Haart(ebees) & Soul
Words by Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright, pics by Karl van Heerden
When it comes to foodie adventures, few people end up in the Hartebeespoort area near Pretoria. Known for its golf resorts and busy dam, one doesn’t often hear of the little gems that are tucked away. It’s only 45 minutes from Sandton and the wealthy eastern suburbs of Pretoria, and it offers among others, a restaurant that’s the closest you can get to three Michelin stars in South Africa if the rating system existed in the country.
After googling and chatting to locals about the hot spots, what came up were three very different offerings to check out: a boutique hotel with top food, a tapas bar and a popular bistro.
The Orient Hotel is a boutique venue that’s a sanctuary in itself. One could use it as a base to explore the area for a weekend, but once you’re there it’s unlikely you’ll want to leave. There’s so much to see and do – from an exquisite art collection to a movie theatre from a bygone era where you can revisit the romantic movies you’ve longed to see again. It’s nestled in the Francolin Conservancy in Elandsfontein in the Crocodile River Valley and there’s game on the property as well as walking trails through beautiful indigenous bush, with many opportunities for enjoying a glass of Champagne under a thorn tree.
The Orient opened in 1996, was built in the Moorish style of architecture and is magical and other-worldly. The eclectic mix of furniture was collected by the owner Cobus and his wife Mari on trips around the world, and there are beautiful antiques from Java, India, Italy and Morocco, amongst other places. Cobus made a special trip to India to source all the doors and beds, which came from old Maharajas’ palaces and hunting lodges.
Mari, the patron and manager of the hotel, decided to open it so that her creative step-daughter, the now famous Chantel Dartnall, could have a home for her serious, high-end food. A restaurant with rooms, European style, was where they started, but it has grown to 10 suites that could easily come from the pages of One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.
Chantel has had a passion for food and cooking since she was a child. After school she studied at the Prue Leith College before heading to America and then the UK. ‘You haven’t really cooked till you’ve cooked in London’ was the advice she got, and so Chantel followed in the footsteps of Marco Pierre White and Gordon Ramsey to complete her studies under the mentorship of Nico Landenis of Chez Nico in 90 Park Lane, a traditional three-star Michelin Restaurant.
Under the mentorship of Landenis, Chantel learned the importance of the ‘deconstruction’ of food, the taking apart of traditional rules and redefining them to suit her own style. In Chantel’s style of cooking, nature plays an important role. She describes the way she ‘forages for plants and flowers’ from the area as ‘botanical cuisine’, and aims to bring diners closer to the rhythms of nature by using local ingredients in a seasonal way. She has dedicated growers from surrounding farms cultivating specific ingredients for her and this year she’ll be basing her four seasonal menus on the patterns and moods of nature. Her dégustation menu also changes four times a year and depends on seasonal ingredients. Here at Mosaic, the restaurant at the Orient Hotel, diners can expect carefully considered wholesome fare, and should prepare to receive works of art on their plates.
Mosaic is renowned for its award-winning cellar, which stocks wines from around the world to accompany the restaurant dishes under the expertise of sommelier Germaine Lehodey.
So there’s little wonder that Mosaic was named Restaurant of the Year by the Restaurant Association of South Africa and triumphed at the Top 100 SA Wine List Awards for 2013, when it received the award for Best Wine List in South Africa. It also received the Best Value Award in the Inspirational category. At last here is a restaurant charging fair prices, even for the most expensive imported wines.
Surprisingly, to enjoy this epicurean delight on the doorstep of Johannesburg and Pretoria, will not break the bank. Regulars attest the fact that it’s worth every cent.
If you do manage to drag yourself away from the Orient, and are keen to day trip and explore the area, try Siesta, a quirky little tapas bar in the main street of Hartebeespoort. A more friendly welcome is not possible and we immediately relaxed into the chilled, slightly bohemian vibe. The Gypsy Kings and some off-beat Reggae drifted from the speakers as we read the menu and decided that everything sounded too delicious to be left out. They were certainly the most authentic patatas bravas I’ve had outside of Spain: delicious crispy fried potatoes topped with aioli and hot sauce. Simple, authentic and good.
