this weekend accomplished that milestone against all medical odds from those days.
Ben, Jeremy and Felicity showed us the ultimate honour in celebrating their 80th birthdays at their old home this past weekend, and each of them brings an enthralling tale to the table. Besides that, they’ve spawned a family of great diversity, spread across an enormous landscape, and despite their geographic spread, nothing has happened to diminish the calibre of their assembly. We were privileged to be of service to this unusual gathering, and sharing some wonderful yarns and a host of new insights on the history of our property.
“Benjy”, as he’s affectionally known to the racing fraternity of South Africa, served for many years as chair for the local executive of the Jockey Club of South Africa, and among his achievements in racing was his custodianship of the South African Jockey’s Academy. Under his stewardship, South African graduates of the Academy captured 17 of the last 18 jockey’s titles in Hong Kong, an extraordinary achievement unlikely to be repeated ever again.
Jeremy has been a mentor of ours ever since we made our first investments in the KZN Midlands 30 years ago, as the best property man in our area. Since then, we’ve never ventured investment here without either his or the counsel of his sons James and Andrew.
Not to be outdone by these two achievers, Felicity, the third of the triplets, married beyond our borders into the Wills family of cigarette fame, and in a second life she became the wife of Henry Douglas-Home, brother to the erstwhile Prime Minister of Britain, Sir Alec, but in his own right, famous for being the Royal Ornithologist.
As colourful a family as any to have occupied these historic acreages, this was a singular honour for the Hartford team: the tapestry of our lives has been enriched substantially, for which we give thanks.
Breakfast on the verandas, with their garden and hill views, offers around 40 dishes including Hartford's variations and accessories.
(Photo : Sally Chance)
"THEY DON’T GET MUCH BETTER THAN THIS"
Derek Taylor, one of the nation’s foremost food critics, was a recent visitor to Hartford House. He took a shine to Jackie’s offering. A real shine.
When I win the lottery I’m going to buy a new Hardy’s trout rod and talk Clare into coming with me to live en pension at Hartford House.
That’s about as near to heaven as I’m ever going to get – for as long as Jackie Cameron remains at this unique heritage hotel as executive chef. And that looks like a very long time indeed, thank goodness.
She’s already been there for years, the youngest executive chef in the business, richly creative and a self-admitted “obsessive perfectionist”.
Having made this careful decision, I must also pay tribute to the Goss family who have restored this enchanting hostelry, now into its third century, in all its beauty and character for so long and so meticulously. Cameron’s food comes to you within its elegant Victorian dining room and the wide verandas with their huge bowls of fresh roses on the tables.
Although you could probably get any dish in the world from Cameron, giving her enough time to fly in the yak leg from Tibet and the blue potatoes from Peru or whatever, but there is no need here for a traditional á la carte menu with its ranks of old reliables.
Cameron’s irrepressible creativity changes her menus faster, almost, than the printer can follow. Her cuisine is solidly based on quality materials from twelve distinguished Midlands suppliers of every kind of meat to dairy, cheeses, chocolate and trout.
Someone wrote that Hartford House is unique in being the only world-class hotel neighbouring a world-class Stud Horse Farm (Summerhill). I think you can add the world-class talents of Jackie Cameron to that combination’s uniqueness.
My only worry about going to live there, courtesy of the Lotto people, would be that after a few weeks I might have to be transported between table and trout streams in a heavy-duty wheelbarrow by two or three very strong men.
Verdict: Superb creativity, cooking, materials and atmosphere. Outstanding good value. Highly recommended.
IF YOU’RE CURIOUS, READ ON ……
Breakfast on the verandas, with their garden and hill views, offers around 40 dishes including their variations and accessories. The full deal offers the lot to choose from for R150 (including Jungle oats with dash of Jameson whisky if you like and known locally as the Killick special).
Dinner is a feast of five courses for R325, a menu that changes every day. Here’s a typical combination: Jerusalem artichoke soup with smoked salmon ice cream, herbed croutons and crisp sage leaves.
Balsamic seared chicken livers, Erwin’s Parma ham, Swissland’s goats’ cheese and kiwi with red onion. Pepper corn crusted Springbok with onion-flavoured polenta, baba ganoush, wilted lettuce and ruby port syrup.
Dijon blackened beef fillet, shitake butter, a potato cream infused with truffle oil and similarly sauced, fresh broccoli tips.
Chai latte with summer fruit compote, spiced doughnuts, Belgian chocolate sauce and “crackle” pop-icecream.
The wine list is an intelligently varied, award-winner.
Lunch is a clever offering of some 25 dishes in which mains can be starters and starters mains. It’s the kind of meal where you can choose two or three starters or a single, main or any combination – whatever you fancy. Well-briefed waiters tell you which dishes can be shrunk or enlarged.
Prices range from R32 (oven-roasted marrow bones with vegetables, capers, fresh lemon and chives) to R135 (Shitake-crusted beef fillet with caramelised onions, Amandine potato rolls and mushroom duxelles with red wine sauce). Portions are satisfying. The service is informed, warm and cheerful.
We lunched there this week with our highly impressed God-daughter Catarina from London and three roaring appetites on a polished-bright day of 15C with a gentle waft from a patio-heater on the veranda to keep us from any little breezes.
