If you weren’t around in the late 1800s and the early part of the twentieth century, you’re most likely to remember Hartford, the farm, for the exploits of its famous racehorses. In 1939, the late Raymond Ellis and his family acquired the property as a country retreat, a refuge from their beachfront hotels and property holdings in Durban.
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Hartford House has announced the appointment of Mathew Armbruster, who at 25 is already toting the CV of a master of his profession, as Head Chef.
The World's 50 Best Restaurants
“South Africa is known for its unlimited natural beauty, alluring landscapes and striking city architecture. Idyllic green interiors, a wild coastline and impressive mountain ranges steal a visitor’s attention. From a dining perspective, many restaurants offer both fine plates and the sensory delight of being surrounded by nature, the fizz of big city life or the quaint pleasure of remote living. ” — Ishay Govender-Ypma / The World's 50 Best Restaurants
Situated on the Summerhill Stud farm in the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, Hartford House is one of the country’s top fine dining restaurants. Benefiting from an extensive list of small local suppliers for dairy, beef, herbs and vegetables, chef Constantijn Hahndiek has created a five-course dinner menu that is an ode to the region. Think Indezi cheese, local trout, butter-soft beef and rich crispy duck. Hahndiek and the front of house manager are actively involved in explaining the details of the menu, which adds a special touch.
An hour and 45 minutes from Durban, Hartford House, a colonial-style property, is set against verdant greenery, with fine horses roaming the fields and a tranquil lake near the exquisitely appointed cottages (which is where you want to stay if you’re an overnight guest).
Tips: From Wednesday to Sunday, the Tijnhuis hosts a market of delicious local produce that you won’t want to miss. Breakfasts here are legendary.
In the lead up to the Summerhill Ready To Run sale, which takes place at the School Of Excellence, Summerhill Stud on Wednesday, 25th October, we thought it might be fun to encourage patrons to view the gallops and choose their favourite to stand a chance to win lunch for two at Hartford House.
As our Ready To Run candidates parade before the judges at Monday’s gallops in Randjesfontein, the Hartford House team faces a similar fate on Sunday (20th) when the nation gets to know the names of the top ten restaurants in the country. It’s one thing standing out in a foal crop of 3500, it’s another entirely when you’re one of more than 80 000 restaurants in South Africa in the glare of millions of “wannabee” food fanciers.
Coming from us, you’d be forgiven for confusing our title today with the great racing filly, Allez France, who carried the colours of the famous art dealers, the Wildensteins, to victories in all the corners of the globe that mattered in her day. For a change though, this piece is about cooking, and another case of a couple of goals scored by Hartford House for every one we get over the line at Summerhill.
The latest Summerhill Sires brochure, penned in the hot aftermath of their tenth national Breeders’ Championship, ended with a piece on its sister business Hartford House, with a statement which in the heady context of what had just happened, might’ve smacked of exaggeration: “For every goal Summerhill has scored of late, Hartford has banged in two".
"It’s never easy to admit to the ravages of age, so I’ll confine myself to a confession that horses have been a part of my life since the day I was born, and that this is my 40th year in the commercial stud business." - Mick Goss / Summerhill CEO
The KZN Breeders' Awards were something of a triumph for the farm and its customers too.
While it's by no means restricted to racing journalism, blogging and the internet have wreaked carnage on the art of good writing, and while there are many who'll find solace in the fact that what they read on the internet and even in newspapers these days, is closer to the language they speak, you have to ask yourself where the written medium is heading if its spiral remains tilted towards mediocrity.
The Summerhill Ready To Run gallops is an inspiring gathering of some of the industry's biggest hitters.
We've been much awarded at Summerhill and Hartford over the years, but this was the most extraordinary dance performance I had ever seen, and the adulation the Ngobamakhosi enjoyed at last year's Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo as the big hit of the world's biggest arts and crafts festival, was little surprise to us. We all have our strengths in life, and when it comes to song and dance, our Zulus are up there with the best anywhere.
Come to Hartford House for a while, and you might even discover the meaning of a much-used phrase here in Zululand: "What's the hurry?"
As he gazes down from his heavenly perch, we'd like to think old man Ellis might approve of what's happened at Summerhill since he wiped away those tears in the rose garden.
Followers of these columns, and in particular those who hold an affection for Hartford House, will recall the day Hartford earned its place in the world order of top restaurants. The senior food critic at America's leading business newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, was among the judges for Eat Out's Top Ten Restaurants, and it was one of his remits to take a plane ride all the way to KwaZulu-Natal to test the offering at what he imagined to be an 'isolated tourist trap' which had had its time. 'Big mistake!', he exclaimed, nominating Hartford in the top three country restaurants on the planet, alongside Sweden's Fäviken and Australia's Royal Mail.
We recently received a letter from Lynn Atkinson, a regular (and certainly amongst our favourites) correspondent and follower of our blog, and decided that its publication was a wonderful opportunity to share Lynn's latest memoirs, which were described by Mick as "moving"; we're quite sure our readers will agree.
The end of November is not the preserve of the De Kock year-end party or the Summer Cup alone: it’s the beginning of the end of the breeding season, it heralds the launch of our Summer Ready To Run marketing initiatives, and it signals the commencement of the yearling “preps” for the April sales.
For those of us who live in the misty gulf between what the smart people of the Northern Hemisphere call the “civilized world”, and those who worship their ancestors, omens still count for something.
As hard as you try, there are no guarantees in life. Just ask Jacques Kallis and Morne Steyn, former icons of the Proteas cricket squad and the Springbok rugby team: we all, it seems, reach our sell-by date. It’s no different in the culinary world, where new blood is the infusion every table needs to sustain its currency, its freshness and its palate.
We were lucky with the people that went before us at Summerhill and Hartford. Like us, they loved these properties, the climate and the people of the neighbourhood. Besides their immense contributions to the politics and the business affairs of the day, their signatures are everywhere to be seen in the architecture, the sculptures, the trees and the personalities of the farms.