Chef Jackie Cameron and Hartford House Restaurant Team
Chef Jackie Cameron and Hartford House Restaurant Team

Head Chef Jackie Cameron with the Hartford House Restaurant Team

(Photo : Cooked - Justin Bonello)

“From One Champion Team to Another”

When we last checked the stats, there were more than 70,000 restaurants or eateries in South Africa. That was six years ago, and there are probably many more today, which makes the food business just about the most populous sector in the economy. If you look at the biggest contributors to the Gross Domestic Product, there are not that many mines, it’s doubtful there are that many banks, it’s unlikely there are more farmers, there certainly aren’t  that many car hire companies, and there are many more restaurants than there are hotels.

That means the food game is as competitive, if not more so, than any other sector of the economy, though the title of “best restaurant” is always going to be a subjective issue. Yet there are a few names and places that pop up consistently year after year, and when they do so in a number of competitions adjudicated upon by different judges, then you know that the acclaim is pretty much universal.

The point of all this is that Sunday night in Cape Town, Hartford House once again made the nation’s “Top Ten” at the Eat Out awards, the only restaurant in KZN to do so, and the only one to have made the finals in each of the past six years. Head Chef Jackie Cameron turned 30 on Saturday, which means that besides being voted South Africa’s best restaurant in the Visa/House & Leisure awards in both 2010 and 2011, and Eat Out’s most popular restaurant in the latter year, as a personal milestone, Jackie’s been occupying the place of a finalist since she was 24, which in itself was a record.

She’ll be the first to admit though, that these accolades come courtesy of a team effort, and she’ll point immediately to her long-serving (and long- suffering!) assistant Elaine Boshoff, to a great back-up team in the kitchen, to a marvellously hospitable crew in the front of the house, and to an ambiance and atmosphere that belongs only to an historic property like Hartford and its award-winning gardens. We do need to acknowledge though, that our location puts Hartford at something of a disadvantage. We’re ten kilometres outside a dusty little dorp in the KZN Midlands, at the forgotten end of what the civilizations to the north of us have often referred to as the darkest continent. We do not see anything like the traffic that traverses the winelands and the environs of Table Mountain, nor for that matter, the populations of the greater Johannesburg, Pretoria or Durban areas, which makes this award all the more commendable. That there are just two restaurants outside of the Western Cape in the “Top Ten”, illustrates just how deep the culinary waters are in that part of the world, and equally, how good you have to be to be counted in their illustrious company.

In all of this, we need to pay our respects to those who’ve guided our team over the years in arriving at this day. Fundis like Victor Strugo, Anne Stevens, Eat Out’sAbigail Donnelly, Derek Taylor, Anna Trapido, Paula Mackenzie and the late Lannice Snyman, among critics of the printed media, Justin Bonello of BBC Food’s “Cooked In Africa”, Masterchef’s Pete Goffe-Wood and members of organisations such as Chaine des Rotisseurs have all been inspirations, and let’s not forget the encouragement and the acclaim of our guests. Customers are the lifeblood of our business, and their appreciation of the Hartford food experience has not only nurtured the creative spirit in our kitchen, but it’s reminded the team that sets the tables and carries the plates that in Africa, by contrast with many other places in the world, it remains an honour to serve.

“It has been a dazzling year of fun dining,” said Eat Out editor and judge, Abigail Donnelly. “I have seen local chefs prepare astonishing, world-class food, and the top restaurants in South Africa have shown tremendous talent, continuing to push the boundaries in terms of creativity, confidence and full-on flavour.” International judge Bruce Palling was similarly impressed by the standard of cuisine on offer in this country. The UK-based food columnist, who writes for the Wall Street Journal Europe and is on the judging panel of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, praised the range and dedication of South Africa’s leading chefs. “Some of the chefs would rank in my personal top twenty anywhere in the world.”

As eight-times Champion Racehorse Breeders of South Africa, at Summerhill we know what it takes. Hartford’s award is every bit as momentous. From one champion team to another, we are in awe. Well done, Hartford.

Top 10 Restaurants in South Africa


Cape Town - Western Cape


Franschhoek - Western Cape


Stellenbosch - Western Cape


Stellenbosch - Western Cape


Stellenbosch - Western Cape


Johannesburg - Gauteng


Cape Town - Western Cape


Cape Town - Western Cape


Stellenbosch - Western Cape


Mooi River - KwaZulu-Natal

hartford house
hartford house

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