There’s a long-established legacy behind the food at Hartford House. The culinary pedigree created by previous head chefs like Richard Carstens and Jackie Cameron creates an enormous expectation to be fulfilled. But it’s evident that head chef Constantijn Hahndiek sees it as an inspiration.
Literally off the beaten path, the location of Hartford House may be considered limiting for ingredients but, in fact, its proximity to some of the best produce and producers in the country has inspired some sensational dishes.
The menus for both lunch and dinner are reinvented daily, influenced by season, honouring the main ingredients, and balanced according to what is available.
For lunch, the simplicity of the terrine of the day belies an astounding complexity of flavours. The pork terrine is succulent, its saltiness offset by the acidity of the accompanying homemade pickles and the sweetness of the aioli. A crispy pancetta chip gives the crunchy texture and umami flavour that effectively balances out the rest of the dish. ‘Perfectly balanced flavours’ is a clichéd turn of phrase that gets dragged out often, but in this case, the dish embodies this concept.
The free-range beef cut of the day for lunch mains is generously portioned, beautifully plated and deliciously cooked. But do save space for dinner, because that's where the culinary magic happens.
Dinner is a degustation of five courses, with or without wine pairings. It is an immersion of imaginatively prepared food, experimental flavour pairings, boundary-challenging cooking techniques and plating masterpieces.
It can be easy to forget the objective – serving food to eat – and the danger of over-complicating dishes in lieu of showing off techniques is inherent with such a meal, but chef Constantijn instinctively resists the temptation and knows exactly when to rein it in. Few things are served that don’t harmonise on the palate. While the number of ingredients incorporated per dish is ambitious, nothing is added that doesn’t work.
A starter of conservatively titled Smoked Indezi underplays in name the flavour fanfare it delivers. Creamy rooibos-smoked Indezi River Creamery goat’s-cheese curd blooms with delicate petals of lightly pickled beetroot and dried pear chips, resting on a velvety bed of beetroot purée and dotted with herb flowers. A second course of poached geelbek is a Japanese-inspired broth unlike any other. The fish is tender enough to dissolve on the tongue. It rests unassuming at the bottom of the bowl, covered in charred sweetcorn and freeze-dried sweetcorn drops. Hot dashi is poured over it all, anointing the fish and dissolving the pearls. The ribbons of ulva seaweed come unfurled and the combination of flavours and textures on the palate is fantastic.
The rest of the courses that follow are as reverential to their ingredients as the first two. The sweet courses are an homage to chef Constantijn’s guilty pleasures with a dish of the same name. His love of a popular liquorice candy is translated into Rhubarb Allsorts, plated to emulate the sweets he loves: soft marshmallows with liquorice centres, candied ribbons of rhubarb, strawberry coulis and quenelles of quince ice cream.
To eat at Hartford is to treat yourself to a dining experience that reflects some of the most prodigious cooking talent and lovingly cultivated and reared food in the province.
The wine list is multi-award winning, offering vintage, rare, local and international wines. GM Duncan Bruce’s knowledge of wine is extensive. Juices are freshly squeezed and cold pressed, using fruit and vegetables from the kitchen garden and orchard.
General manager Duncan is on hand to attend to the needs of diners and guests, and staff are friendly, efficient and accommodating.
Set on a sprawling stud farm, the restaurant has breathtaking scenery. Carefully manicured lawns and gardens roll out to the edges of dams. Hartford House is a beautifully decorated British colonial-style house, and the dining and lounge areas are a cosy and welcoming respite on cold days.
Recently, the Tijn Huis was opened just across from the house. Named for its location and the chef, it's nestled in the garden, overlooking water features and the dam. It’s open for tea, light lunches and pastry indulgences, and is a perfect setting for chilled G&Ts on summer afternoons or dinners under the night sky by the large braziers.
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Hartford House’s peaceful setting is certainly a drawcard, but the food is definitely the biggest star of the show here. Chef Constantijn Hahndiek champions local produce to great effect on his menu. Dinner is a five-course affair and the menu changes daily, according to what’s in season and in the vegetable garden. It kicks off with breads, such as pistachio and cranberry, baked on site, then moves on to the likes of artichokes with polenta chips and pistachio aïoli. Blackened salmon delivers an explosion of flavours with a cucumber “ketchup” (made by juicing cucumbers and mixing them with rice wine vinegar), charred radish and soy tapioca, which provides a pleasingly salty counterpoint to the richness of the salmon and artfully mimics the appearance of salmon roe. Local organic Bannatynes pork belly is perfectly paired with blueberries glazed in Port and a silky smooth parsnip purée, while ethically sourced eland is smoked with hay and served with creamy pan-fried sweetbreads that complement the leanness of the venison. A “surprise” course of roasted white chocolate mousse with shortbread crumble and blood orange foam, served on a glass cylinder from which billows of orange-scented steam escapes, is a showstopper. Finally, a simply named dessert of “peaches and cream” is anything but: marinated fresh peaches with a coconut sorbet and panna cotta made using local Gourmet Greek yoghurt.
