Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse- Gourmet Getaway
I read about Cleopatra Mountain farmhouse in an older edition of a local travel magazine at the end of last year, and as we usually spend some time in KwaZulu Natal over the festive season, I thought it would be the perfect (and a very tasty) way to close the year on a high.
Cleopatra (named so after a love-sick soldier thought one of the mountain faces looked like Queen Cleopatra), is nestled in the Kamberg region of the Natal Midlands, at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains and owned and run by Richard and Mouse Poynton.
The farmhouse is surrounded by mountains and lush greenery and what starts as temperatures in the region of 30 degrees Celsius at 9 30 am is interrupted by dramatic thunder-storms around 2 pm, the warm rain soaking the earth, a treasured smell I relate directly to my childhood and which has no equal comparison, I find. This usually clears and around 6pm or 7pm it begins to rain again, some days for the entire night. At this stage everything has cooled down, to the extent that a fire can be lit, tea sipped and the hand of a beloved held as a rich, slow cooked 6 course meal is presented over the the next few hours. All this in summer? Yes, a Natal Midlands summer!
Food at Cleopatra
Richard Poynton is the head executive chef at Cleopatra and so passionate about his craft, that he, along with Mouse and his daughters compiled and published a historical memoir-style cookbook about the farmhouse and the recipes he loves.
Sadly, he was away in Cape Town at the time of my visit, but I resolved that if we enjoyed Cleopatra without him present, we’d plan a return visit when he was back, perhaps for one of the renowned cookery courses.
Herbs and flowers are grown on the property and the majority of fruit and vegetables, I’ve been told, are purchased at Woolworths. The farm has a longstanding relationship with local beef farmers and a meat supplier. Only South African wines are stocked, with the exception of French champagne.
Guests are taken through each menu before dinner service, the process/es involved and ingredients used explained, and each night it was emphasied, that the chefs at Cleopatra cook first for taste and flavour and then for presentation.
These are some of the beauties we enjoyed:
General Manager Philippa Knight (who’s husband Ashley is Cleopatra’s other executive chef), summed up Richard’s philosophy as “flavour, flavour, flavour” and showed me the enormous stock pot where stocks are brewed and reduced for hours, daily.
Richard’s top Kitchen Essentials:
Related in an email to me later, this is what Richard says is a crucial part of his cooking philosophy:
- quality of staff
- good home-made stock (no surprises here!)
- home-grown, fresh produce, where possible
- a top quality food processor, and
- a passion for food and cooking
Hotel and decor
Cleopatra has 11 very uniquely designed rooms, two are private cottages, decorated with items collected by the family over the years and with Mouse at the helm of the decorator’s wheel. We stayed in the Cowboy Cottage (also known as the Bridal suite- a reference to the bridle above the bed).
The farmhouse has also been decorated with kitchen utensils and objects collected over years of travel. This is a collector’s dream and a minimalist’s nightmare! Currently I fall between the two- my theory of, if it can’t be housed on it’s own shelf/cupboard/hook, then I can’t have it, is still in place. For now.
Activities in the area
In hindsight 4 nights was a bit long – there is much feasting to be done and you may start to notice that what once zipped up, no longer does. However, you can pep up the days with hikes in the Highmoor nature reserve, horse riding (the Appaloosa horses at a nearby farm are gorgeous, gentle and accommodate all levels of riders) and visits to nearby Nottingham Road, which plays tribute to the artsy vibe of the Midlands Meander. This is the spot for antique furniture and artifact scouring -I’m afraid I’ve been sworn to secrecy about my sources, and as is the case with treasures going for a steal, sometimes you hit the jackpot and sometimes not, but such is the nature of the game.
Valentine’s Day Suggestion
A weekend at Cleopatra’s would be a big gesture by way of things all heart-shaped and gooey. If you can make it happen this Valentine’s Day or for another romantic getaway, may I suggest the Naturalist room or the Grand Tour room for both decor and ambiance (and fewer bucks that need to be spent in order to wow, compared to the cottages).
*Note cellphone, and 3G signal is very week. Should you have the need to check emails, twitter or facebook frequently prepare to drive outside the gate of the farmhouse or to go without until you do*
We stayed at Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse 26-30 December 2010
Contact Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse:
Tel: +27 (0) 33 267 7243
Please note, all opinions expressed are done so independently of Cleopatra Mountain Farmhouse and describe my own interpretation of menus, food, accommodation and activities.