Each dish at this destination restaurant tells a story of the area, with nods to local producers that feel so much more than perfunctory – they truly are the stars of the show. At the outset chef Constantijn Hahndiek comes to introduce himself and the dishes. (All allergies and intolerances are announced when you make your reservation, so chances are you’ll love everything on your plate.)
The meal starts with artisanal breads. The beautiful little warmed rolls come with a perfect quenelle of creamy butter. The next plate, named Indezi River, is truly breathtaking in its elegant simplicity, lightness and presentation. Creamed chevin (the producer of which lends the dish its name) shares the stage with a tangy salad of strawberry and local sorrel (foraged by the kitchen team), with a fresh mint granita and delicate slices of white and pink radishes to echo the colour theme.
Next is a dish of Wayfarer trout, tender and rosy, which is served with little Jerusalem artichoke crisps, crackly skin and an umami-rich soya broth poured over at the table.
The Midlands area is known for its beef, and the next dish of aged sirloin proves why. The perfectly cooked meat is intensely flavourful, paired gloriously with earthy amadumbe and a soil of roast field mushrooms. An amuse-bouche of 'gin and tonic' is a lively and playful bowl, with a kick of booze in the gorgeously tart jellies.
Another producer is highlighted in Blue Orange Farms oven-roasted duck. The bird is pink, with crispy skin, served on a spicy citrus and complex butternut espuma with onion crumble. It’s another appealing and tasty dish.
The dessert on the night, simply named Chestnuts and Chocolate, rivals the first cheese course in its prettiness, featuring shards, creams and curls that incorporate crowd-pleasing chocolate, nuts and coffee.
The wine list is a tome, featuring pages of anything your heart might desire. Each course is paired with a wine, which you can order by the glass (but only if someone else at the seating is doing the pairing). Top wine names like La Motte,
Tokara, Ataraxia and Paul Cluver make an appearance.
Warm and personal. Front of house Duncan Bruce stops by each table to share details about the dishes, check on things and chat.
Every detail of the experience is sumptuous and of the highest quality. The colonial-style stone terrace is softened by silver-patterned linen tablecloths and upholstered chairs. You walk through gorgeously decorated rooms complete with artworks, richly draped fabrics, chandeliers and graceful furniture.
If the budget allows, it’s recommended that you stay over, if only so you don’t have to find your way in the dark. You will need all your faculties, plus Google maps and likely some phone calls to the hotel, to make it there if you’re going at night, as the dark farm roads offer no lighting.
Eat Out critics dine anonymously and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.
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.
Eat Out critics arrive unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our editorial policy here.