"TAKING THE WHEEL"
By Wanda Henning
Thirty TASTE readers got to test drive Land Rover's Freelander 2 and visited Hartford for some delectable KwaZulu-Natal country cuisine.
We meet in the dappled sunshine of the courtyard at Florida Road's Quarters Hotel on a balmy Durban winter's morning in June. With us are TASTE Assistant Food Editor Hannah Lewry, events co-ordinator Lauren Artus and Land Rover'
Andrew Brown and his team. And, most importantly, there are 30 TASTE readers with a penchant for fine food and adventure, who are about to drive a fleet of state-of-the-art Freelander 2 Land Rovers to the Midlands for lunch at Hartford House.
I notice the generous head, shoulder and legroom and the viewing advantages of the stadium-style rear seating when I jump into a Freelander behind committed foodie Robyn May, who I learn is a newly qualified doctor, and her partner, Nick Badenhorst, a recently qualified dentist, both KwaZulu-Natal newbies. They have visited the Midlands, but never Hartford House.
Beyond the forest-mantled hills of Howick, we leave the tar so that the drivers can experience the off-road capabilities of the Freelander. A flick of the rotary control changes the Landy's Terrain Response system's General Driving setting to Grass/Gravel/Snow, which desensitises the accelerator, re-maps the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system, puts some pre-load on the centre E-differential and alters the gear-change mapping. We arrive at Hartford House at around noon.
The boutique hotel's sweeping landscape is wearing winter colours after recent frosts and a string of Summerhill Stud thoroughbreds gallop in one of the estate's fenced paddocks not far from where we park. After we've quenched any thirstiness with silky-smooth freshly squeezed orange juice and assorted BOS iced teas, we choose our seats on a day warm enough for alfresco dining on the wraparound verandah; perfect for viewing the Zulu dancers who entertain us with gusto between courses. Lewry, introducing Hartford House Chef Jackie Cameron, tells us that this restaurant was chosen because of its magical setting and "because they keep things simple and seasonal and take a lot of care when selecting local produce and building relationships with suppliers. As such, they share the food values of Woolworths."
Then it's over to Cameron. "I've travelled overseas 17 times in the past eight years and consider myself extremely lucky to have eaten all over the world. And I can tell you, there is nothing like Midlands beef fillet," she says, explaining her succulent and substantial main course choice. "We get ours from a local butcher and age it ourselves. There's also oxtail on the plate, which we cooked for nine hours. It's so tender, you could eat it with a spoon." Complementing the meat, along with tiny freshly picked veggies, was a smooth potato mash "like granny used to make it with lots of cream and butter", a classic red-wine sauce and, to cut the richness, a tomato and onion bredie - "a family recipe".
The dessert, Cameron says, was inspired by kumquats she spotted in the herb garden. "I poached them six times in a sugar syrup to remove the bitterness and made a tart but sweet sorbet." A Belgian dark and white chocolate mousse and a "soil" cream with sweet and savoury herbs - lemon verbena, mint, sage, pineapple sage and thyme - impart a fresh earthiness with flavours that Cameron says "remind me of picking fresh herbs after a thunderstorm". "Ninety-five percent of my suppliers are located within 25km of here," she adds. "But I don't use local for the sake of using local. The quality has to be world class."
In creating the perfect meal for TASTE readers, Cameron took a diversion from her usual path with her starter of scrumptious Norwegian salmon, cured for two hours in soya, lemon "and lots of ginger and garlic". The bite-size chunks were paired with avocado "from my parents' tree. No avo in the world can compare with our homegrown ones" blended with cream cheese to enhance their creaminess, and offset by the slight acidity of red cherry tomatoes. Herbed croutons and red caviar created a texture explosion. For fun, she topped the dish with a tomato spoom.
The verdict? TASTE readers Reshma and Shane Narainsamy, who came for the food and "bribed" their son Nirav with the promise of the Land Rover ride, commented, "After the first course, the meal had already surpassed our expectations."
It is with reluctance that we leave after lunch. Oh, to spend the night!
Extract from TASTE Magazine