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.

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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

THE TREASURED GETAWAY

Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Panjandrum Dam / Hartford House

Life in Africa really is a paradox. Every evening at home, we tune into Sky channel to catch up with what’s happening elsewhere in the world. The talk is quite depressing, and if it’s not war, it’s the financial crisis. On the other hand, we look at our guests at Hartford House and we see people from England, California, Scotland, Ireland, the USA and Australia, and we’re heartened that they take such trouble and travel so far to visit us. Truth is, more than ever, international travellers are looking for value destinations these days, and with the Rand trading in the vicinity of 10 to the dollar, you get no better bang for your buck than here in South Africa in general, and at Hartford especially.

In the last fortnight, we were honoured with the visit of an octet of some of the world’s top businessmen, who flew in from three different countries on three different private jets, and while the nature of their visit was private to the degree of their remaining largely anonymous, they proclaimed Hartford one of the best hotels in the world. Coming from people who can obviously afford to stay anywhere at any price, this is as rich a compliment as any hotel could wish for. It says something for our people, where they come from, and where they still have go. Hartford is very much a work in progress as far as its people are concerned, and the exciting thing is, we’ve still got so much to learn and so much to give.

At least one of them though, the celebrated anchor of NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw, broke (excuse the pun!) his veil of secrecy when his account of their African pilgrimage was posted on YouTube (click here to watch). Here’s a man who’s traversed the length and breadth of the planet, spoken to kings, queens and presidents, yet had the time to reflect on his “Zulu” experience.

We have some treasured friends in residence as we write, one of whom, Angus Gold, is the personal emissary of the Rulers of Dubai. Angus was instrumental in bringing about Sheikh Hamdan's substantial investment in bloodstock at Summerhill two decades ago this year, and he is one of our firmest friends. Our lives light up when he gets here, and his departure leaves something of a hole, though for those who’ve had to stay up at night, it’s an opportunity to catch up on some much needed sleep!

Also aboard at the moment is a legend of the South African business environment in Freddy Hirsch, arguably South Africa’s best known dealer in spices. Freddy is here as the guest of Eskort Bacon factory, celebrating his 80th birthday, and he’s in remarkably good shape. He survived a primary school education in the company of another of our great friends and horse racing colleagues, Graham Beck, (who’s lived life to a degree few of us could imagine,) and Freddy’s built a business empire of astounding proportions. Interestingly, the founders of Hartford, the Moor family (who spawned the last Prime Minister of the Colony as well as a Senator in the first South African government) were also co-founders of the Eskort Bacon factory and what is now known as NCD Dairies, the biggest dairy business on the continent. The visitations by Arnold Prinsloo, CEO of Eskort, and his cohorts are something of a homecoming for us.

Could this be the Great Trek?

the great trek

The Great Trek?
(Hartford House)

Anyone visiting Summerhill this week could be forgiven for thinking they were witnessing a pilgrimage. While there will no doubt be others who pitch randomly, already we are expecting visitors from several different directions of the world.

The English are here in force, headed by Sir Bruce and Lady Hester Martin, Stuart and Adele Silvey, Commander and Mrs John Ford, while the Welsh, who lowered the English flag at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, are represented by the Mercers and the Dawsons of Usk Valley Stud Farm. Gold Circle are here with an Mpumalanga delegation on Thursday, local trainers Mike Miller, Garth Puller, Dennis Drier and their respective spouses were here on Monday.

Riding legend Michael Robertsand his wife Verna were diners at Hartford the same day. Summerhill stalwart Steve Sturlese was accompanied by his racing manager, Peter de Marigny and his newly acquired son-in-law, top jockey Brandon Lerena, whilst shipping supremo, Brian Roux, Arthur and Vynettevan der Heijden and Standard Bank will all have darkened the portals of the farm before the week is out.

No wonder we know so few people in the neighbourhood! Yet we wouldn’t trade it for anything: these are the people that bring the colour to our lives.

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.

The Perfect Midlands Meander Destination

breakfast view

"Breakfast on the verandah, overlooking the beautiful gardens, is also a highlight of any visit to Hartford..."

“For a moment, there’s a lull in the noise of the city. Bird song comes to the fore, a hadeda is heard overhead and for a few seconds my mind retreats to Hartford. This is a place so special that even being transported for a few seconds brings refreshment from the busy pace of life.

