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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LIVE THE MOMENT

la motte and hartford house restaurant

La Motte Eat Out People's Choice Award

When fortune smiles on you, you'd better remember just how illusive these things are. The six consecutive National Breeders' Titles that've befallen Summerhill in recent years, have been matched almost blow-for-blow by the "little sister" Hartford House, and it's much acclaimed restaurant.

Most followers of these columns are already aware that Hartford once again made the Country's Top Ten Restaurants at the Eat Out Gala Function in Cape Town last weekend, the only recipient in KwaZulu Natal. And that this followed hard on the heels of it's second year-in-row billing as House and Leisure / Visa's Best Restaurant in South Africa in October.

But there was more to come; in a brand new initiative this year, Eat Out launched a parallel competition on the web to find South Africa's most popular restaurant, sponsored by the makers of La Motte wines, spectacular gems of Franschoek.

By a margin of more than double of it's nearest pursuer, Hartford House was polled the "Top Dog", the best sign if ever it was needed, of the loyalty of its customers and that it is, without any doubt, the "People's Choice".

Spare a thought though for where we are. Surely the remotest of all the leading 20 restaurants in the nation, and in a province, assuming the critics got this right, not entirely celebrated for it's culinary hot spots, on a little old Zulu farm 10km outside of the dustiest dorp in the KZN Midlands.

Goes to show, when the show's good, anything is possible. We look forward to that case of La Motte. If you voted for us, come and enjoy it with us!

hartford house logo

For more information please visit :
www.hartford.co.za

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!

HARTFORD HOUSE DANCERS : A National Institution

hartford zulu dancers

Hartford House Zulu Dance Troupe
(Photo : Summerhill Stud)

About ten years ago, a group of local kids approached us with a view to auditioning as a traditional dance troupe. Mick Goss grew up in the heartland of traditional dancing in one of the remotest parts of South Africa, and he’d seen just about every traditional dance there was to be seen. Reluctantly, and only because they represented families of our disadvantaged, he and Cheryl agreed to attend an audition on Hartford’s front lawn. In the event, some 30 turned up, ranging from ages 8 to 18, together with six makeshift drums, strapped with animal hides and beaten with garden hoses as substitutes for the traditional drumsticks.

Remember, the judges had sat through more than a thousand renditions of traditional dance routines in their lives to that point, so this had to be impressive to become anything more than just another audition. Yet these kids were so good, when the show was over, it took the Gosses less than a minute to decide they would be a permanent fixture, on duty every Saturday evening at Hartford House for as long as the weather permitted. These youngsters were not just talented, they had regaled themselves in the full ceremonial gear at their own expense, yet they were part of an impoverished community. No doubt about their determination, not to mention their self belief.

Until three years ago, they’d never ventured beyond the confines of Mooi River, then, out of the blue, they were invited to perform at the Provincial Championships in Durban. There they won the right to represent KZN at the National Championships, and the rest is a fairytale. As the best dance group in South Africa, they were sent to Tokyo for the World Traditional Dance Championships, and on debut, they ranked third, in the whole darn world! It’s barely believable, we know, but here they were, the only team on the African continent to rank this high, and a year later, in Hong Kong, they finished second.

Reality is, this team is still a “work in progress”, and they’re getting better by the day, to the degree that we were confident, had it taken place as scheduled in the United States earlier this year, they might’ve returned with the World crown. Sadly, the present economic climate in the United States has led to the postponement of the event, but these youngsters will still have their day.

You need only ask those that’ve witnessed their routine to know how good they are. And while a man of Michael Jackson’s dance talents owes everything he’s knows to his African roots, he’d struggle to make the “bench” in the Hartford troupe.