Despite being established in 1997, it seems Summerhill Estate is only just coming to the attention of the inhabitants of Durban. I hadn’t heard of it until a few months ago when, suddenly, its name seemed to be on everyone’s lips. A colleague recommended it, a review popped up on a Facebook foodie’s page, a talented chef at another local restaurant named it her “must-visit” eatery and my friends suggested it for our next get-together. The food gods were directing me towards a meal at this Cowies Hill establishment and I jumped at the chance.
Summerhill bills itself as a “boutique hotel culinary retreat”. The idea is to stay over and enjoy a meal in the LivingRoom. It’s an appropriate moniker as you feel as if you’re sitting in the living room of a home, being served a meal made with love. The similarity to a home ends right there, though, as this is undoubtedly fine dining.
Encumbered as we are with small children, my friends and I decided a Sunday lunch would suit us better than a dinner. We weren’t disappointed. The setting is gorgeous and the service wonderful and personal but it’s the food that deserves the accolades.
The menu changes regularly as chef Johannes Richter (who owns and runs Summerhill with his wife Johanna and mother Christine) creates dishes based on seasonal, local ingredients – many sourced directly from the estate’s own gardens. You can choose from several options on the set menu and decide whether you’d like your food paired with carefully selected wines.
No matter how many courses you settle on, extras are included: freshly baked sourdough bread served with inventive toppings (in our case masala butter, impala liver and beetroot tartar); guinea fowl dim sum and BBQ blackberry, and a delicious crisp bread with Longshadow Farm feta and rocket flowers, which elicited a flurry of flashes from our cameras.
The starter was described simply as sweet potato, red pepper and tomato but the combination of the sweet tomatoes with the zest of the peppers was complex and delicious.
There was a choice of mains – Kolbroek pork, oyster and fennel or impala, turnip and blueberries. None of us could resist the promise of pork and the succulent medallions were no disappointment, especially complemented by the gently roasted fennel and the subtle flavour of the oyster foam.
We were delighted by the prospect of a pre-dessert but surprised when it starred Jackson grapefruit, rooibos and pearls of yoghurt … an ideal palate cleanser. We could have done with double helpings.
It’s amazing how a talented chef can elevate an ordinary dish to something extraordinary and dessert was a great example. Chef Johannes served us strawberry, reduced milk and coffee blossoms, featuring delicate shards of meringue, which created a contrast of textures. My only small gripe was that the dessert could have done with one more element – something chocolate or a dollop of ice cream - but I’m nitpicking.
The final flourish was a platter of petit fours, in this case coconut financiers served on a bed of coconut husks, echoing the attention to detail in the plating of every dish.
LOOK | Delicious bites from Summerhill Estate's LivingRoom:
Post-lunch, we agreed the hype around Summerhill Estate and the LivingRoom was well deserved. It is one of only a handful of restaurants in Durban specialising in true fine dining and we’ll be adding our voices to the chorus of praise.
• The supper club is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 6.30pm to 9pm for dinner for the LivingRoom experience of 4, 5 or 7 courses, with or without wine pairing. Sunday lunches are not held every Sunday; visit their website for more information.