There are so many aspects to Hartford House and each of them has the special qualities that combine to make one’s stay unforgettable, however many times one visits. It is the personalities of you, Mick and Cheryl, your vision, enthusiasm and guidance that has made Hartford so special.

On entry down the long driveway with fields and paddocks on either side and Giant’s Castle up to the left, life begins to slow after our four hour drive from Joburg or three hours from the South Coast. The smiling welcome at the gate and then the warmth and friendliness of the staff on arrival and throughout one’s stay at Hartford gives a relaxed comfortable feeling to new visitors and those like us who return as often as we do. The people in the office, the front staff, Jackie and the kitchen staff, housekeeping and gardeners are equally friendly and are genuinely happy greeting visitors.

Then there are the gorgeous rooms into which you have put so much thought and detail, each so different but equally comfortable. We have stayed in every room you have and it’s always exciting on arrival, to see which room will be ours. Nothing has been spared and one feels the luxury of indulgence relaxing in the room or sitting outdoors enjoying the tranquility of the surroundings.

Dinner is always the most special delight and, I think, the best in South Africa. Comparing meals with some top restaurants in Europe, Hartford is still the best. Breakfast on the verandah, overlooking the beautiful gardens, is also a highlight of any visit to Hartford and the menu is amazing.

After the indulgence and tranquility of a Hartford stay, one reluctantly leaves, knowing there will be a time to visit again, and in between visits, cut out the noise of life and transport oneself back for a moment of peace.”

Said by a connoisseur.Veronica Jagoe (and husband Sean) are veterans of more than 150 visits to Hartford House (yes, that’s about a dozen a year, every year, since we opened).Apart from being our most treasured guests, they’re also among the nicest.And they must have taste!

Hearty and flavoursome Christmas Lunch

Glazed Christmas Gammon garnished with pineapple rings and cherries / Jackie Cameron (p)

Glazed Christmas Gammon garnished with pineapple rings and cherries / Jackie Cameron (p)

Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

Christmas is about family and friends around one table, and a meal that will simmer in their minds for the year to come. Dishes, specifically for this occasion, should be hearty and flavoursome, depicting the Christmas spirit. The occasion, the table and the meal should say ‘Merry Christmas’.

Christmas lunch is one of the most stressful meals of the year but with adequate preparation it can be hassle-free.

Let me help you…

Spicy egg nog sets the tone when handed to guests on their arrival. It’s usually served to toast one’s health; and that’s what we all need for the coming year.

Sticking to tradition, I like turkey. It’s juicy and delicious if cooked correctly. Should you browse through Larousse Gastronomique - the world’s most famous culinary reference book – you’ll see turkey described as “a farmyard bird raised for its delicate flesh”. A rich, pungent and textured stuffing completes and complements roast turkey. I promise, your guests will be back next year!

A pickled or smoked hind quarter or shoulder of pork, commonly known as Christmas Ham, can be boiled or baked. The final touch is to stud the ham with cloves, and garnish with pineapple rings and cherries. Oh so pretty!

Christmas pudding is a must. Make it… buy it… but ensure it’s on your menu.

A simple, silky-textured brandy sauce will add zing to your rich dessert.

After the feast, coffee with shortbread is the perfect final touch. Shortbread, known by many to have originated in Scotland, is traditionally made in a round shape and cut from the centre in wedges. This symbolises the sun, a relic of the ancient New Year cake.

I explore as much as there is to know about an ingredient before cooking it. This, in my opinion, adds interest and depth to the product and the “relationship” with the components results in a superior culinary creation.

With these tips and the festive-season spirit, I’m confident your Christmas lunch will be memorable.

May the love and camaraderie generated during the next few weeks overflow into 2009 and beyond.

Take these recipes and try them.

EGG NOG
GLAZED CHRISTMAS HAM
BRANDY SAUCE
TURKEY STUFFING
SHORTBREAD

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

Hartford voted Top 10 South African Restaurant

Hartford House Head Chef Jackie Cameron / Patrick Royal - Hartford House (p)

Hartford House Head Chef Jackie Cameron / Patrick Royal - Hartford House (p)

On Sunday evening South Africa's Oscars of Cuisine descended on Cape Town's Westin Grand Cape Town Arabella Quays Hotel. This year's Prudential Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants Awards evening was once again a glittering occasion with seven new restaurants making the final Top 10 list.

