Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

Filtering by Category: Drakensberg Restaurants

High Praise from Derek Taylor

hartford house breakfast

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 ……

Part II

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?

Food for the Soul

vegetable plait bread

Vegetable Plait Bread
(Photo : Jackie Cameron)

jackie cameron

Each day should include a helping of universally-loved, fresh, crunchy bread. Memories of my childhood come rushing to me as if it were yesterday. A recipe called: Jacqueline’s white bread, 1985, was one of my first attempts at helping out and that was at a mere three years old. Special memories. These recollections inspired the baking of the following five breads.

The health bread is a must-try. The perfectly moist, textured centre is flavoured with a seed selection, pecan nuts and sweet raisins. Delicious.

Plait breads never fail to impress. The added colour and flavour of spinach, tomato and onion make this a combination that all will enjoy.

A simple bread roll is always welcomed. I often enjoy a good-quality ham, fresh basil pesto, cheddar cheese, sliced tomato and homemade mayonnaise bread-roll between working shifts.

Dietary requirements are trendy so this gluten-free bread recipe should always be available, for unexpected guests. This bread is best served piping hot as starch hardens with cooling. It freezes well and takes longer to go stale. Over mixing should be prevented and the dough must be cooked immediately to ensure a light structure.

The saying: I haven’t eaten something that good since sliced bread, must have come about with the making of this bread. The old-style crusty mass, when sliced and eaten with butter, is an ideal meal in itself.

Interestingly, when I worked in a French bakery, in France, I learnt the markings on a loaf represented the baker’s signature. I later found out these scores originated during the middle ages as a means to identify each French peasants bread. This was because baking took place in communal ovens, owned by the lords of the land. So take these recipes and make your mark on them.

HEALTH BREAD
VEGETABLE PLAIT BREAD
BREAD ROLLS
GLUTEN-FREE BREAD
OLD-STYLE CRUSTY WHITE BREAD

Post your comments and food-related questions below.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef
Hartford House
www.hartford.co.za
jackie@hartford.co.za
+27 33 263 2713

Reflections of Anna Trapido

anna trapido hunger for freedom

Anna Trapido
(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.

House and Leisure Accolade for Hartford Restaurant

Hartford House Restaurant

Hartford House Restaurant

"COMPLIMENTS (as big as they get) from one of the BIGGEST AND THE BEST"

So the accolades have been piling up for Hartford House in the last eighteen months, but its latest achievement in making House & Leisure’s Top Five South African restaurants, ranks with the best of them. Heavens knows how many there are in South Africa, but at the last count, some guru claimed there were more than 60000 eateries in the nation, yet this one, ten kilometres outside the dustiest little dorp in the Midlands at the southernmost tip of what the civilized people to the north of us call the darkest continent, happens to make the top five.

It’s not only a compliment to Jackie Cameron and her team, it’s a miracle in an environment which has emerged from 80% unemployment, a land of few skills, and nothing in the way of culinary virtues.

That Sir Clement Freud, recently deceased and much-lamented raconteur, adventurer and journalist in the UK, once proclaimed Hartford the most beautiful home in the country is a well documented statement, but what a blessing to have that and one of the nation’s elite gourmet paradises.

The August issue of South Africa’s foremost publication on the world of living, House & Leisure, will announce the top five. We have no idea who the competition are, but readers and browsers will get their chance to vote for the king of kings following that issue. Don’t worry, you’ll get the reminder!

home and leisure

Hearty winter recipes for Fathers' Day

beef and corn pie

Beef-and-Corn Pie
(Photo : Jackie Cameron)

Head Chef Jackie Cameron

Head Chef
Jackie Cameron

Men are tricky to buy gifts for - especially fathers. They seem to have everything they need and what they don’t have is completely out of reach of my pocket. I’m reminded that a well-fed man is a happy man and I organise a selection of tasty treats that will illustrate my appreciation of all he’s done for me.

As the mornings get colder and the days shorter so hearty winter recipes come out. Your dad deserves a warm beef-and-corn pie with caramelised onions sitting on wilted, green vegetables. This is a combination of slightly sweet-and-savoury flavours with a crispy puff pastry topping. Tastes we all enjoy.

And if it’s a braai your father is wanting, no matter the weather, then add Thai marinated chicken skewers to your menu. Skewers are inexpensive to buy and with a little imagination you can create your own combinations. A smart way to use left-overs.

