HARTFORD HOUSE, an oasis indeed,as we arrived through the gates,the pristine lawns welcomed us,we made our way to the main house and immediately fell in love.Read More
Filtering by Category: Hartford House Restaurant
"Hartford House is indeed almost a national treasure. The food, service and ambience is something to behold. However, that is only a part of the story. It is the old world charm and elegance that belies the opulence and stateliness of the grand house and its beautiful contents. The dishes served will never leave the mind. They are one of a kind. As is the wine offering available." - Pat SymcoxRead More
Wow!!! A group of 6 and I came here for lunch and were BLOWN AWAY.Read More
It’s often been said that you only get one shot at this game…Hospitality… But in our opinion we believe that if you do it right…once is enough! And it’s when you receive feedback from guests such as this, not only is it a humbling experience for us but its proof that we are doing it right!Read More
It's hard to believe, but it's verging on eighteen years since Cheryl and I vacated Hartford House to make way for the pleasures of what has become a devoted public. If that sounds like a sacrifice on my part, it was, not so much for the public benefit but for a frustrated wife who understandably wanted to do something to create her own legacy. You see, I was quite comfortable in a residence which had once served the families of the colony's last Prime Minister, and the converted stable block at the other end of the farm was an unlikely substitute for the opulence of the old manor house. I have to confess though, with the benefit of hindsight, the joys Hartford has brought to travellers from far and wide and the reciprocal satisfaction it has given us, has reminded us that we only live once, and if we do it right, once is enough.
Those early years were a bit hit-and-miss, as neither of us or our immediate family had known the hotel trade, though it's fair to say, there's probably a little farmer and a tiny hotelier in most of us. Hospitality is a hard business, particularly at the top end, where guests expect and are entitled to get the best bang for their buck. But if you think that's tough, you should try your hand at the culinary business, as long as you can stand the heat in the kitchen. Our cooks (you'd hesitate to call them "chefs" at that stage) were lucky in the early years to enjoy the encouragement of a legendary assembly of mentors, the Victor Strugos, Joss Bakers, Mechtild York-Mitchells, Anna Trapidos and Derek Taylors of the world, critical doyens of the culinary arts, who probably saw in us a lot of enthusiasm and determination, but not much in the way of finesse and style. Without their support and guidance, none of what you see in the 2014 version of Hartford House, would've been possible.
Just recently, we hosted one of our old favourites, the formidable former Food Editor of The Mercury, Anne Stevens, who's been as fundamental an inspiration to our team as any, even if that was driven in part by a fear of falling on the foul side of her columns! Anne tells it like it is, no matter who you are, and her unique mastery of the English language is an added advantage in expressing her likes and dislikes exactly as she intends them. Jackie Cameron remembers her first week in charge of the kitchen at Hartford, after she'd taken over the reins from another celebrity of the time, Richard Carstens. He had just taken on our other new venture, Lynton Hall, which he took to the top of the South African cooking pile after his stint here. The opening of Lynton literally threw Jackie to the wolves; first Joss Baker, then Victor Strugo and then Anne Stevens in a matter of seven days, for a 19 year old. The sense of enterprise that marks her cooking to this day was her saving grace in what to most of us, might've been the longest week of our lives.
Jackie was out in the picking garden, trying to work out what she was going to make for Mrs Stevens' dessert that evening, when Anne was greeted by the "welcome" gang at the carpark under the old oak tree. The penny dropped when an irresistible cluster of ripening gooseberries had already found its way into her basket; she fashioned in her head a miniature baklava replica of the same basket, laden with fresh gooseberries and an accompanying sauce. That Anne Stevens loves a bit of "tart" in her dessert, was the catalyst that exemplifies the mutual admiration the cook and the food critic share to this day. It's apparent though from Anne's most recent column, that the "cook" had obviously overlooked this vital piece of "intelligence" in formulating this year's menu with Frangelico Dom Pedro and Gooseberry Jam, Milk Biscuit, Brioche Rusk and Berry Sorbet for "pud"; the veteran's suggestion that "something light and citrussy" might've done the trick, tells us Anne still has "tart" imprinted on her mind, though Jackie's retort is that with the gooseberry jam, she was only trying to demonstrate how far she'd come by dishing up the gooseberries in a new form! Either way, it's a compliment to Anne's status as a writer, that a chef of Jackie's modern-day renown, should still recall what she made for dessert on a particular day those twelve years ago.
