We were recently invited to be part of the 25th birthday celebrations at the Fern Hill Hotel in Howick. I say take part in rather than record or photograph etc, because there is a real sense of being involved at Fern Hill. By good fortune I became acquainted with Karen who, along with husband Gion Poltera, bought and renovated what is now the Fern Hill Hotel in 1989. Since then they have gone on to create a fantastic hotel, restaurant, conference centre and hotel training school. It is fully accredited with local training authorities and has strong ties to international bodies like Chaîne des Rôtisseurs International Association of Gastronomy. The sense of commitment to quality and service runs right through the place.
As well as being a fantastic hotel the Fern Hill is a little piece of the history of South Africa. On 5 August 1962, nearby on the R103 road, police flagged down a car. It was being driven by Nelson Mandela, pretending to be a chauffeur. Having succeeded in evading capture for 17 months Mandela had just paid a clandestine visit to ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli to request support in calling for an armed struggle. Madiba was finally captured and arrested. In 1996 he was awarded the freedom of Howick, and he stayed at the presidential suite at the Fern Hill Hotel, now the Mandela Suite.
Back to 2015 … what an evening to celebrate such an achievement. Canapes and champagne were followed by a plated hors d’oeuvres of beetroot-cured Norwegian salmon, prawn salami, radish and cucumber salad, with mirin dressing. The music of the Hairy Legged Lentil Eaters (way better than their name suggests) accompanied the evening. Entertainment throughout the evening was also supplied courtesy of MidlandsPhotobooth which everyone seemed to love, with a keepsake photograph to take home and one for the book of best wishes. Master of Ceremonies was Stephen Cloete, who was hilarious and mesmerised us with magic tricks.
Head Chef Alex Poltera and his kitchen were seriously on form! Starters were butternut crêpes with rosemary and parmesan cream sauce (divine!), chicken livers peri-peri, mushrooms Florentine and whole poached line fish.
The Snooty Fox – the hotel’s restaurant – is perhaps best known for its legendary Sunday Carveries. It is no surprise that Fern Hill’s Sunday lunches are considered among the best in the Midlands. The main course for the celebration evening was – what else? – a carvery of whole-grain mustard beef sirloin with horseradish sauce, roast leg of lamb with mint sauce, tender roast pork leg with crackling and apple sauce, roast organic chicken with sage and prosciutto, accompanied by chipolatas wrapped in streaky bacon, yorkshire puddings and tons of lovely veggies.
Stephen played host to the raffle and auction, with a wealth of generous prizes kindly donated, and all the proceeds going to Howick Hospice. Patrons dug deep and over R 16000 was raised, and still more to come.
There was then a presentation to Gion and Karen by their daughter Stephanie of an album made up of all of the memories photographs, and press cuttings from 25 years of Fern Hill. A huge amount of credit needs to go to Stephanie, who is Partner and Manageress of the hotel, she did a stirling job of organising the event from start to finish and continued to be busy right into the late hours of the evening.
Formal proceedings ended with a birthday cake which entered the room with the entire hotel staff singing ” Happy Birthday” (the Stevie Wonder version). The rest of the evening was given over to a room full** of desserts and dancing into the small hours. A fantastic celebration of an outstanding achievement.
Stephanie, Karen and Gion, thank you for including us.
** I kid you not – Marbled chocolate mousse, berry cheesecake, ginger vacherin, fresh fruit salad, mini milk tarts, brandy snaps, lemon tartlets, pecan nut pies, chocolate caramel tart, double chocolate brownies, macaroons and meringues, malva pudding and custard, and Springbok shooters (Amarula and peppermint liqueur).