Males have a sweet tooth. This makes it easy, and the safest bet is lemon meringue tart. Men love it! The tart is made up of the intense, sweet-and-sour flavours of lemon curd; the light, spongy but crisp-textured meringue and the rich-flavoured biscuit base. A sugar high of note!

Over the years, I have cooked for a number of South African culinary events held abroad, and it has become apparent that South Africans are accustomed to eating rich, syrupy desserts. The best example of a proudly South African dessert is the koeksuster. This syrup-coated, plaited doughnut is fun to make and worth the effort. Your dad will never buy another koeksuster again!

Beef-and-corn pie, Thai marinated chicken skewers, lemon meringue tart and koeksusters... this will surely make him happy.

Take these recipes and try them.

BEEF-AND-CORN PIE
THAI GREEN CURRY CHICKEN SKEWERS
LEMON MERINQUE TART
KOEKSUSTERS

Post your comments and food-related questions below.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef
Hartford House
www.hartford.co.za
jackie@hartford.co.za
033 263 2713

WORLD TOP 50 RESTAURANTS : South Africa makes its mark

hartford house desert

Hartford House Restaurant
(Photo : Sally Chance)

We always knew that it was a “big deal” to make the top ten restaurants in South Africa, but its international significance has only just dawned on us. The release recently of the world’s top 50 restaurants included three of South Africa’s Top Ten, Le Quartier Francais, Rust en Vrede and Aubergine. Some accomplishment for a relatively small country at the southernmost tip of what our civilized friends to the north call “the darkest continent”.

For Hartford House and its little “super chef”, Jackie Cameron and her team, this is especially significant, as our restaurant not only counts in South Africa’s Top Ten, but it’s the only one to enjoy that exalted status on this side of the Drakensberg. Somewhere out there, perhaps just beyond the Top 50, Hartford House can justifiably think of itself among the leading restaurants in the world.

Of course, you’ll never know why till you’ve tested it for yourself!

DRAKENSBERG BOYS' CHOIR

   
DRAKENSBERG BOYS' CHOIR

"Could this be the best Boys Choir in the world?"

We’re fortunate at Hartford House in the many visitors that travel thousands of miles to visit us, and the tapestry of cultures they represent. People come from across the world to stay at the “jewelled buckle” of the KZN midlands, some of them connoisseurs of the arts and music, others with uninitiated curiosities of what this spectacular part of the world has to offer.

However, the one thing they all have in common, once they’ve made their first pilgrimage to the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir (an enchanting 45 minute drive into the Champagne Valley), is that this is an irresistible option for all comers. Even the Viennese, who have a proprietary interest in protecting the status of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, concede that the diversity and the talent on display, at times, eclipses the lofty standards set by their own, and for those who are with us on a Wednesday during school term time, this is a must.

To most of our guests, we recommend an early breakfast and a drive over the Drakensberg through the gloriously coloured cliffs of the Golden Gate National Park, and then to Clarens, a village not much bigger than Mooi River, but unmistakably the art capital of South Africa. Clarens is home to more than thirty art galleries, and is the starting place for most of South Africa’s young artistic talent. It’s in the bottommost most corner of the south eastern Free State, and apart from being one of the great journeys of South Africa, it’s a convenient distance back to the Boys Choir, whose shows start at 3:30pm. These exhibitions are generally over by 5pm, and it’s a comfortable meander back to Hartford, in time for a shower or a lazy bath, before dinner. Some dinner too, in a national Top Ten restaurant.

And then, if you’re with us through Saturday evening, we have another surprise for you.

www.dbchoir.co.za

Mother’s Day - "IMPRESS MOM"

Mille Feuille

Mille Feuille
(Photo : Jackie Cameron)

Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

Pamper your mother with a memorable meal using methods which will transport her on a journey of creativity. After all, all she ever does is spoil you. Create this gastronomic experience in your home.

A welcome, ice-cold, glass of refreshing, fruity flavoured tea will be received warmly. Tea’s full potential is often overlooked as many only know it for its “hot cuppa” properties.

The savoury kick from a Caesar salad is a great start to any meal as it stimulates the salivary juices. Over the years this dish has evolved into a typical everyday table salad. Disgraceful, if you ask me! This is a grand serving of food that was created in 1924 by an Italian chef, Caesar Cardini, at a restaurant in Tijuana Mexico. It was traditionally prepared at the table, with the greatest attention to detail and, today, it should be made with respect for its longevity. Interestingly, the original recipe was without anchovies… which suits me perfectly. The crisp romaine lettuce leaves, crunchy herbed croutons, salty capers, rich-creamy dressing and finely shaved parmesan makes this my favourite salad. The textures excite my palate. I often add sautéed bacon and onion or sliced sesame chicken breast or smoked salmon to this enticing salad. Scrumptious.