We are proud to announce that the Hartford Restaurant, with Executive Chef Jackie Cameron at the helm, was voted into the Top 10 Restaurants in South Africa. A special note is that Hartford was the only restaurant in KwaZulu Natal to receive this coveted accolade.

Congratulations to Jackie Cameron and the Hartford House Restaurant team on this extraordinary achievement.

The 2008 Prudential Eat Out Top 10 Restaurants results are as follows :

  • La Colombe (Cape Town) - Chef: Luke Dale-Roberts
  • Jardine (Cape Town) - Chef: George Jardine
  • Terroir (Stellenbosch) – Chef: Michael Broughton
  • Overture (Stellenbosch) – Chef: Bertus Basson
  • Restaurant Mosaic at the Orient (Pretoria) – Chef: Chantel Dartnall
  • Rust en Vrede (Stellenbosch) – Chef: David Higgs
  • The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français (Franschhoek) - Chef: Margot Janse
  • Roots at the Forum Homini Boutique Hotel (Joburg) - Chef: Philippe Wagenfuhrer
  • Bizerca (Cape Town) – Chef: Laurent Deslandes
  • Hartford House (KwaZulu-Natal Midlands) – Chef: Jackie Cameron

Moor Suite 1 at Hartford House

Moor Suite Bedroom / Hartford House

Moor Suite Bedroom / Hartford House

Named for the Moor family, who occupied Hartford from 1875 to 1937, and in particular the two brothers, John and Frederick. John Moor was the member of parliament for Weenen County in the old Natal Colonial government, as well as a Senator in the first South African government, and was responsible for most of the development at Hartford. His brother, Sir Frederick, was the last prime minister of the Colony of Natal prior to Union. He was the only man to emerge from the Union talks in 1908 with a knighthood, for his efforts in bringing about what we know today as the Republic of South Africa.

In its time, Moor has accommodated two Prime Ministers, the last of the colony of Natal, and the first of the Union of South Africa, General Louis Botha.

Of interest in this suite is the old marble bath, which was reputedly imported into South Africa from Malaysia towards the latter end of the 18th century, then found its way into the Durban Club, and eventually into this bathroom, together with the old church window installed alongside.

One of South Africa’s greatest artists, the late Errol Boyley, is remembered throughout the manor house in numerous fine examples, several of which were included in the compendium of his best works. Errol was a great friend of Summerhill and Hartford, and, somewhat unusually for this committed landscapist, he also portrayed Cheryl Goss in two oils which appear in the suite as well.

The truth is incontrovertible: The Best Value in the World.

hartford_zulu_dance_troupe

The Hartford Zulu Dance Troupe
(Hartford House)

paula_mackenzie

One thing you’ll always notice about the change of seasons in the Drakensberg area, is that each season has a distinct character, and this year Spring has been as spectacular as ever.

It’s not only the birds that are singing: undoubtedly the best boy’s choir in the world, the Drakensberg Boys' Choir, is situated just up the road from us and they’re preparing for their Summer and Christmas seasons. If you’re in the vicinity of Hartford House, be sure to let us arrange a visit for you to one of life’s most outstanding choral experiences. We can even pack you a delicious picnic lunch and direct you via South Africa’s art capital, Clarens, all in the same morning.

Besides a burst of greenery and the profusion of young buds, they’re foaling “royalty” at South Africa’s champion racehorse breeding establishment, Summerhill Stud. This weekend also witnessed the departure of more than 100 bouncing two-year-olds to the Emperors Palace Ready To Run Sale in Johannesburg, on their way to racing glory no doubt.

Most of these youngsters have never set foot on a moving vehicle in their lives, and it’s a joy to watch the skills of our young Zulu horsemen coaxing them aboard to the encouraging serenades of school children, wives and "gogos" (or grandmothers) at the loading ramps.

You don’t have to be Ernest Hemingway to get among the trophy trout on this property. Just a few weekends back, two of our young guests availed themselves of our "master-class fly casting lessons", and each came away with prize trout of between six and seven pounds.

Another couple, whilst enjoying a “bomb-proof” horse ride in the direction of the Boathouse and Magic Mirror lake, were thrilled by a sudden stampede of startled Reedbuck and the sighting of the endangered Oribi.

We continue to be surprised, (but oh so pleasantly) at the pilgrimage of foreigners who travel from so far to visit with us at Hartford.