This is what she had to say: "It's not entirely flowery nonsense to say that Hartford House near Mooi River provides the ideal hothouse to nurture the talent of its award-winning chef. Jackie Cameron has, in the eleven years she has been there, been afforded every opportunity to grow her skills, and every chance (thanks to owners Mick and Cheryl Goss) to travel the world and sample some of its best food. The result is that she continues to rack up awards, largely being regarded as one of the country's top 10 chefs - a distinction she alone in KwaZulu-Natal has apparently merited.
Keeping a talent like hers alive in a country setting is not easy, and every year to 18 months I return to Hartford, waiting to hear that she has been lured to the big city for more money or glory, or to find that she has lost her edge. Not so. The chefs who resided before her at Hartford did so briefly, and often with no distinction. She has proved the exception. Whether she could still bloom in the strict confines of a commercial city restaurant is a matter for speculation, but her food is extraordinary.
Very little is done purely for effect. Every dish evokes some memory for her, and is layered with thought as to what the whole will become, what will make sense to the tastebuds. Sliced raw scallops marinated in Japanese miso sauce and served with a swirl of julienne cucumber, asparagus, spring onions, celery and leeks, blobs of avocado puree' and miso paste was a simply delicious combination, each little element adding to the whole. And on the side was clever semi-set globule, a mojito flavour. I'm very much over the whole molecular gastronomy thing, but Jackie used it here as just a side issue, something to wake up the palate.
And the palate already needed wakening, after a platter of breads on the table that included patha bread, made with madumbe leaves and chilli (bringing together two cultures as Jackie says), health bread, chillibites and mealie bred with a spinach dip on the side. It was too easy to dive into that with abandon.
The scallops were followed by a smoked mussel soup which had nothing to do with smoked mussels. Fresh mussels and little pieces of nori (seaweed) were given crunch with thin, crisp, fried potatoes and garlic chips bathed in a broth served separately and poured over. For a fellow diner it was the piece de resistance. Next came the sliced meat and "coq au vin" dumplings, with a light jus poured over. Once again, everything worked in perfect harmony. But nothing could have been as harmonious as my favourite dish of the night, which was rather unpromisingly labelled as samp and beans. That was just the base though, a sophisticated take on the staple starch, studded with nuggets of meltingly tender, slightly crisped chunks of tongue, cooked sous de vide for 35 hours (which is, not to put too fine a point on it, boil-in-the-bag cooking).
With crisp roast carrots, fresh horseradish and crunchy cabbage, it was a dish to savour. I found myself longing for a plate of just that the next day. After all that richness, the dessert was just not for me. Something light and citrussy might have done the trick, but a mix of something with Frangelico liquor, gooseberry jam, milk biscuit, brioche rusk and berry sorbet I could not do. Particularly with a chocolate topping.
And I could not even dip into the plate of home-made chocolates, Turkish Delight and other goodies passed around with coffee. It was a dinner to remember, a memory to savour for another year. And by then, maybe Hartford will have moved beyond the old choice of tableware. Dishes of such style are not improved by being served on tiles and half-bricks, or in the case of the dessert, in a petri (laboratory) dish. I was glad the sommelier had pointed out the latter to me: I might have spent some time trying to crack what seemed like a particularly recalcitrant sugar crust".
The battle for the hearts and minds of foodies, local and international, is never-ending. Not so long ago, there was a timelessness to the culinary world, where the term "slow food", was a comforting thought for the designers and cookers of good fare. But all that has changed; the nano-second era in which we live these days underwrites a ceaseless demand for innovation, new creations and instant delivery, particularly if you want to remain at the top table of the nation's gourmet paradises.
While the distinction of being the only KwaZulu-Natal based restaurant in the national "Top Five" is one helluva honour, it also comes with a mountain of responsibilities and expectations. There's no basking in that glory, because in this game, you're only as good as the last meal you served. Hartford House may be the remotest of South Africa's leading eateries, but it's only a matter of 15 minutes off the busiest freeway in Africa, and every day it finds its way onto the "bucket lists" of more and more passers-by.