We had two soups of the day: magically reduced flavours of mushroom and onion, infused with truffle and textured with central “ice creams” of intensified tastes. Served in deep bowls with home-made breads on the side they produced ladylike gasps of satisfaction.
I reluctantly passed over the home-made brawn with brioche, cherry tomatoes glazed in balsamic with rocket and an English mustard aioli until next summer. (How often do you see good brawn on a menu, these days?)
Instead I took the Gorgonzola capalletti – hat-shaped ravioli containing the cheese – with more of the cheese dotted about, smoked olives, green beans, fried apple, toasted walnuts and walnut oil. This was a great warmer and a real feast of flavours. The “campfire” olives were new to me and a great taste.
Catarina’s 19-years-old appetite, dealt with the formidable slices of shitake fillet of beef in style. Clare, fulfilling a long-held ambition, enjoyed big, meaty frogs’ legs. They had been poached in a Chinese master stock and then seared with Chinese five-spice and were accompanied by pan-seared spinach, asparagus, crisped potatoes and a sauce reduced from the stock.
My five-spice confit of duck with candied onions and Asian vegetable spring rolls came with a red wine sauce and was delicious. Confit is a much abused word in many restaurants these days and can often turn out to be bits of meat stewed to paste in fat.
But this was a true confit, the duck tender and full of flavour.
Despite their excellent desserts of the day -- tiramisu and espresso parfait with marscapone and cinnamon ice cream; fresh berry-frozen cheesecake with nutty biscuits, berry sorbet and a coulis with hot berry tea – Clare and Catarina rather forcefully volunteered to share my cheese platter.
It was the best I’ve enjoyed for years. Six excellent local cheeses came in absolutely perfect ripeness with citrine candied onion, cheese and herb chutneys, pickled ginger, lemon sage, biscuits and the delightful house health bread. Why is it most restaurants serve unripened cheese, fridge-hardened and with about a tenth of its flavour potential?
(Photo : The Witness)
Everybody knew Monica Fairall. There was a time, when she was one of South Africa’s most celebrated Miss South Africas, and every young man in the nation would’ve given his heart and everything else he possessed to know her. But Monica was much more than that, she was an intellectual, a great journalist, a creative genius and a beautiful person, all wrapped up in one.
Just two years ago, she married for the first time at Hartford House, and the sad thing about it all, is that so soon after finding the bliss only great marriages delivered, she’s passed on. There’ve been many newspaper tributes paid to Monica’s life, and in all of them we’ve been reminded of the photographs of her wedding which we were so privileged to host. We were lucky to know her, as so many were, and our thoughts are with her husband Professor Robert Morrell, at this sad time.
Thank heavens Rob came along. On her own version, he gave Monica a dimension to her life that she’d never had, much like she did for so many of us.
"IT’S NOT JUST A WINE WEEKEND; THERE’S BIG RUGBY IN THE OFFING"
You’ve already read that the Winery ofGood Hope is bringing one of the world’s celebrated sommeliers Mia Martensson, to one of Africa’s most celebrated restaurants next Saturday evening. There’s been a clamour for places at the inn, and we’re running short of accommodation quickly.
Enough of that though; it’s one of the biggest rugby weekends of the year, as South Africa take on the British Lions on Saturday 19th June at Kings Park in what the media have dubbed the “revenge series”. It was at Kings Park in 1997 that we witnessed the downfall of the Springboks at the hands of that year’s touring Lions, remember.
South Africa’s best morning read, The Witness is one of Hartford’s greatest admirers, and they have not let us down on the eve of this big event. Not only have they booked the hotel out for Friday evening, they’re also bringing with them one of rugby’s most famous television personalities, Dan Retief, who’ll be here to regale us with his stories and his predictions.
We’re sorry this one’s already a sell-out, but for those of you who are Hartford aficionados, we still have just a few places for the Friday evening before the Vodacom July when we’ll be hosting some of racing’s biggest names. That of course is a whole weekend affair which stretches from a wine evening with the fabled Waterford Estate on the Friday, a day in the Summerhill box at the Durban Turf Club’s Greyville racecourse on the Saturday for the “big one”, and then for “Racing's Biggest Day Out”, the Summerhill Stallion Day on the farm, which hosted fourteen different nations in attendance last year. Again, these events require prior booking, as they are invariably sell-outs, so if you’re wanting us to help you avoid the disappointment of missing out, please give us a ring as soon as convenient.
(Photo : Jacana/AP Photo)
"FURTHER GLORY from an inspired source"
Following inclusion in House & Leisure’s top five, Wine magazine’s dine top ten, one of Africa’s top food critics, Anna Trapido and her husband Richard graced us with a visit a few weeks ago. She is of course, among numerous other distinctions, the author of Hunger for Freedom: The Story of Food in the Life of Nelson Mandela. Anna’s note on departure was a telling testament of her experience here. Her reflections included a suggestion that the Hartford restaurant was not only a national treasure in its own right, but it was deserving of a place in the World’s Top Fifty. Now this is serious talk, as the world’s top fifty includes every eatery on the planet, and that runs to millions.
Of course, these things are always the product of one’s subjective judgment, but it’s a comforting thought that increasingly the critics beliefs are converging in a single direction.
Thank heavens for these mercies. Times like these call for moments like this.