Crystal Barn in Fort Nottingham in the KZN Midlands is a gem – pretty, sparkly and a real find. It’s a wedding venue and hotel which happens to have a very good restaurant, too. Overnight guests are treated to a delicious breakfast (more on that later) and can request to have dinner, which my husband and I did on a recent stay.
The vibe is a clash of styles and colours with a strong vintage feel. On paper, the design shouldn’t work but, in real life, it’s utterly charming. Saris are embedded in the concrete floors, crystal chandeliers hang from high ceilings and stained glass, turned timber, enamel signs, antique paintings and carefully curated collections of odds and ends are displayed on every available surface. Far from being cluttered, the effect is cosy and inviting and there are plenty of fascinating items to point out, examine and speculate about.
Our gorgeous suite was the perfect spot to relax for the afternoon and a walk beside the dam, which is surrounded by manicured lawns and towering trees, got our appetites going. Good thing too, as what a meal awaited us that evening!
Settled in front of the crackling fire in the restaurant, we were served a starter of a hearty, moreish roasted sweet potato and butternut soup with sweet potato crisps and roasted honey chilli nuts, which were just the thing to add zing to the sweetness of the veggies. A palate cleanser of homemade lime granita arrived next. Fresh and zesty, it was exactly what you need from a palate cleanser and we wolfed it down with antique silver teaspoons.
The main dish was piled high on the plate, so carefully constructed it felt like we were imploding a building as we dismantled it to savour the succulent beef fillet and its accompaniments: creamy risotto, julienne peppers and a wild mushroom ragout. The texture and taste combinations worked beautifully and I ate more of it than I should have, despite knowing an irresistible dessert was heading my way. We asked for a pause between mains and dessert, during which we enjoyed the fire and chatting to delightful manager, Gabby.
When dessert was presented, I was glad of the time I’d given my stomach to make room as it was heavenly. The small portions of chocolate brownie, white chocolate mousse, meringue nests with homemade sorbet and blueberries and deep-fried churros with caramel sauce were good and I was grateful I got to try them all because I would have been hard-pressed to decide which was best. I must admit that it’s the caramel sauce my mind has returned to since the meal, though, so it will have to take top honours.
We went to bed satisfied and woke up thrilled at the prospect of a delicious breakfast from the same kitchen. The morning meal is served outside on the veranda amid planters spilling flowers and baskets filled with more blooms. The view is of perfect lawns, and the shimmer of the sun on the dam, and we lingered over our meal to enjoy the surroundings for as long as possible.
The food was, once again, excellent. I had a lovely portion of corn fitters with crispy bacon, caramelised corn and slow-roasted cherry tomatoes. It is served with poached eggs but I opted not to have them. Brett’s choice of crispy beetroot and potato latke with bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, was just a good as mine. We left soon after breakfast with me only just resisting a takeaway portion of cake from the display in the foyer - a decision I regretted within the hour.
Our 24 hours at Crystal Barn were dreamy and delightful and, although I would certainly recommend a visit to the restaurant if you’re staying elsewhere, I would urge you to seriously consider an overnight stay to enjoy the unique interiors, idyllic country surroundings and two wonderful meals.