A comprehensive wine list featuring both local and international labels, plus spirits, soft drinks and liqueurs.
Excellent, with lots of friendly smiles.
The restaurant is set in an old-fashioned manor house with a wide balcony overlooking the tranquil gardens.
Book a room and stay the night, you won’t feel like driving anywhere.
A new chef, young Travis Finch, has taken over the reins in this award-winning kitchen. The focus on local produce is an ongoing feature, as is the five-course dinner menu. The KZN inspired snacks set the tone of things to come: Braaied amadumbi bread served with homemade butter, then on to the meal. The Natal taste profile is continued with a dish of Wayfarer trout served with bowls of “mist”, which adds a fun element to the evening. A further delight is the pork belly, as a second starter, served with wild garlic glacé and crispy crackling. The strength of the Midlands dairy offering is celebrated in a dessert like a cauliflower panna cotta with milk biscuits, condensed milk ice cream and a coffee mousse, with delicious crispy biscuit crumbs.
The award-winning wine list never fails to delight – the rare South African wines, delightful descriptions and boutique finds make this list one of the best in KZN. Along with with freshly squeeze juices, and a careful selection of whiskeys and cognacs, there is truly nothing you could want for in terms of beverages.
The warm Zulu welcome is what sets this restaurant apart. The dinner service is genuine and welcoming, and staff members are well trained.
A formal, lingering evening meal like this is rare treat in our busy and rushed lives, and it’s a delight to sit on the verandah overlooking a wonderful garden. The tranquility of the world-renowned Summerhill stud will inspire you to have a walk before your meal.
Why not stay over at the guesthouse? The rooms are wonderful – one night will feel like a week’s holiday.
(Paula Mackenzie, August 2014)
Great ambience, the best risotto I have eaten, period. I loved the chicken wrapped up in Kamberg bacon. Thanks to pastry chef...sis' Deli Nene for the dessert of the decade.
When passion and excellence meet you know you're in for a treat.
We recently stayed at Hartford and felt welcome from the moment we drove through the gates. We started our stay with lunch on the verandah - I hadn't had such an excellent meal in ages (except until dinner).
We did a wine pairing with dinner which the chef had paired to perfection. We started our dinner with ostrich tartare - seasoned and well balanced. Next the tongue soup was rich and meaty but also light. You could have eaten a massive bowl. Third course was quail with crisp potatoes and chicken liver parfait which was a triumph. The springbok to follow was cooked with precision. Lastly the Turkish Delight was the ideal way to end a perfect meal. The service as always was attentive and friendly - how service should be!
Thank you to Jackie and the team at Hartford for a memorable stay and the best meal I've had in ages. My Top 3 in SA for sure!
Very good food, ambience and service! Lovely staff and all very attentive! Jackie is a fantastic chef and runs that kitchen with perfection!
Love at First Bite
I’m no food critic, let alone a foodie, my culinary skill and tastes have always been simple. Last night a lady in a remote rural area of Natal rocked my world. I’ve lived in Kitwe, where food excellence is based on the standard of the newly opened Wimpy and my idea of a good meal was a grilled rump steak and chips and gourmet the Greek salad side dish
I first saw Jackie Cameron on an episode of Justin Bonello’s “Cooked” and was impressed with her recipes and collection of recipes kept with great care from family and experience. I duly followed her on Twitter and hoped one day I’d have the opportunity to pass through Mooi River and experience her brilliance. I’ve chatted to her for a few weeks, sent her Twitter followers and I’m excited to see the launch of her book in 2013. You haven’t experienced life if you haven’t experienced Jackie’s food. It is an item on your bucket list that needs to be ticked off.
There have been very few people in my life that have left me with absolute awe and amazement. I had neurosurgeon’s, doctors and financial geniuses in my class at school. I played cricket in the same side as a Protea and future provincial players, I’ve met Springbok rugby captains and members of that Rugby World Cup 95 side and I’ve shaken the hand of Frankie Dettori, the world’s greatest jockey. They just don’t compare and each one of these experiences for me was very special.
My good fortune arose with my good friend Paulo Do Carmo coming down from Johannesburg and asking me to join him for the day at the KZN Mare and Weanling sale at Yellow Wood stud near Mooi River. The condition I attended was we have dinner at Hartford House and I booked a table for Paulo, Jonathan, Kathy and myself.
Jackie doesn’t have attention to detail, she masters attention to excellence. In all my years, I’ve never had food prepared for me like this and I have to say I was blown away The menu above, to be honest was light years away from my usual fare and I was a little hesitant. As a private schoolboy I’ve always eaten what was on the plate and never questioned the chef.