While we’ve always enjoyed a healthy sprinkling of Brits and Europeans, and a throng from the horse-loving countries to the west and east of us, we appear to have new devotees from the United States and Australia. People are supposedly rediscovering their roots, and it seems this area (Hartford House and Summerhill in particular) offers one of the warmest, most hospitable and genuinely authentic experiences on the planet.

There are others who delight in the entertainment of our Zulu dance troupe, and it’s a source of considerable pride to tell you that in a couple of weeks, they'll be winging their way to their third World Traditional Dance Championships to be held in the United States. The troupe have already achieved 2nd and 3rd in Tokyo and Hong Kong respectively and believe they now know how it’s done, and we’re confident they’ll return home the best Traditional Dance troupe in the world.

We know we don’t have to ask you to join us in wishing them well on their way. It’s the visits of our Guests that have encouraged and uplifted our people to such a degree, and we’re forever grateful for the contributions you make.

We sincerely hope this note finds you in the “pink”. If you aren’t already on your way to us, please visit us on our website at www.hartford.co.za for the latest in what’s up at Hartford. There’s just a tiny chance we might be able to lure you back before too long!

With the Rand at unprecedented levels against the major currencies, South Africans will be staying at home more than ever, and our foreign friends will find us the best value in the world, by a country mile.

Warmest regards,

PAULA MACKENZIE
HARTFORD HOUSE

Traditional Culinary Exploration for Heritage Day

Aromatic Spices / Lotus Head (p)

Aromatic Spices / Lotus Head (p)

Jackie Cameron Head Chef

Jackie Cameron
Head Chef

As South Africans we are encouraged to celebrate our cultural heritage, on Heritage Day September 24, and to honour the diversity of the rainbow nation’s beliefs and traditions.  South Africa overflows with rich heritage and a wealth of exciting fare. The variety of influences gives us the opportunity to work from a whole gamut of dishes.  Foreigners continue to introduce us to their culinary traditions and, over the years, we have modified their recipes to suit the local taste and available products.  This results in a colourful simmering pot of flavours from Europe, Asia, Africa and America and ends in a nutritious, exciting, interesting and mouth-watering meal.

I have put a twist on traditional dishes.  Up first is a new look for our preferred South African flavours.  A dish that celebrates the essence and spirit of Durban; spicy lamb “bunny chow” with tomato and onion bredie, sour cream and fresh coriander (also known as cilantro and dhanya).  The piquant flavour is a combination of many aromatic spices and not, as is commonly believed, only the “shisa”.   The bredie and sour cream unites the flavours, with the coriander adding a freshness and final touch.

I have also put a vegetarian slant on one of the best-known South African dishes brought here by the Muslim slaves in the late 17th Century; bobotie. I have revitalised this dish substituting the mince meat for lentils and suggest serving it with amasi flavoured tzatziki, tomato relish and sambles.

I took a giant stride in the right direction when I experimented with a mielie meal made malva pudding served with nothing but an outstanding homemade vanilla ice cream and dried fruit compote. The hot and cold temperatures merge, highlighting the best of both components.

The kitchen here at Hartford House in Mooi River is a fine example of diversity. This is seen in the products used and in the team which puts together the signature dishes created. So what stirring items are on your menu this evening?

Take these recipes and try them.

SPICY LAMB BUNNY CHOW
VEGETARIAN LENTIL BOBOTIE
MEALIE MEAL MALVA PUDDING

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

SPRING SOLSTICE : Photos of the Spring Snows at Hartford House

Spring Snows
(Annet Becker)

This past weekend was Spring Solstice but you would never have guessed it here in Mooi River with Mother Nature bringing us Spring Snows.

Hartford's Restaurant nominated for Prudential Eat Out Award

Hartford House Restaurant

Hartford House Restaurant

After months of adjudication across the length and breadth of South Africa, a shortlist of 20 restaurants has been released for the coveted Prudential Eat Out Restaurant Awards 2008.

Hartford House is one of the 20 nominees for the 'Oscars of Cuisine' and Executive Chef Jackie Cameron and her team are delighted to be amongst the finalists.

The awards evening, where accolades will be presented for Chef of the Year, Top 10 Restaurants in South Africa and Restaurant of the Year, takes place at the Westin Grand in Cape Town on Sunday 30 November 2008.