You have heard of risotto but have you ever cooked a moist, creamy, textured portion? A quaint description of this short grain rice in the Larousse Gastronomique says:“Each grain should retain its separate identity with a little bite.” This is a food many are anxious about cooking but once perfected it can be used as a main component, a starch helping, a filling for squid tubes and also a dessert – the options are endless. Up next is a vegetarian delight. My home-grown beetroot risotto with toasted walnuts, beetroot sprouts, wild figs and creamy Gorgonzola. Tempting flavours! Even carnivorous South African males agree...

Mille Feuille, when translated means “a thousand leaves”, is a classical dessert consisting of thin layers of puff pastry separated with layers of custard or Chantilly cream (flavoured cream with vanilla extract and castor sugar) and fresh fruit and/or berries. With the variety of fruit available this is the ideal dessert to round off a delectable lunch.

Mothers of any age will enjoy this menu for its use of traditional flavours and, at the same time, it's originality and freshness. Mom’s day off will result in the whole family’s culinary enjoyment. Bon appetité.

Take these recipes and try them.

ICED TEA
CAESAR SALAD
BEETROOT RISOTTO
MILLE FEUILLE

Post your comments and food-related questions below.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef
Hartford House
www.hartford.co.za
jackie@hartford.co.za
033 263 2713

Shopping with Head Chef Jackie Cameron

Jackie Cameron / Sally Chance (p)

Jackie Cameron / Sally Chance (p)

The following is an extract from a candid Q&A interview with our Head Chef, Jackie Cameron, which was recently published in the Travel & Food supplement of The Times.

Favourite things?

Recipe books; kitchen equipment (exciting kitchen gadgets always win me over); improved ingredients and products; I also love handbags, shoes and earrings.

Best thing about shopping?

Finding that something that puts a smile on my face.

Worst thing about shopping?

The hustle and bustle.

Cash or Credit Card?

I always pay... cash. With the arrival of the credit crunch, I’ve... become very aware of every transaction I make.

Fragrance?

Jean Paul Gaultier.

Best gift?

A cap gun at the age of three.

Worst gift?

A chocolate-dipped scorpion.

Earliest shopping memory?

Begging my mother for a chocolate at a grocery store. I’m always reminded of that when I hear other children trying their luck. Just the other day, while standing in the queue at Woolworths, I overheard a young boy telling his mother how much he loved her. I was taken aback by his honesty and caring nature, only to hear two seconds later how much he would love a chocolate. I had to laugh.

Whats in yor fridge?

In my fridge I always have... a selection of Midlands cheese and homemade pickles and preserves.

Perspective on 'Green'?

To me going green means... contributing in a positive light. Believing that every individual can make a difference.

Best shopping companions?

My mother and sister.

Worst shopping companion?

A person who is irritated and in a huff and rush.

Best all-time purchase?

Larousse Gastronomique, “the world’s most famous culinary reference book”.

Most expensive purchase?

My studio flat.

WHAT I’D BUY WITH...

R500 : A meal for one at a top restaurant.

R5000 : A coffee machine and beans... together they make a full-bodied espresso with a perfect crema.

If the sky’s the limit?

I would buy only the best quality, state-of-the-art equipment to furnish my dream kitchen. A good chef is a prepared chef and a prepared chef is a fast chef.

Food Trends for 2009

Tea-smoked chicken breast sandwich / Jackie Cameron (p)

Tea-smoked chicken breast sandwich / Jackie Cameron (p)

Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

Extensive research reveals the obvious: the economy dictates people’s eating and shopping budgets. People swipe less and save more. Food will be cooked by the people for the people, so family meals and stay-at-home dinner parties will be the next "big thing". Knowledge of seasonal ingredients and the use of local produce are essential in impressing your company.

Peruvian food is the new Thai, so Ceviche, or “Cebiche,” to be phonetically correct, is perfect. Ceviche is the Peruvian style of marinating seafood in soya and lime. The benefits of this chilled seafood dish include a cure for hangovers, and is reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Oh boy! Fresh ginger, garlic and coriander form an integral part of the dish and the pantry gossip is that ginger is pushing mint right off menus.

Recognizing that unhealthy eating habits in children result in unhealthy adults, grown health awareness demands a new emphasis on the value of sensible nutrition over convenience foods. Get into the habit of “double” cooking, where possible, and freezing the surplus, so that healthier food is available when time isn’t. When I think excellent value-for-money, I think homemade macaroni and cheese. Plain or schussed up, both are scrumptious.

