I WAS back in Zimbabwe three full weeks before getting round to visiting one of my favourite eateries: Adrienne’s, the always welcoming, again ever open, greenhouse-like restaurant at the Belgravia Shopping Centre.
I had been about to set off there on Sunday night (it’s one of the few standalone restaurants which open then) when the heavens opened. Totally torrential, soaking rains were threateningly off-putting, given the parlous state of Harare’s dreadfully maintained death-trap roads.
On Monday lunch I planned to check out the Maiden Public House, the new name of the outsourced boozer and restaurant at Harare Sports Club now the Miller family (no relation) have packed in the “Keg and….” franchise for Zimbabwe.
I’d looked in briefly the previous week, but the place had an unfinished look, reminding me of a 60-ish British Railways waiting room. There was hardly anyone there, little atmosphere and the kitchen had just shut for the night. I later learnt the place had been hurriedly temporarily re-opened to cater for fairly disappointing “crowds” at the otherwise highly successful 20/20 cricket festival.
The feast of cricket over, The Maiden was again shut having, presumably, finishing touches applied to its makeover from the former distinctive livery and trademark corporate image of the international chain of restaurants.
Llew Hughes, ex-Café Med at Borrowdale and Clovagalix, Fife Avenue (both of fond memory) is doing the catering next door at the Sports Club proper, while the Borrowdale property is converted to conform with the Mugg & Bean’s chain of Southern African coffee houses corporate edicts.
M&Bs are hugely popular. I’ve only used the one in Gaborone, Botswana, but it was splendid, with some of the best coffees I have ever tasted.
There was an enormous wake for the late Mike Mason (a dispossessed farmer from Tengwe); it was impossible to get into the club for a pie and a pint; “mourners” were spreading out onto the cricket outfield.
Past the back of the President’s house, the sign is still there for Botanic Gardens Restaurant at least two years after National Parks failed to renew Nomsa Gwataringa’s lease on that Zen-peaceful eatery on the apparently commercially avaricious grounds that they wanted to run it themselves.
Well, they ran the once attractively thatched building into the ground by sheer neglect. It’s not so much as served a single cup of coffee, cool drink or steak roll since Nomsa packed away her last knife, fork and table cloth and Harare residents and visitors have lost an almost magical community facility for light meals.
It was also extremely popular for wedding receptions, company launches etc. Meanwhile, the very amiable Nomsa flourishes, running the catering concession at the National Gallery.
Next stop should have been the newly opened Green Bean at Richard Rennie Art Gallery, corner of Downie and 2nd Street extension. Run by the delightful Lauren Pyle (ex-Seasons), this outfit (which used to be Gilles Perrot’s Café Ilala) promises healthy, organic, freshly made food and excellent coffees and teas in a peaceful arty-crafty garden surrounding. But it began raining and the Green Bean is essentially an al fresco operation.
Monday lunch is not the busiest period in the catering business, so it was a fairly quiet Adrienne’s where I parked: welcomed by a friendly greeting from partner Nick Mandeya and a wonderfully chilled, refreshing draught of a moderately intoxicating nature (tinned local Castle) served as I mulled the sensibly compact menu.
Adrienne’s soups are always splendid in taste, portion and value for money. My favourite is their minestrone slathered with rich parmesan cheese, but on Monday it was a nutritious and flavoursome home-made tomato and vegetable broth, served with thick hot toast and butter. You could almost stand a spoon up in it; a meal in itself for many at just US$2.
Adrienne’s house speciality is the set-price three-course lunch. On Monday, it was any starter, roast beef and all the traditional trimmings including Yorkshire pud and any sweet for $12. Excellent value, but I doubted I had the appetite.
Between courses, Nick assured me his business partner, Atilio Vigoriti, eminence grise of the Central African hospitality sector, makes a steady recovery after falling off the roof of his garage while doing repairs. Atilio is of no age to be falling four of five metres onto his back on concrete. The first I heard about the incident was when he didn’t turn up at the Kadoma Hotel and Conference Centre a fortnight earlier to help me judge the Rainbow Tourism Group chef’s competition.
Main course was a superbly moist and tender chicken schnitzel comprising two generous portions of tender breast in golden crumbs, served with gloriously crispy square cut chips, a mirepoix of young steamed vegetables and home-made sauce tartare ($8). I also ordered a fresh salad ($1), but surrendered, taking most of that home in a doggy-bag to go with supper.
I had no room for pudding, despite the undeniably strong temptation of a still steaming individual apple tartlet and vanilla ice-cream served to a neighbouring table at (I think) $2. Their enormous helping of lamb curry with mouth-watering aromas of herbs and spices wafting over at $14 will definitely come under serious consideration during my next visit.
Adrienne’s, Belgravia SC (off 2nd Street Extension.) Open lunch and supper daily. Tel 335602.