As it turned out, we limited ourselves to what the chef recommended: crostini with duck rillettes and green chilli and courgette pesto, saffron mussels and grilled chorizo. To round off our local Spanish affair, a guilty pleasure awaited us in the form of a delicious chocolate brownie layered with vanilla ice cream and topped with chocolate ganache. If no one is looking don’t hesitate to try the Amarula tiramisu, which is layered espresso, amaretti biscuit and Amarula mascarpone topped with cocoa powder and berry compote. A perfectly simple and delicious lunch washed down with wine from the rather extensive list.
Siesta Tapas Bistro offers the perfect location for a late Sunday get together with the girls, but you could also bring the whole family here just to sit back, relax and lose yourselves in the rustic and colourful surroundings of the Hartbeespoort dam.
On the far side of the dam is the Silver Orange Bistro. Leon Nel has been in the food industry for 12 years and has developed a certain cult status in the area. The restaurant was opened in 2004 in what was then his grandmother’s house on a 60-hectare citrus farm. The family was in the dairy business and owned Nel’s dairy, and Leon was chef at a Waterkloof guest house at the time. So it was at the age of 25 that he opened the restaurant on a limited budget and, with only R7 left in his bank account, no money for tables or cloths. He did have a few decent inherited napkins and he knew where he wanted the restaurant to be. ‘If the food was great, the décor could be okay.’
It took two years to develop an established clientele. Many thought it was steak and chips country and that a bistro serving fine food wouldn’t survive, He focused on good local ingredients, initially wasting a lot, but as the bistro became more popular, it became more viable. He now has, in a month, as many clients as he had then in a year.
His most popular dish is the duck and fig samoosa and after we’d tasted it, we understood why – crispy, soft and slightly sweet, this was gourmet comfort food. Leon doesn’t follow serious food trends so you won’t see any foams and jellies, it’s just great food made from good ingredients.
The wine list was staggeringly good and it was hard to choose what to drink with our lunch, but the Donkiesbaai Steen made by Jean Engelbrecht of Rust en Vrede is a true boutique Chenin that was outstanding and particularly food friendly.
Next was tempura prawns with a mango, lychee and cucumber salsa which went very well with the white house wine, produced specially for the restaurant by the well-known Stellenbosch winemaker Louis Neil of Neil Ellis and Warwick fame.
For the main course Leon treated us to a soft and juicy ostrich fillet on a bed of sweet potatoes surrounded by homemade stewed cranberry sauce. We kidded ourselves that ostrich was healthy, tucked in and finished the lot before enjoying a thick slice of grilled salmon on a bed of vanilla mash, garnished with caviar.
Leon changes his menu every month, so when you call ahead for a booking you can maybe also ask what he’s planning.
Heading home was a quick 30 minutes to Bryanston, so it’s totally doable to head out there for lunch if you don’t plan on spending the weekend. If you do decide on a whole weekend, there are endless things to keep you entertained if you don’t want to dedicate all your time to eating and drinking. But why not?
If you do decide on a whole weekend, there are endless things to keep you entertained if you don’t want to dedicate all your time to eating and drinking.
There are fun things to do on the way to Harties:
• Get a birds-eye-view of the dam and the magnificent Magaliesberg mountain range from the new cableway www.hartiescableway.co.za
• Take a hot air balloon ride over the picturesque landscape. Perhaps even indulge in a Champagne breakfast or one of many interesting packages on offer www.discoverballooning.co.za
• Spoil yourself at the Cradle Health Spa in the shade of the Magaliesberg. Here you can get back to basics with a massage, and health and beauty boost www.cradlehealthspa.co.za
And more to do on the other side of the dam:
• Pick, weigh and take home organic strawberries from Tangaroa strawberry farm. Also pick up a bottle of their sumptuous strawberry jam. Your toast will thank you later www.tangaroa.co.za
• Stock up on flavoursome farm cheeses at Van Gaalen Kaasmakerij (cheese farm) opposite the strawberry farm. You can also take a tour through the farm, which the kids will love www.vangaalen.co.za
• Be very close to elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary (on the R512, close to the Chameleon Craft Village), which runs a fully guided educational programme in elephant interaction. It’s an opportunity of a lifetime www.elephantsanctuary.co.za
• Visit the Bush Babies monkey sanctuary alongside the Elephant Sanctuary. It’s a privately owned, non-subsidised sanctuary situated in one of the many kloofs (gorges) of the Magaliesberg mountain range. There are species from around the world, so it’s a must-see for primate lovers and kids enjoy it too www.monkeysanctuary.co.za
Source: Winestyle Magazine