When I started this blog it was about writing: a forum for free-flow essays about memories evoked when cooking or eating: most of these posts are about exactly such moments. This was never intended as a food blog: hardly any pictures, no recipes. So I was really writing for my own personal satisfaction: memoir style ramblings. On one platform I really got a lot of likes and followers, but that prohibited my pieces to be used in print. So I switched to wordpress, not really expecting to even be found, in and amongst the millions and millions of blogs. But somehow this caught the eye of an editor at Food&Home Entertaining magazine around a year and a half ago, and I have had three essays published since. Delightfully, I’ve recently been asked to do some commissioned pieces on interesting or noteworthy foodie events, which feels exactly like getting an essay topic from a teacher. I remember how I loved that: when the English or Afrikaans teacher wrote a handful, never more than three, topics on the board. I would scan them quickly to see which topic stirred something in me. I could not wait to get home to write.
But what these commissions also offer, is the opportunity to meet people and see places, and so far, sweetly special experiences which I would ordinarily never have. I find that I get a deep thrill to introduce myself as The Writer for the F&HE article!
Here then, is the most recent article, for your delectation!
The afternoon sun slants across still water of a long pool that stretches towards the bottom of a garden. Set in a nearby stone wall, a water feature’s burbling water mingles with birdsong. On a terrace next to French shuttered windows of a Cape Dutch drawing room, cafe tables are set with languid linen napkins and pretty plates and vintage cutlery. Fine lace cover floor-sweeping linen tablecloths, in dappled sunlight. Fragrant, blowsy roses in shades of pink and white and lilac, tumble from antique silver jugs next to whimsical porcelain cups and saucers. On each table, dainty silver tongs rests in an antique porcelain bowl filled with perfect cubes of white and brown sugar. A bottle of sparkling wine rests discreetly in a silver cooler.
You sit down at a table. Your personal butler expertly pops and pours a heady glass of bubbly. And soon, three-tiered, curlicued silver cake stands are carried aloft to the table, displaying delectable morsels of sweet and savoury bites, almost too beautiful to eat. The ceremony is completed with being served tea of your choice, or coffee however you prefer it.
This is not a scene from a romantic historical novel. This is High Tea at Manor House, a luxurious guest house, and part of Morrells Boutique Venue in Northcliff, Johannesburg, created by Bernice Morrell.
Years ago, Bernice lived in a cottage across the road from what was to become Manor House, on the then derelict site of the first diary farm in Northcliff. When a portion of the farm came up for sale, her and her husband of French descent bought it. So started the process of sensitively restoring the old farmstead, originally built in the 1800’s by Dutch Settlers. “My heart used to ache seeing buildings so rich in history just decaying. I dreamed of seeing it come alive again with people”, she tells. This dream found expression in a romantic Provençal-style farmstead, built using most of the original floor plans and salvageable fittings, creating first a personal home and later, a high end venue where people could come together around food and special occasions and celebrations.
The Morrells also acquired the old house across the road which Bernice converted into a beautifully appointed guest house. This Cape Dutch style homestead, with its terrace and formal garden, once belonged to Judge Jan Steyn. He was a well-known figure in the fight for a more just society in pre-democratic South Africa, and pioneered the end of corporal punishment. At the time of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, he was chairing the Independent Development Trust, responsible for many social upliftment initiatives. Thus Manor House as it is now known, adds another layer of rich history to Morrells estate
Bernice’s love for French style informs all aspects of this gorgeous space. “As Coco Chanel said: ‘Luxury must be comfortable, else it’s not luxury’”, she reminds me, and indeed, here the simple comfort of a cup of tea, or if you prefer, coffee, becomes a luxurious indulgence.
At the main venue, bespoke High Teas are served in tucked away spaces. “We accept bookings for two to just over forty High Tea guests for special celebrations like birthdays, Mother’s days, even baby showers, which we design around the specific occasion”. One such whimsical space is a long table under a pergola overgrown with wisteria, surrounded by roses and lavender in view of a young olive grove. Another is in the kitchen of Farmhouse, the other guest house, by a cozy fireside in winter. Outside, chickens scratch around casually in the gravel underfoot, and a cat lies curled in the afternoon sun. It truly feels like a rural, but aristocratic French farmstead.
Generally though, High Tea is served on the terrace at Manor House. “This is our very popular, standard High Tea, available Thursdays to Sundays”, says marketing manager Monica Marcjanek. Guests choose five sweet and five savoury menu items on booking, or accept the chef’s selection of the day. “But we are flexible and try to accommodate special dietary requirements”, she adds.
The kitchen team and talented pastry chef Elisheva Williams have created a small but exquisite menu with delectable goodies, which are as delicious to eat as they are beautiful to look at. Their red velvet cupcake is topped with a generous swirl of creamy icing, a delicately sugared rose petal floating on top. The baby baked cheesecake has a luxurious topping of blueberry compote with a hint of lavender, crisp biscuit casing contrasting delightfully with the rich filling. Served in a little glass, layers of almond biscotti crumble, passion fruit crème patisserie, and fresh chopped gooseberries, pineapple and mint, promises a tropical burst of flavour. The savoury offerings are equally satisfying. Tender skewered teriyaki-marinated cubes of beef are rich with umami flavorous. In the mini quiche, milder flavours of egg custard, asparagus, goats cheese and leek meld together beautifully. Mouth sized mini tomato and basil tartlets bring a zing of summer to your tastebuds. Mini potato rosti are stacked high with juicy slices of rare orange-roast duck breast, topped with a whirl of prosciutto and crisped, caramelised grapefruit zest. The entire menu offers delicious taste experiences such as these, and reflects current culinary trends.
High Tea guests are, maybe unsurprisingly, predominantly female. Think mothers, daughters, sisters and friends sitting around beautifully set tables. Think dreamy eats with tea or coffee. Think the happy hum of voices sharing stories. Think moments becoming part of personal histories. Think High Tea at Morrells.
Visit http://www.morrells.co.za for bookings, and for their many other offerings such as 5 star accommodation, an A la carte Bistro, wedding packages, gift shop and musical and vintage movie evenings.