At first glance I wasn’t too keen to try tongue and liver, so fortunately Kathy shared the same reluctance, which led to a slight shift in the dish for us. Paulo being allergic to cheese also had his menu altered slightly. Jackie took this in her stride exuding her passion, energy and why she had combined the ingredients in the menu, going through each dish and the combination of flavours in them.
A glass of complimentary champagne from Chef Jackie for all my hard promotional work on Twitter. Ostrich Tartar with Borage Flowers and Susu. I have to say I’d never heard of borage and never eaten flowers (while sober) but the combination of flavour and taste here was outstanding. I have tried ostrich before and never really been impressed but this was absolutely amazing. Combined with a Rupert and Rothschild red wine, this was as close to perfection as it can ever get.
Hearty Lentil English Tongue Soup with Tonka Broad Bean Puree. The picture doesn’t do the dish much justice here as the puree was served separately but once again, the richness of the dish and texture was absolutely outstanding. You can in the pictures, see the attention to absolute excellence in Jackie’s presentation and you’re missing a lifetime opportunity if you never actually experience this food.
Poached Quail with “Croft” Chicken Liver Parfait, “Kamberg” Ham, sticky Potatoes, Violet Espuma and Garlic Chips. This was perhaps the second best dish of the night. The colours, presentation and outstanding combination of each ingredient was incredible. Paulo said if I didn’t ask for Jackie’s hand in marriage, he would break up with his longstanding girlfriend via SMS and beat me to it. Unfortunately the Vodacom service was down and my declaration of undying love wasn’t delivered until much later but I had to agree with my good friend, If I ever have a lady in my life again, she would have to produce food as splendid as this.
Jackie isn’t a new Nigella, she is streets ahead of her. I can’t wait to see her own series and read her book. Springbok and Blesbok with Garden fresh Pea Puree, Truffle Oil Mayonaisse and fresh Dill. I’ve loved venison since I was a little boy, so this dish was one I really looked forward to sampling. The amalgamation here was once again fantastic. I haven’t had dill on a dish since my days with a Swedish spouse and I was ecstatic it didn’t overpower the dish at all. Each item complimented the other absolutely and accentuated the flavour.
I was sold. Beetroot Powder topped Lokum with Ash coated Lemon Verbena Panna Cotta, Rose Geranium Ice Cream and Lavender Sherbet. The idea of beetroot on any dish has haunted me since my boarding school days, where I attempted to find a way of spreading it out round a dish, to deceive the staff into believing that I’d eaten it. To think I’d ever accept beetroot in any form on a dessert before this evening, would have led to bellows of disbelief. The sherbet took me back to my days as a barefoot boy, walking to the local shop and spending my pocket-money on a liquorice sherbet fountain. (I’m sure this will reveal my age to Jackie but it may give her an idea in flavour combinations for the future). Once again, the glorious impact of each ingredient on the tongue was perfectly combined and for the first time in my life, I can say in utmost honesty, I enjoyed beetroot!
I was now drumming up courage and asking Kathy, if I could loan her ring for a marriage proposal. Then came the “extra”, which crowned a magnificent evening in splendid company. The Sweet Tray. If any lady can reproduce the tray above, I will marry you in an instant. Macaroons. Chocolate Truffles, Lemon Balls, Rice Paper wrapped Toffee and something creamy chocolate and mind-blowing,
I was lost for words. Jackie Cameron is a chef that will linger in your memory for a lifetime. She is absolutely stunning and as pretty a lady as they get but has such bubbly presence. I was smitten and taken with her passion, knowledge, loyalty and dedication to her years at a magnificent establishment. This venue isn’t top ten in South Africa, it is one of the world’s top restaurants and this has been no small effort on Jackie’s part. It has been 9 years of blood, sweat and tears for an amazing person, that sets herself new challenges continuously.
I left a little sad that time was not on my side to get to know Jackie better and experience a host more of her recipes. I am elated to call her a friend and someone who left me short of superlatives. You haven’t experienced life if you haven’t eaten at Hartford House under the management of Chef Jackie Cameron.
Follow this amazing lady on Twitter @Jackie_Cameron and @HartfordHouse
My thanks once again Jackie, for an experience that I have done my utmost best to describe in words and images, They just don’t do this justice as an experience.
Hartford was by far the best foodie experience of our lives. I visited there with a few friends and we were truly impressed. The food was prepared and presented impeccably and the service was brilliant. It's no wonder it frequents the rankings as one of the country's best dining outings. We were unfortunate not to experience the work of Jackie Cameron herself but could see that her sous chef, Elaine Boshoff, was more than capable of maintaining the expected standard of Hartford. We're currently planning to take a day off lectures and visit with more friends soon (we're 4th year medical students at UKZN).
Words are not strong enough to emphasize the magic that happens in this restaurant. The food...cuisine...and art...are amazing and can only be experienced and not explained. This restaurant is a touch of Heaven!
Tasty, well thought out food creations, prepared with respect and love.