Chef Chris Papayannes’s burning passion for culinary excellence was ignited during his time at The Restaurant at Newton Johnson where he assumed the position as restaurant manager and sommelier as part of the opening team. He also has extensive knowledge in the wine and speciality beverage areas and these elements combine for a sensory food (and wine) experience when dining at Hartford House.
Menus change daily in line with what is locally available and seasonal, but always served with creativity, genius and performance that highlight the splendour of bountiful harvests. Dinner is a six-course tasting menu (with an optional wine pairing for each course) served either in the grandeur of a timeless dining room or on the Hartford House terrace with candlelit tables overlooking the immaculate lawns, rainbow spectrum of flowers sprouting from the beds and a sweeping view towards the informal eatery Tijnhuis and the kitchen’s herb and vegetable gardens.
Lunch is served in the same setting as either a two or three-course menu. Each course has a handful of options with the dishes delivered on plates suiting the dish rather than matching around the table – poached chicken with quenelles of chicken liver pâté, creamed potatoes, roasted onions and micro-greens arrived on a thick blue pottery plate. The rump steak – served a perfect medium-rare where the juices oozed on to the plate; the meat was an almost buttery texture in benefitting from professional maturation and the root vegetables masculine statements to a masculine dish – came on a black one as its own stark declaration.
Breakfasts embrace further creative spirit with individual masterpieces again inspired by local produce and the restaurant’s garden to present eggs and bacon far beyond the ordinary.The outcome is that regardless of the meal or the day, patrons are guaranteed a sublime experience embracing sight, sound, smell, taste and touch (if you cannot resist pinching something off the plate with your fingers). The food is holistic rather than being about signature dishes and, while expensive, is worth every cent.
Leather-bound and presented more as a book of reverence than a wine list, there is little doubt the contents is as weighty as its presentation. Name a premier boutique winery in this country and there will be a representation on that list. Consider your last international holiday to a wine-producing country and the chances are you will find one of those too.
Mark ups reflect the venue and dining experience, but are still within the realms of reasonability given that input. More welcoming is the extensive selection of premium wines by the glass that means matching each course with an ideally suited chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon is as simple as recalling the tome to the table.
Other alcoholic options where the variety transcends the imagination are whiskeys, brandies and gins that all speak to the expanded willingness South Africans are employing in trying out new opportunities to the market.
Service is faultless – from the professionalism and friendliness when making a booking (reservations requested) to the greeting on arrival by name if feasible and the attentive service during the meal. Waiters are well-briefed on the dishes when bringing them to the table and informative on wine pairing, while the chef makes personal appearances to patrons’ tables during the dining experience for further interaction and clarification. The holistic outcome is a genuine feeling of pampering.
This is silver service with minute attention to detail and the holistic outcome is a genuine feeling of pampering. Whether only having a lunch or staying for the dinner and overnight experience, Hartford House speaks to a by-gone era of indulgence and adult sophistication.
Hartford House is a romantic escape; an extravagance worth investing into a relationship for a wedding venue, a milestone celebration or simply to reconnect with a soul mate. If finances are willing, undertake the entire experience with the dinner and wine pairing as well as an overnight stay.
Eat Out critics dine unannounced and pay for their meals in full. Read our full editorial policy here.
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.