Running one of these places is like acting in, directing and enjoying the biggest show on earth, the human drama which is driven by the universe's five great judges, our senses. As part of their quest at maintaining their currency in this human comedy, our champions of the "local is lekker" cause, Jackie Cameron, Elaine Boshoff and Travis Finch sat down this week to compose their new autumn lunch menu, foraging through the neighbourhood for the finest and the freshest in seasonal ingredients.
It's a well-known fact that the Midlands is the "Beef Capital" of the world, so its unsurprising we should find our neighbour, Lowlands, is the source of our beef. Anyone who's made the pilgrimage to the Dargle Valley Pottery or to Neville Trickett's storied temple of design, St Verde, will tell you that the verdant home of our pork was well named, while the "bushveld" environs of Estcourt are the inspiration for some of South Africa's tastiest lamb. Swissland and Romesco supply the goat's cheese and the most delicious campfire olives, while every veggie and herb is either straight out of the kitchen garden or home-grown within a jiffy of our front gates. And you can quaff it all down with a fine bottle of viognier from Abingdon's Lions River winery.
It's a strange misconception that if you happen to be a "Top Five" restaurant (or a top twenty, thirty or forty for that matter,) you have to be expensive: while we can't speak for our colleagues in the culinary world, what we can say with absolute faith, is that the Hartford restaurant is as reasonably priced in its category, as any on the planet. On that score, I should mention that I was in Australia a week ago when three of us sat down for a casual meal at admittedly, a leading hotel. While the offering was decent enough, it was a long way from what you might expect to be served at Neil Perry's famous Rockpool eatery just down the stairs, yet the bill came in (before tips) at just on R4000, with a bottom of the range but quite acceptable, bottle of wine.
By contrast, you can reserve a place for a five course dinner at Hartford, recently counted by the senior food critic at America's Wall Street Journal, among the top three country restaurants in the world, and with an excellent bottle of wine, you can sign the bill off at around R1500. A comparable meal at a comparable restaurant in Australia (or anywhere else in the "civilized" world for that matter,) will cost you more than three times (and closer to four times,) what we pay at home. Take heart, South Africans, and come and see for yourselves. We'll be waiting to welcome you with our own unique brand of Zulu hospitality.
We know this year has been jam-packed with accolades and awards, but lest you should ever believe we take these things for granted, believe me, we don't. The Hartford and Summerhill teams beaver away day-in, day-out, 24/7, 365 days of the year. Guests eat and drink on Christmas day as well as Good Friday, and so do horses, so there's no respite for the wicked. The holidays are upon us, and both the hotel and the stud farm are booked to capacity.
Anyone who thinks that good luck is a consequence of randomness, should think again. Yes, you can't do without a bit of luck, but as Gary Player once famously said, "the harder I practice, the luckier I get". Hot on the heels of their top five placing in the Eat Out National Restaurant awards, Hartford has scooped another "jackpot", to put it in racing parlance. The award winners of the Top 100 SA winelists of 2014 have just been released, and Hartford House was named Number One in the "Relaxed Dining" category, (standing alone in the "Inspirational" (90 plus %) category.
Having slaved away myself for the first fifteen years of this "little giant’s" existence as a hotel in helping to compile their wine list, I know what it takes, and that wasn't without a little help from our old pal and consummate judge Jeremy Walker of Grangehurst; this is a singular honour, recognising the many hours (no, months) of pain-staking effort that goes not only into the selection, but in the narratives that tantalize our guests when the wine menu is put before them.
At Summerhill, we know that it's all about the many hundreds of thousands of hours in the "paddy fields", and the Hartford story is no different. Besides which, of course, you have to have the "palate", as the fundis call it. To those that played a role this year, and to those of our suppliers who took the trouble not only to visit Hartford, but to invest their faith in us, well done.
The build up to this award means four judges eating, unannounced, at select restaurants during the course of 2013. In October the 20 chefs/restaurants that made the Top 20 were announced in a media release, all finalists were invited to a glitzy award ceremony in mid November and at the end of the evening’s meal the Top 10 were announced. The four highly-regarded judges, who were made known to us at the awards, included Abigail Donnelly, editor of Eat Out and food editor of Woolworths TASTE magazine; Liam Thomlin, owner of Chef Warehouse and Cookery School; Garth Stroebel, chef, lecturer and accredited judge; Andy Fenner, food writer, consultant and owner Frankie Fenner Meats Merchants. It was a very stressful time for all us chefs - but even more nerve racking for the chefs who cooked for the occasion.
