The picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and Pietermaritzburg are packed with diverse dining options, offering everything from laid-back farm-style cuisine to fine dining in stunning countryside locations. Here’s where to eat if you’re lucky enough to spend some time meandering the Midlands this December. (Our best of Durban list is essential summer reading, too.)
Acclaimed ceramicist Michael Haigh brings his creativity to the plate with home-grown and wholesome produce prepared in a delicious, casual and unfussy manner. The harvest table attracts a full house on weekends, boasting dishes like peas whipped into cream cheese and piled on smoky aubergines, succulent fishcakes, bejewelled salads, and flaky tarts. Breakfasts are excellent, too.
The kitchens have been through a transition, with the team behind the pass being encouraged to play with their food. A five-course tasting menu boasts some imaginative, delicious and carefully plated dishes, like dill-and-verbena sous-vide kingklip and house-smoked lamb with Brussels sprouts, oyster mushrooms, sunflower seed brittle and mint jus. The Stroh Rum crème gives the clove sponge with berry-and-almond white-chocolate shard an ambitious kick and the rose panna cotta gets a kiss of liquorice with Sambuca ice cream.
The beloved restaurant has settled comfortably in its new location, serving the same hearty, home-made style of food. The Big Boep pork belly with crispy crackling and garlic mash is the type of rich and delicious comfort cooking that’s celebrated here. The burgers are skyscrapers, and much-loved classics like the Daughter’s Benedict and the jarred lemon meringue are still on the menu.
This is not a safe place for dieters. The evocatively named Eggslut is a sweet-and-savoury delight, with bacon, camembert and soft-poached eggs on a toasted English muffin. The Big Daddy omelette threatens every ingredient but the kitchen sink and is not to be taken lightly. Burgers are piled almost comically high with ingredients and smothered in an avalanche of sauce. Finish off with a freak shake.
There’s a legacy behind the food at Hartford House. The culinary pedigree was created by previous chefs like Richard Carstens and Jackie Cameron – and it’s evident that current chef Constantijn Hahndiek sees it as an inspiration. Chef Constantijn reinvents the menu daily to honour the season’s best ingredients. Think rooibos-smoked goat’s cheese curd, poached geelbek in hot dashi, and a playful Liquorice Allsorts dessert.
A restored brick dairy is the setting for this rustic venue with some of the best Italian-style cooking in the province. Home-made pastas are mainstays, and dishes are hearty and rustic, generous in both flavour and portions. The veal ragù, paired with an old-world Tuscan chianti, will transport you to the Italian countryside.
This venue is home to head chef Alex Poltera, whose menu combines conventional with contemporary. Brioche burgers are a must, especially the crispy pork belly and confit duck versions. Try the succulent trout, smothered in creamy sauce, or comfort food like oxtail stew, grills, curries and pastas. There’s also an entire vegan section, featuring inspired dishes and desserts.
Wholesome food is grown and sourced locally by chef-patron Gregg Oosthuizen. The weekend harvest table is a kaleidoscope of salads, vegetables and free-range meats. A spicy sirloin sandwich with salsa verde, caramelised onions, pecorino and roasted tomatoes is perfection. Pizzas are baked in the wood-fired oven, and occasionally line fish is on special.
The menu here is reflective of owner Penny Hatting’s illustrious career and passion for fine dining. Signature items are roasted bone marrow with slow-braised beef tongue, and confit free-range chicken with sweet-potato purée, smoked feta and porcini-and-chive cream. The slow-braised lamb is a more generous size, topped with tzatziki and cherry tomatoes. Playful desserts include a tangy lemon posset dotted with little meringues, and a landscape of chocolate soil and nut brittle.
These are the restaurants in the KZN Midlands that were rated highly enough by our panel of critics to appear in the Eat Out 500, the best 500 restaurants in the country, as featured in Eat Out magazine 2017. Meet the critics here.