03 Mar Midlands Meander Restaurants
One of the lesser-known pleasures of the Midlands Meander is the number and diversity of restaurants. These are located throughout the length and breadth of the Midlands from Kamberg to Dargle, Karkloof, Rosetta, Fort Nottingham, Nottingham Road, Lidgetton and Balgowan. They range from quite basic coffee shops offering simple fare such as toasted sandwiches and beverages through to high-end fine dining, and everything in between. The fare on offer varies substantially in terms of the type of product. Some are relatively focussed such as La Lampara; offering Italian cuisine, or the Bierfassel specialising in German food, though most tend to offer more cosmopolitan fare.
One of the biggest plusses to my mind of the restaurants in the Midlands, is their location. Virtually all have views of the lovely surrounding countryside, while the outlook from some can only be described as absolutely stunning. Another positive is that nearly all of the restaurants on the Meander are owner-run. While there is no doubt a place for restaurant chains, it is often the owner-run establishments that have those little quirky elements and extra attention to detail, which differentiates them from the run of the mill. The fact that nearly all of those on the Meander are located in or adjacent to the owners’ residences, simply adds to the charm. There is much to be said for an evening out at a restaurant of your choice as this time of the day often provides an additional level of ambience. That said, one of our favourite activities in the Midlands is to have a long, relaxed lunch accompanied of course by an appropriate bottle of wine. Not only does this match the relaxed mood and feeling of the Meander but it gives you an opportunity to enjoy a leisurely drive through the beautiful countryside, culminating in a long, languid lunch in beautiful surroundings. There are few better ways, in our view, to spend three or four hours on a lovely Sunday in the scenic Natal Midlands.
What makes for a special restaurant experience?
The issue of how to rate the restaurant experience has occupied the mind of man for centuries and has even spawned a career (of sorts) in the form of foodie critics. Much of this of course relates to sensory experiences and therefore is extremely difficult to assess in quantitative terms. Clearly the quality of food is a common element but there are a range of other factors, which are clearly relevant, such as the location, the ambience, the wine list, the service and the menu. There is also that X-factor that is as a result of quirky elements that are often associated, in our experience, with owner-run establishments. In the Natal Midlands we are blessed to have a wonderful range of restaurants, many in absolutely stunning locations. Virtually all of these are owner-run, which means that those special attention-to-detail issues referred to earlier are often on display.
The issue of favourite restaurants is, by its nature, a very personal thing but in a blog such as this one is allowed to express personal views! Choosing a favourite is also an amalgam of all the factors mentioned above. In terms of location, two of our favourites are at Tumbledowns on the Curry’s Post Road and Els Amics located in Fort Nottingham. Both of these also have very good quality food at very reasonable prices with very friendly and hospitable hosts in the form of the Tabernors and the Jacobs respectively. Tumbledowns is located on a hill and has panoramic views to the east towards the Karkloof mountains. Els Amics is located in the tiny, sleepy hamlet of Fort Nottingham, surrounded by indigenous bush and lovely green hills. Another wonderful setting, giving a superb vista of the Drakensberg from Giant’s Castle to Cathkin is Blueberry Café. This is also located on top of a hill, quite close to the N3 near Nottingham Road. They have great coffee and blueberry scones to die for as well as a range of other snacks and lunches. If it’s fine dining you are after, perhaps linked to a special occasion, then Cleopatra is a very good option. They also have a fantastic setting high up in the Kamberg on the road to Highmoor. The food here is absolutely superb but you should of course expect to pay a premium here. There are really too many options in the Midlands to be able to do justice to here but other possibilities include Fordoun at Nottingham Road and Granny Mouse Country House, which also has a fabulous setting in a bend of the Lions River. Another amazing setting is Caversham Mill, located right next to a seven-metre waterfall on the Lions River. This restaurant also has a great, informal ambience and a quite lengthy and quirky menu. It has an excellent deck outside to take advantage of the waterfall. Also located nearby is La Lampara Restaurant. This has excellent Italian cuisine, though expect to pay a lot more at this location.