Travis Finch, an outstanding new member of the Hartford House A-team; Jessica Edmunds, a past trainee and a special friend of mine; and Luke Nel, a chef from the area and another great friend of mine made up my prep team. We all headed to the Cape and arrived at the picturesque L'Ormarins guest house compliments of Bear (Gareth) Robinson and the team. Sadly there was no time to chill out - we had to get to dinner because the very talented and oh-so-interesting foraging chef Chris Erasmus was waiting for us at La Motte. There the chef's table dinner was truly special and we felt like royalty on every level. The experience at La Motte was the start of a memorable weekend.
The following day was much longer than we'd anticipated. The mussels I'd ordered from one of my favourite families in the Cape, the Bakers-Ross Baker of Wild Peacock Emporium fame made up for the long hours. They where superb - so plump and juicy... We got home at 1am with a huge sense of pride - smiles from ear to ear because our smoked mussel soup with fond side memories was sorted! I have to add we prepared in Chris' state-of-the-art kitchen with all the top of range equipment; I was on cloud nine the entire day. His staff is fantastic - in particle: Ryan Cole, Michelle Theron and Jonke (Michael Jonker). The dynamics of the kitchen team is something quite unique.
We were up with the sparrows, back to La Motte to do the final touches, and then loaded the food truck. We all wished we'd had the opportunity to enjoy a glass or two of the world-renowned wines from L'Ormarins, especially considering the Cape of Good Hope Chardonnay 2012, Serruria, was my choice to go with our mussel soup that evening.
The rest of the Hartford House team on the morning of the awards' dinner arrived - Elaine Boshoff, my sous chef; Cheryl Goss, the owner of Hartford House; Scott Morgan, the assistant general manager, and Umbelelo Mahlungulu, the duty manager.
Cooking for this event were George Jardine, Jordan's restaurant, on starter; the Hartford House team on the first main; Chris Erasmus and his team on second main; Peter Tempelhoff and his pastry chef Amy-Margaret Young with David Higgs and his pastry chef Minette Smith on dessert. The man who put the kitchen together was Wynand du Plessis from Extreme Kwizeen. He was in charge of the entire kitchen setup. From start to finish this was a fantastic experience. In 10 minutes we got our soup out for 500 people! Working with all these professionals made the task an absolute pleasure - a brilliant milestone in my foodie career.
The awards were emotional for many restaurant teams. More than ever before, I believe the chefs in South Africa are striving for greatness - every day. The levels of creativity are inspirational. So, getting called up on stage as the No 5 restaurant in the country was pretty astonishing. Especially considering where we are based and where we have come from. This was a true team effort. Every staff member wanted the award as badly as I did. Elaine and I have been the only qualified chefs in the hotel kitchen for many years and I’m always amazed at what the team – from the scullery women to the kitchen helpers and the waitrons - puts out on a day-to-day basis. Loyalty and dedication are part of each member’s make up and it’s what gets me up in the morning.
This brings me to my birthday, and those readers who follow my column know birthdays are an occasion for me. So, this year I insisted on celebrating very locally to ensure the Hartford House kitchen team could, at some part of the day, join me in commemorating my special day as well as the end of a hard-working year. Sapore in Nottingham Road popped straight to mind for a long, lazy, festive day. The restaurant is owned by my friends Andy Bainborough and Geoff Combrinck. It's a casual eatery, and sitting outside sharing a bottle of bubbles with my mates on a Sunday afternoon conjures up such happy memories for me. Sapore has recently opened a hip-and-happening bar alongside the restaurant. I wish I had more available time to visit there 'cos it's ultra cool. My kind of place to just kuier... The menu includes something for all palates; from sushi and pizza to salads and pastas. Sapore's owners have happily parted with a few of their recipes to tantalise your palates this month.
