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.