Hartford House

The Home of Good Conversation, Fine Wine and Classic Horses.

Award-winning hotel and restaurant situated at Summerhill Stud on the picturesque KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Meander, South Africa.

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Good Taste Magazine

"Cooking with Heart"

Good Taste Magazine
June 2013

The dense scenery of Mooi River zips past the windows of our rented  car. The terrain is hilly and tropical, saturated with green, and  spiked with gold grain. We've been travelling through the Midlands for a  few days now, winding our way from farm to pub to restaurant; soaking  up the strangeness of this mysterious place.

The valley unfolds, rural and quiet. The first thing to greet us as we  arrive at Hartford House is a horse, its tail lazily flicking in the  air. Not much can prepare us for the entrance to the estate though; as  we drive through the wrought iron gates, I feel like Orphan Annie  arriving at the Warbucks Mansion; it's so positively sweeping and grand.

In the centre of this sprawling thoroughbred stud farm, is the  multi-award winning five-star boutique hotel and restaurant, Hartford  House (as its name suggests it evolved out of the property's stately  home). We pause at the top of the steps to the patio, and take in the  manicured gardens, the towering willow trees, the sea of green lawn, the  burbling fountain. (I'm told later by the general manager that the  cupid statue overlooking the pond is actually one of Leonardo Da Vinci's  designs, and that only three like it were made from the mould before it  was destroyed.)

Jackie Cameron bounces through the doors of the main entrance. The  pretty chef was born and bred in the Midlands, petite and blonde; Jackie  has that certain something that makes you immediately like her. She  radiates positivity.

"I cook from the heart," she says when I ask her to describe her style.  "I put plates together that I enjoy; and all my new dishes reflect mine  and my staff's childhood memories."

A champion of Midlands produce Jackie says that 95 percent of her ingredients are local.

Our table is on the edge of the covered stoep overlooking the  garden; diaphanous curtains hang down from a railing, billowing and  romantic, and oh-so colonial. I could be happy in this setting with a  pot of Earl Grey and a plate of cucumber sandwiches, but one glance at  the menu confirms I'm about to taste KwaZulu-Natal on a plate.

Lunch gets off to a swinging start with an onion and roasted garlic soup  paired with a sticky wine, a brave choice for an introductory meal. We  follow this with a 'Midland's Caprese Salad'. Halves of sweet, seared  cherry tomatoes are served on a square of mirror with a local yoghurt in  place of mozzarella, finished with rooibos vinegar, basil pesto, pecan  nuts and avocado purée.

We also share a trout terrine with 'Wayfarer' Trout Mousse. The Wayfarer  Trout farm, says Jackie is a 'picture-perfect haven'; and the  Brookland's pristine waters running through the property create an ideal  environment for the fish.

"I enjoy cooking for guests who know about food and wine, so I assume  that as a supplier it must be gratifying to supply a chef who  appreciates every little bit of effort spent on developing perfect  produce."

The picture-perfect terrine is presented with marinated North Coast palm  heart, caviar, and tomato essence espuma, topped with 'Kathy's  Sous-vide Quail Egg'.

Before our main courses arrive, I venture into the main house. It's  beautiful inside, colonial, yet contemporary, more African than Brit.  There are of course, the grand chandeliers and the gleaming antiques;  but also curiosities, like the line of wooden dogs. The kitchen flanks  the inside dining room - a relatively small, but appropriately sumptuous  space - and I've never seen one quite like Jackie's, each corner has a  window with light and greenery streaming in, it's airy and bright: a  boon I'm sure in the sweltering summers.

I'm shooed back to the table for the rest of my lunch. Simply plated  pan-seared crispy Dargle Valley Duck breast is served, paired with  potato spaghetti, butternut purée, hot roasted hazelnuts and a cinnamon  infused red wine sauce.

My date has an artful dish of 'two-hour poached Midland's  rabbit hot terrine'; which comes with Parma ham rosettes and potato  cylinders.

We linger over our plates, entranced with the scenery as well as the stories being told through the unique Midlands produce.

The afternoon light is turning a gold-pink by the time we're ready for  dessert. It comes served on a slab of red brick, an unusual creation  called 'Cream Cheese Fruit Cake Mince Balls' with crispy 'Kamberg' ham,  cherries, Gorgonzola and Parmesan ice cream and liquorice.

"I'm bringing together sweet and savoury, hot and cold, cheese and  dessert - all into one. Really just keeping the palate excited and  interested until the last mouthful. Desserts don't have to be same-old,"  explains Jackie.

The creative cook knew from 'a tiny tot' that she wanted to be a chef.  "I use to spend most holidays baking next to one grandmother's side; and  roasting and cooking up multi-course meals with my other grandmother.  From a young age I had an understanding and appreciation of good food."

Before we take to the gardens to walk off lunch, or perhaps to dream  under a tree, Jackie has some parting words of advice: "Get to know the  area in which you live. Visit the farms, shop at the farmers' market and  local farm stalls. Taste, ask questions, and get to the root of  ingredients. Meet the baker, the cheese-maker and the farmer behind the  various products you use, and ask to see the methods adopted. This  ensures an understanding of the process and a different eating  experience."

Visit www.hartford.co.za for more information.

Jackie Cameron Cooks At Home

The bubbly chef has just released her  first cookbook: Jackie Cameron Cooks At Home, we chat to her briefly  about it:

What’s your cookbook about?

