Last week I posted about about the amazing place that is Hartford. Today is about the food.
After an impatient drive up from Durban, we arrived around lunch time. My wallet and stomach were prepped and ready to go. I wasn’t sure if we could check in yet, nor did I care as I barreled straight through to the restaurant. We were seated at a cosy corner, with offers to roll up the plastic blind window things to better see the gardens. This was met with my “Hell noooo” face. It’s a known fact that Durbanites have a lower body temperature than the rest of the globe, so we are sensitive to cooler climes. While the staff at Hartford sweated it out in the 18°C-ish weather I was cocooned in a blanket as close to a heater as I could get, short of sitting in it.
Right, so we had lunch. I ordered the fish and chips, thinking it would make a light introduction to their dishes and was met with maybe half a river’s worth of (ok, three) Midlands trout fillets. This was preceded by a bread “basket” that included Barbie-sized slices of home made bread (the smallness was cute and bite-sizey, not a bad thing) and chilli cheese sticks with fresh butter, lava salt, olive tapenade and caramelised onions. The fish was buttery and had a tangy lemon sauce and shovelling it all in my mouth with the edible flowers really was yum. That’s my poetic descriptor. I ensured that the dishwasher had minimal work, my plate was spotless. No trout left for the river.
My partner in food crime, Gareth, ordered a manly steak and was not disappointed. It came with a sauce that was incredible. When mopped up with a forkload of mash, fillet and buttery garlic it was amazing.
Dessert was a shared plate of chocolate truffles, home made turkish delight and a honey nut brittle. It was presented on an ingenious mirror “plate” that brought the party in your mouth to your eyes too 😉
With lunch ticked off the list, I was ready to check in and bide some time and digest things so that I’d have sufficient space for the much-anticipated supper.
From this point I must apologise for the quality of the images. I’m frankly rubbish at taking photos of anything in the dark. The camera and I had a falling out over exposure. I insisted the candlelight was sufficient at a high ISO and narrow apperture, it stubbornly refused to accept that. The disagreement resulted in very grainy, underexposed horrors that don’t do the food much justice. I’m sure all the wine we drank (as we had a complimentary wine pairing to go with each dish) had absolutely nothing to do with it. There may or may not have also been food on the lens. Ahem.
We started off with another bread “basket” that made my average meals pale in comparison. A sweetcorn muffin, home made bread, chilli bites, a spinach cloud puff (I’ve forgotten the name) that was very much like having a little green cloud almost levitating above your bread as you attempt to spread it. And something that I refer to as Zulu sourcream, made of amasi and really delicious.
The first course was a starter pea and ham soup. This was made with a sous vide Dargle pork belly, Midlands yoghurt and fresh garden peas. I’m a soup nut and this was my favourite. I could have happily had a pot of that.
Second dish was the Wayfarer trout “cottage pie”. It was made with a trout ribbon and creme, some fresh horseradish and a hint of artichoke. It was served on a brick. I’m not even kidding. Sadly, the photo below failed horribly so you will have to just imagine it. The brick-ish plate was just about two fingers in height and then the normal brick-ish width. It’s a clever thing, that, as it keeps warm so the arctic temperatures were kept at bay from my food. Not that it hung around long enough to cool, mind you..
The third dish in this meal was pieces of smoked beef fillet served in Summerhill hay, still smoking. This was accompanied by a dish on the side with Midlands forest mushroom espuma, chicken liver mousse, caramelised pearl onions and puff pastry. I loved the interaction aspect of this meal – fiddling with the hay, that kind of thing.
The last savoury course was a Dargle duck confit with roasted mielies, campfire olives, ash coated Swissland goat cheese and veal sweetbreads. I’d never eaten sweetbreads before so I was a bit apprehensive but it wasn’t nearly as sinister in flavour as I had suspected. In fact I actually forgot it was in the dish and only after I’d noshed the whole lot did I go back and check the menu. I think if we suspend thought from what we expect things to taste because of their visual association, we’d be a lot more open to the nose-to-tail eating that is slowly gaining momentum as a movement. Especially when it’s served like this.
Finally, with virtually no real estate left in our stomachs, we were served an asparagus panna cotta with apricot sorbet, caramel sauce, popcorn crumble and fig jelly.
With suppertime concluded we groggily stumbled to our room and collapsed in a heap in front of the fireplace. I relived my meal by reviewing the pics in my camera and wishing that the pixels could capture the taste, not just the sight.
Breakfast was the last on my list of Shirley’s Great Hartford House Gastronomy Adventure of ’13. I knew it would be a unique affair, but a three course meal is definitely not something I expected. Calorie counters and dieters beware, this is not a good place to lose weight. The only thing to lose here is food inhibitions. Anyway, I chose a fresh fruit in berry coulis, with a muesli base and a vanilla yoghurt gastrique. Gareth opted for the banana smoothie. Mains were a full english for me, because I was rendered insane by all the food. I don’t know what I was thinking. A twig would have been too much at that point. My more forward-thinking, better-planning half enjoyed blueberry crumpets that were rolled up instead of the flat crumpet shape you’d expect. But don’t expect anything usual here. And finally, the last meal to be had at Hartford was a breakfast dessert of Maltabella ice cream with Amarula cream and prune compote.
As I type this I’m drooling and I miss the food. I loved the celebration of KZN on a plate, with the various meals we had. You can enjoy fine dining anywhere in the world but it’s an extra sprinkle of pleasure when the magnificent food you eat was sourced locally and with ingredients unique to the area. If I could afford it, I’d go back for at least a few more days (any more and I think my arteries would just pack up and call it a day..).
Thank-you for taking the time to read this incredibly loooong post. If you have any thoughts or suggestions, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.