Elaine, my sous chef, recommends Sapore's Chinese chicken. Elaine is my rock, my constant, my right and left hand. She knows me inside and out, understands my craziness and deep desires - and if she says it's good you know it is delicious. Add Tempura vegetable for an interesting twist or serve on its own with a dipping sauce - both are tasty combinations.
Bread of any sort is my weakness so a Sapore ciabatta is just right for me.
Bruschetta is simply delicious when served freshly crisp with Mediterranean toppings. This is often my order at Sapore when I want to fill the gap between meals. As I've already said Sapore is a place you can chill out with mates - any time.
Every chef/restaurant has a unique pesto recipe - and they're all good. Try Sapore's as an alternative to mine. We must celebrate eateries that make their own because, I assure you, many restaurants these days buy in a lot of their products. Nothing tastes better than dishes home made with love, rather than commercially manufactured poor cousins!
Pole-caught tuna fish cakes are scrumptious and this dish adheres to SASSI (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative). We only serve green-listed fish at Hartford House - nothing on the orange/red list because we are conscientious about conserving the status of over-exploited seafood. To find out more visit: www.wwf.org.za/sassi; and to check the status of any fish, text its name to 079 499 8795 and you'll receive the answer. Save this number and sms 'the fish of the day' when dining out, you will be surprised and shocked at what some restaurants are selling. Serve the Sapore tuna fish cakes with a sweet honey and ginger sauce. This promises to impress your guests.
Here's to happy celebrations at Sapore with your friends and family. If you haven't been - visit soon. I wish I had more social time with my family, friends and the Hartford House team - they all mean the world to me.
Enjoy cooking up a Sapore storm in your kitchen!
A few interesting links :
Send comments and food-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. I always look forward to hearing from you.
Recipes supplied By SAPORE 0332666921, email@example.com, @Sapore_Midlands. Shop 5, Meander Square, Nottingham Road.
Visit www.jackiecameron.co.za to find out more about my women's chef range, JACKIE CAMERON COOKS AT HOME and all my foodie adventures. I always look forward to hearing from you. Jackie Cameron (Head Chef: Hartford House - 033 263 2713). For the latest on local foodie news add me as a friend on FACEBOOK. Find me on Twitter - @jackie_cameron.
"Cooking with Heart"
Good Taste Magazine
The dense scenery of Mooi River zips past the windows of our rented car. The terrain is hilly and tropical, saturated with green, and spiked with gold grain. We've been travelling through the Midlands for a few days now, winding our way from farm to pub to restaurant; soaking up the strangeness of this mysterious place.
The valley unfolds, rural and quiet. The first thing to greet us as we arrive at Hartford House is a horse, its tail lazily flicking in the air. Not much can prepare us for the entrance to the estate though; as we drive through the wrought iron gates, I feel like Orphan Annie arriving at the Warbucks Mansion; it's so positively sweeping and grand.
In the centre of this sprawling thoroughbred stud farm, is the multi-award winning five-star boutique hotel and restaurant, Hartford House (as its name suggests it evolved out of the property's stately home). We pause at the top of the steps to the patio, and take in the manicured gardens, the towering willow trees, the sea of green lawn, the burbling fountain. (I'm told later by the general manager that the cupid statue overlooking the pond is actually one of Leonardo Da Vinci's designs, and that only three like it were made from the mould before it was destroyed.)
Jackie Cameron bounces through the doors of the main entrance. The pretty chef was born and bred in the Midlands, petite and blonde; Jackie has that certain something that makes you immediately like her. She radiates positivity.
"I cook from the heart," she says when I ask her to describe her style. "I put plates together that I enjoy; and all my new dishes reflect mine and my staff's childhood memories."
A champion of Midlands produce Jackie says that 95 percent of her ingredients are local.
Our table is on the edge of the covered stoep overlooking the garden; diaphanous curtains hang down from a railing, billowing and romantic, and oh-so colonial. I could be happy in this setting with a pot of Earl Grey and a plate of cucumber sandwiches, but one glance at the menu confirms I'm about to taste KwaZulu-Natal on a plate.
Lunch gets off to a swinging start with an onion and roasted garlic soup paired with a sticky wine, a brave choice for an introductory meal. We follow this with a 'Midland's Caprese Salad'. Halves of sweet, seared cherry tomatoes are served on a square of mirror with a local yoghurt in place of mozzarella, finished with rooibos vinegar, basil pesto, pecan nuts and avocado purée.