I find a lot of recipe books are trying to prove to the world that the  authors are creative and well informed regarding food, so they present  items that impress on paper, for example 'a stewed fruit with rose  syrup' this, and a 'lavender essence' that... In my book you'll find a  delicious stewed-fruit recipe just how my grandmother made it. No bells  and whistles, just interesting and tantalising flavours. I'm not trying  to prove to the world that I can cook; I'm aiming to help the home cook  improve her/his day-to-day cooking with a how-to recipe book filled with  recipes that work. I believe if people are cooking better at home they  will expect a higher level of food in restaurants and in turn the entire  food industry will step up a level.

What went into creating it?

I set a goal to write and have a book published by the time I turned 30.  I wrote a column for The Witness years ago and those articles gave me a  base to work from. As well as from the comments sent to me, I was able  to judge which recipes were popular, and which didn't impress the  readers. Everything I do is thoroughly researched before I throw myself  into a project.

Your favourite dishes?

That's like  asking a parent which child is their favourite! I have a connection with  every recipe in the book and there's a little story to go with each  one. They are all special in their own way.

"Going to Dargle Ducks is an education and it puts most farms to shame,"  says Jackie. "They've gone back to what really matters. They call their  ducks 'open range' because they are free to roam day and night. The  feed is grown specifically for the ducks and includes sunflowers,  mealies, cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli, spinach, wheat, rye grass,  beans and kikuyu."


Hot Air Ballooning in the KZN Midlands

"Suddenly the wind ceased. The air seemed motionless around us. We were off."

Views of the Summerhill and Hartford Estates whilst Hot Air Ballooning above the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands! This is just one of the many unique experiences Hartford can arrange while you are staying with us.

"Suddenly the wind ceased. The air seemed motionless around us. 
We were off, going at the speed of the air-current in which we now lived and moved. Indeed, for us there was no more wind; and this is the first great fact of spherical ballooning. Infinitely gentle is this unfelt motion forward and upward. The illusion is complete: it seems not to be the balloon that moves, but the earth that sinks down and away..."

- Alberto Santos-Dumont, My Air-Ships, 1904. 

For further queries, contact Emma on 033 263 2713 or reception@hartford.co.za

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"Colours of Spring"

The winter snows have come and gone in the KZN Midlands and the first signs of Spring abound everywhere.

Above are a few photos of the Hartford House gardens 'springing' to life.

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August Snows on the Summerhill / Hartford Estate, KZN Midlands
(Photos : Leigh Willson)

KZN Midlands - August 2012

We all know how destructive snow can be when it comes down heavily but when it comes in a few inches, it brings the first moisture ahead of the spring, and it sprinkles our  paddocks and pastures with a liberal dose of 'free' nitrogen.

Despite the KZN Midlands' reputation for its beautiful indigenous forests of Yellowoods, White Stinkwoods and Cape Chestnuts,  the reality is these occur only on the Southern and Western-facing  slopes of the valleys. The bulk of the territory was hitherto great,  open savannah country, with millions of acres of waving veld, perfect  for the big grazing herds of red hartebeest, eland and the black  wildebeest.

It was only when the European settlers first arrived here in the  early 1820s that the trees you see so many of these days on your travels  through our region, were first imported. Those that came from Australia  were not built for snow, so that when it comes down heavily, the gums  and the wattles take strain, and they shed their boughs, and often their  trunks, by the drove. By contrast, those of European origin, the  conifer and the cedar varieties, carry their burden with equanimity.

If you're a tourist though, the precincts of Mooi River resemble a winter  wonderland. The roads and roadsides are littered with visitors to the  Midlands; snow fighting, building snowmen and generally having the best  time ever.

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"Hartford House"
By Candice Botha
House and Leisure - June 2012

Hartford House in KwaZulu-Natal is one of those rare places which has  it all - a picturesque setting, fabulous restaurant and beautifully  designed rooms. Situated on the Summerhill Stud Estate in Mooi RiverHartford House has won countless awards for both its accommodation and  food.

The restaurant is run by renowned Chef Jackie Cameron and the menu is  varied and interesting, taking advantage of the region's fresh produce.  Be assured that the meals are the kind which people remember for years.  Jackie's food presentation is particularly noteworthy with most dishes  looking far too good to destroy with a knife and fork but utterly  sublime when you do. Meals are served either out on the veranda  overlooking the estate's colourful gardens or inside the dining room of  the original homestead.

The original house is still home to three guest suites which boast  period details such as antique taps and light fixtures which many guests  find fascinating. Every suite in the hotel is unique and each boasts  details which will delight. Some suites look out onto the gardens and  swimming pool and four recently built eco suites are made entirely from  natural materials from the estate and its surrounds. The feel of these  suites is distinctly African and there can be no doubt of your location  in the world as you gaze out over the lake.

The Summerhill Estate is a destination on its own as the leading  racehorse breeder in South Africa. Guests are welcome and regular tours  of the Stud are conducted. Other activities include trout fishing - I  expect my divine trout lunch was freshly caught - and horse riding, bird  watching and spa treatments in the wellness centre. The Battlefields and Midlands Meander are also within easy reach and, so, a stay here  really should be for more than just one night. The restaurant also  welcomes guests who are not resident in the hotel for meals and a Sunday  outing to Hartford House for lunch is a rare treat.

For more information visit www.hartford.co.za or call 033-263-2713.