This year, the Midlands Meander celebrates 35 years since its inception. Spend a weekend eating your way along the iconic route and discover the new foodie finds.
Although it’s just over an hour’s drive from Durban, the Midlands couldn’t be more opposite to the tropical coast. Rolling country hills punctuated by pine forests usher you off the N3 towards the Midlands Kitchen, where a fresh mist rests upon farm fences.
This is not your average road trip pitstop. It’s a seriously suped-up fuel station offering mindblowing mealtime variety. Farm-fresh pies, homemade gelato, smoothies, artisanal pizzas, Mexican and more. A fitting start to your gastronomic journey. It’s hard to resist, but don’t overdo it.
The Midlands Meander is an epicurean Eden that straddles the pretty pastures between Mooi River, Hilton, Karkloof and ends at the foothills of the imposing Drakensberg. That’s a lot of gourmet ground to cover. After 35 years, the meander remains not only charming and rural, it’s also surprisingly bang-on-trend and home to all the right buzzwords: artisanal, craft, sustainable, local and seasonal.
First, though, a place to stay.
Just next door to the Midlands Kitchen (but worlds away from the highway) sits a charming country stay with just the right sprinkling of contemporary. The new Springholm self-catering cottages at Brahman Hills make for delicious lodgings. The three waterfront cottages sleep four people in each unit and boast decking that opens right onto the dam.
If it’s country cuisine you’re here for, this is the place. There are three restaurants to choose from – fine dining in the rose-hued wine cellar at 89 on Copper, relaxed meals at the Brahman Hills Cafe, Sunday lunch carvery buffet at the newly opened The Stables Restaurant (R250 per person) or glamourous picnics on the lawn.
But, what’s the Midlands without a meander?
adjective: made in a traditional or non-mechanized way.
Based on a small estate in the centre of the Midlands, the Gourmet Greek hand-crafts double thick, traditionally strained Greek yoghurt and unique cheeses from the Blue Cow Deli.
The full cream milk that becomes said cheese is all locally sourced from neighbouring dairy farmers and, like the cows, the outdoor restaurant also embraces the crisp country air. Don’t leave without sampling a sprinkling of Greek goodness from the Meze menu. There’s Gourmet Greek feta stuff olives, excellent dolmades, spanakopita and halloumi fries too (all a bargain at roughly R30 each). Open from Wednesday to Sunday between 8.30am to 4pm.
noun: an activity involving skill in making things by hand.
South Africa has dived deep into the craft trend, and the Midlands is no exception. The newest brewery on the block, Happy Days, sits on Netherwood Farm and pays homage to county culture. The barstools are made from bright red tractor seats, and there are seven styles of beer to choose from, with favourites being Lekker Lager and Jou Ma Se Pilsner.
The Netherwood Farm is also home to the exceptionally popular Blueberry Cafe, which sits next door. Here you’ll find their exclusive brand of blueberry gin.
Of course, there are other old favourites too. The Nottingham Road Brewing Company at the Rawdons Hotel is an institution and still churns out some of the best brews. The latest additions continue the comical naming tradition. Sit down to sip on Swinging Samango Mango Ale or Pickled Pig Cappucino Porter.
adjective: conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.
Open every day from 7am to 5pm, you have to take your own coffee cup to enjoy a mug of marvelous java from Steampunk Coffee. It’s just one of the ways they’re doing their bit to help the planet. All their coffee beans are traceable, mostly African and roasted on-site (you can even see the micro-roastery in action). Treats and baked goods are available too, but Steampunk is all about speciality and they have totally honed the fine coffee craft. The eccentric espresso bar is in Lions River and within easy reach of the Nelson Mandela Capture Site.
The Karkloof Farmers Market is open every Saturday and showcases everything local. Find homegrown fresh produce, organic vegetables, freshly baked bread and even honeycomb shards dipped in milk chocolate. Open from 7am to 11am.
adjective: belonging or relating to a particular area or neighbourhood, typically exclusively so.
Perhaps not for the squeamish, but restaurants like these are the best way to, er, meat the farmer (so to speak). It doesn’t get more local than sitting and looking over the field that your very food arises from. The Fork ‘n Cleaver restaurant is another exceptional find and a proud farm to fork steakhouse. The menu features hormone-free beef that has lived the good life roaming free across the Netherwood Farm lands. Every week there’s something new (ask for the cut of the day) and there are innovative offerings in store such as bacon and camembert spring rolls and blueberry chutney.
For vegetarians, there is always lovely, locally-sourced and homegrown organic food at Cafe Bloom, now at its new location in Gowrie Village. The harvest table is exceptional with dishes smokey brinjal and flaky tarts. Find them on Facebook.
adjective: produce of or occurring at a particular season.
Set on the beautiful Groundcover farm and housed in a giant glass barn, the Barn Owl is a down-to-earth country cafe in a trendy setting that’s straight off a Pinterest board. The menu is created around exciting seasonal ingredients grown nearby and very little on the unusual line-up is over R100. Think coal-grilled lamb pasta, wild game pie and whacky waffles for kids. There are also lots of vegan options.
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A version of this story originally appeared in Escapes magazine.