We also share a trout terrine with 'Wayfarer' Trout Mousse. The Wayfarer Trout farm, says Jackie is a 'picture-perfect haven'; and the Brookland's pristine waters running through the property create an ideal environment for the fish.
"I enjoy cooking for guests who know about food and wine, so I assume that as a supplier it must be gratifying to supply a chef who appreciates every little bit of effort spent on developing perfect produce."
The picture-perfect terrine is presented with marinated North Coast palm heart, caviar, and tomato essence espuma, topped with 'Kathy's Sous-vide Quail Egg'.
Before our main courses arrive, I venture into the main house. It's beautiful inside, colonial, yet contemporary, more African than Brit. There are of course, the grand chandeliers and the gleaming antiques; but also curiosities, like the line of wooden dogs. The kitchen flanks the inside dining room - a relatively small, but appropriately sumptuous space - and I've never seen one quite like Jackie's, each corner has a window with light and greenery streaming in, it's airy and bright: a boon I'm sure in the sweltering summers.
I'm shooed back to the table for the rest of my lunch. Simply plated pan-seared crispy Dargle Valley Duck breast is served, paired with potato spaghetti, butternut purée, hot roasted hazelnuts and a cinnamon infused red wine sauce.
My date has an artful dish of 'two-hour poached Midland's rabbit hot terrine'; which comes with Parma ham rosettes and potato cylinders.
We linger over our plates, entranced with the scenery as well as the stories being told through the unique Midlands produce.
The afternoon light is turning a gold-pink by the time we're ready for dessert. It comes served on a slab of red brick, an unusual creation called 'Cream Cheese Fruit Cake Mince Balls' with crispy 'Kamberg' ham, cherries, Gorgonzola and Parmesan ice cream and liquorice.
"I'm bringing together sweet and savoury, hot and cold, cheese and dessert - all into one. Really just keeping the palate excited and interested until the last mouthful. Desserts don't have to be same-old," explains Jackie.
The creative cook knew from 'a tiny tot' that she wanted to be a chef. "I use to spend most holidays baking next to one grandmother's side; and roasting and cooking up multi-course meals with my other grandmother. From a young age I had an understanding and appreciation of good food."
Before we take to the gardens to walk off lunch, or perhaps to dream under a tree, Jackie has some parting words of advice: "Get to know the area in which you live. Visit the farms, shop at the farmers' market and local farm stalls. Taste, ask questions, and get to the root of ingredients. Meet the baker, the cheese-maker and the farmer behind the various products you use, and ask to see the methods adopted. This ensures an understanding of the process and a different eating experience."
Visit www.hartford.co.za for more information.
Jackie Cameron Cooks At Home
The bubbly chef has just released her first cookbook: Jackie Cameron Cooks At Home, we chat to her briefly about it:
What’s your cookbook about?
I find a lot of recipe books are trying to prove to the world that the authors are creative and well informed regarding food, so they present items that impress on paper, for example 'a stewed fruit with rose syrup' this, and a 'lavender essence' that... In my book you'll find a delicious stewed-fruit recipe just how my grandmother made it. No bells and whistles, just interesting and tantalising flavours. I'm not trying to prove to the world that I can cook; I'm aiming to help the home cook improve her/his day-to-day cooking with a how-to recipe book filled with recipes that work. I believe if people are cooking better at home they will expect a higher level of food in restaurants and in turn the entire food industry will step up a level.
What went into creating it?
I set a goal to write and have a book published by the time I turned 30. I wrote a column for The Witness years ago and those articles gave me a base to work from. As well as from the comments sent to me, I was able to judge which recipes were popular, and which didn't impress the readers. Everything I do is thoroughly researched before I throw myself into a project.
Your favourite dishes?
That's like asking a parent which child is their favourite! I have a connection with every recipe in the book and there's a little story to go with each one. They are all special in their own way.
"Going to Dargle Ducks is an education and it puts most farms to shame," says Jackie. "They've gone back to what really matters. They call their ducks 'open range' because they are free to roam day and night. The feed is grown specifically for the ducks and includes sunflowers, mealies, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, spinach, wheat, rye grass, beans and kikuyu."