With another Durban trip on the cards, I am caught reminiscing about my last staycation in my home town, a city that promises 363 sun-kissed days and affordable cultural and foodie discoveries at every turn.
It has been said that “it’s about the journey not the destination” but when I was invited to lunch with Chef Constantijn of Hartford House I had to question, what if the destination took you on a journey?
Don’t get me wrong, travelling to Hartford House is an expedition and depending on your route it may or may not be the positive connotation of the word.
Situated 163km away from Umhlanga-the most central and frequented accommodation destination by tourists when visiting Durban- there are two routes one can take to visit the farm.
I suggest taking the Midlands Meander and doing literally that, meandering from early morning until you reach this serene Summerhill stud (Horses not shirtless men-sorry ladies) Farm for a delicious lunch or night’s stay in their renowned luxury accommodation.
The Meander is laden with boutique farm stalls, homemade produce, cafes & coffee roasteries, local breweries and some great “family” lunch spots in case you weren’t enticed to start driving right away!
Through a forest of trees on a dust road, you can see the flick of a horse’s main, hear a graceful grunt and the sparkle of a trout teeming dam in the distance, it is then you have arrived.
Trot into Hartford House, near the Tijn Huis and you’re greeted by friendly staff and generously given a tour of this truly captivating farm, a story, step by step-by the General Manager often enough, as was the case with my trip.
Just a look at the quaint cottage overlooking the prolific Pine trees and sultry swimming pool had me wishing that I had more time in my days to book into a suite and simply enjoy a cup of loose leaf tea in the new tea house at my back and forget “life”.
The gardens are pristine, even in the burnt colours of Autumn, Ivy creeps zealously up the dated walls of the Manor House and chirpy robins fly over head and play in ponds nearby- one could almost pretend to be in a Frances Burnett novel exploring the secret gardens of this working farm.
Enough day dreaming, It was time for lazy lunching.
There’s an ala carte offering at this time of day, and dinner sees a set tasting menu that changes daily. Yes, daily! My greedy self saw me ordering four items with a suggested wine pairing by the General Manager Duncan who had echoed a synergy of the food and wine in his pairings.
Each wine evolved from different South African regions to explore the best wines to show off already beautiful dishes. If you’re looking for a wine you tasted in Spain on your last holiday, it’s probably on the wine list. They list an expansive range of still wines from across the globe and champagne for those special nights too.
Out the gate Chef started with a salad that gave homage to their farm produce with pear trees seen just in the distance from the restaurant terrace as you dove into a poached piece on your plate-almost poetic. A light balanced dish with incredible goats cheese from a neighbor and a playful use of pears from crisps to raw blades of the fresh fruit.
Constantijn captivates guests with quirky local ingredients, his personal mingling and an honest integrity for using local and not cliché local. Authentic, know the farmer by name, local and it showed, plate by plate, dish by dish-truly, element by element.
My favorite dish of the day?
What appears to be a simple dish was possibly the most enticing and intriguing, as is often the case, simple is best. The “chips” on this Steak and chips styled dish were perhaps the most local dish I have come to experience.
The meat coming from a local farm nearby (as is almost everything as you can tell) with the most didactic component of the dish being the hand ground local “polenta” that went into making the “chips”.
A crisp coating on the outside but inside, the texture was more coarse and maize meal in flavour. These told a tale of the rural areas and the historic people of Shaka Zulu’s village which are not far from where we were.
A story of African Women who would farm crops of maize, leave them to dry in the sun for days on end. Finally with all their might grind each granule to a size small enough to cook a staple meal or turn into a local beer called umqombothi (a fermented maize meal beverage). A meal which on a good day with this homemade “meilie meal” takes up to 3 hours to boil, constantly stir and prepare.
Such a simple element but in that moment I was almost engulfed with patriotism for being both from this province and in turn country, making my meal, unforgettable.
In between courses or after lunch guests are welcome to explore the estate that boasts a variety of fruit trees, berry bushes and an abundance of fragrant herbs. The owners are very hands on and can be seen taking in sun by the water’s edge at the Tijn Huis and the gardens are maintained by the owners themselves. Showing that a love for “farm to table” is not just a nouveau, du jour, term, used to up the costs of their tasting menus menus but to truly make use of what’s best in this adored destination of Mooi River (translated, Beautiful River in Afrikaans)
If you’re looking for a pretty plate of food, great wine, incredible, knowledgeable hospitality visit Duncan and Constantijn Near the Beautiful River-It will hard to leave but remember Life is about the journey, take the trip,meet people, eat and explore!