The new trend is for smoking your food rather than frying, a blast from the past. Imagine a stylish, healthy, tea-smoked chicken breast sandwich for lunch.

Thinking of what works and what is best, remember how your grandparents used to source and prepare their food. They were the trend setters of all time, to the point that today we are looking back to what they did, and more often than not, we nick ideas from yesteryear.

Take these recipes and try them.

SEAFOOD CEVICHE
MACARONI AND CHEESE
SMOKED CHICKEN SANDWICH

Post your comments and food-related questions below.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef
Hartford House
www.hartford.co.za
jackie@hartford.co.za
033 263 2713

The magnitude of Hartford's Top Ten Restaurant Award

Cheryl Goss and Jackie Cameron / Paula Mackenzie (p)

Cheryl Goss and Jackie Cameron / Paula Mackenzie (p)

"Form is temporary : CLASS IS PERMANENT"

There’s an old saying in the racing world that you might fluke the odd big performance, but it’s the ability to consistently achieve at the top level that’s the real mark of quality. The magnitude of Hartford House’s Top Ten Restaurant Award last Sunday evening, is only just beginning to sink in, and the extent of it is quietly coming home to us.

The reality is that none of these achievements are overnight occurrences, and they’re no different to winning Breeders’ Championships. We know what it took to put a team together capable of landing the spoils in the horse business, and the sustained record of four consecutive championships has been the product of almost 30 years of blood, sweat and tears.

In Hartford’s case, the journey started almost eight years ago, with the recruitment of a man by the name of Richard Carstens, who came to us with the option of working at Hartford or at our new venture at the time, Lynton Hall. As it turned out, despite Hartford’s own requirements, we felt that Lynton’s need was the greater because it was in its infancy, and after eight months at Hartford, Richard relocated to the coastal resort, where he took Lynton to a top ten finish in the national awards, and in the end, was elected the nation’s top chef.

As Richard was departing for Lynton Hall, we discovered a waif-like Thespian, who had already spent a year at the Mount Grace Country House & Spa, in the form of Pietermaritzburg born and raised Jackie Cameron, and she proceeded to beaver away as industriously as anyone we’ve ever come across in an already industrious team. Though wet behind the ears, Jackie quickly revealed an underlying potential that’s rare not only in people of her age, but uncommonly so in older people too. It wasn’t long before local critics nabbed onto her coattails, and began to invest in her growth. People like Mechthild Yorke-Mitchell, then restaurant critic for Wine Magazine, Anne Stevens of The Mercury, Derek Taylor of the Sunday Tribune, and latterly and very significantly, Victor Strugo of The Saturday Star, who has been a powerful personal mentor to Jackie. All of them caught onto the fire that was raging at Hartford.

Of course, there's been many other accolades, and last year the Hartford restaurant made the Dine Top 10: Deluxe 2008 voted by Diners club international & Wine magazine, but the Prudential Eat-Out Restaurant Awards are the summit of them all, and to have achieved this is the ultimate for any young chef or restaurant anywhere.

The point of this is that under Cheryl’s tutelage, in the relatively short space of 12 years, we’ve seen the emergence of two national celebrities in the culinary game, and it’s all a result of a sustained obsession that goes beyond perfection.

There’s no team in the world that can appreciate the significance of Hartford better than that at Summerhill. We know what it takes, and we understand what it is that keeps you there. Class, class and more class, and nothing less than class.

Mike Tarr sends Warm Wishes

Lunchtime dining at Hartford House

Lunchtime dining at Hartford House

"THIS MAN’S BEEN AROUND : SO THIS IS SOME COMPLIMENT"

Hello Jackie and Cheryl:

Just a short note to thank you both and Gold Circle and Gill Simpkins for the wonderful experience of being at Summerhill this week and the great lunch in a perfect setting. Jackie you are a genius, pea soup and ice cream!! such invention. I love it. And the Norwegian salmon was superb and the desserts sublime. I hope to come back and do a proper crit and also take in more of the amazing atmosphere of Summerhill. We are truly blessed as South Africans to have a place like this. Thank you for a memorable day.

I saw Mickey briefly on our tour but would obviously like to interview him and get an in depth view into his thoughts on the farm and subjects in general. I am told he has a wonderful way with words and views about our country.

Best wishes and thank you again.

Michael Tarr

(Eminent Journalist : The Daily News)