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Food and Travel: Festive fare at Meikles

LIKE everyone else, I –– sadly –– can’t be in two places at once.

As you read this I will be settling in to a luxury cabin aboard the good ship MSC Sinfonia, moored at the port of Durban, for a short cruise up the Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel where (I’m assured) we will watch and photograph whales and dolphins disporting themselves for our delectation.
Voyage terminus is the picture postcard perfect palm-fringed Portuguese Islands of Mozambique. This will be my first sea cruise since sailing from Durban to Italy, last year, on the Suez Canal route, aboard Sinfonia’s sister ship, the MSC Melody, which was attacked by Somali pirates soon after leaving The Seychelles. And, possibly, my last until I board Royal Caribbean International’s Brilliance of the Seas, in Dubai, early in February, for an eight-night cruise to the more important and glamorous tax-free ports of the United Arab Emirates and the historic slaving harbour  at Muscat and Oman.
I say “possibly”, as I have a two-week window on a seven-week working holiday (if you call eating, snorkeling, writing and taking pictures “work”.)  A couple of days after disembarking at Durban and flying back to Jo’burg (with Mango), then on to Dubai and London Heathrow on Emirates Airline, then to Edinburgh Turnhouse, by British Midlands, up to the Granite City of Aberdeen by car, to witness my son get his Master’s, I’ll pop into a Scottish High Street travel agent to check on “last minute” deals and book a fortnight somewhere interesting, warmer than UK and (hopefully) a place I’ve not been before.  
So another cruise isn’t totally ruled out: watch this space!
Whatever! I obviously won’t be here to enjoy Meikles Hotel’s celebrated Christmas fare.
In 2009, I left a bit later on year-end peregrinations and presided at Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society’s Christmas lunch in La Fontaine. We return this year, but Count Edvard (“Lucky Eddie”) Karnicki, who is of Polish noble lineage, will be in the chair.
The chaps (for, unashamedly, we are a “stag” organisation) will tuck into a fabulous array, if a chef’s table for local food writers and restaurant reviewers in the Livingstone Room last Thursday was anything to go by. (Collective noun for restaurant critics? An indulgence of foodies!)
Executive chef Chris Gonzo beamed in delight as we oohed and aahed over several courses, comprising almost a gastronomic assault course!
First course is dubbed The Guiding Star (don’t blame me…I find some of the labels twee to the point of irritation!) It consisted of retro-ish assorted hors d’oeuvres of egg and salmon mousse, marinated beef strips with sun-dried tomatoes and, my favourite: sweet melon with port wine and ginger.
Soup from the Wise Men’s Kettle was a cappuccino of frothy ham, pea and potato soup with croutons, which was so nice I was tempted to ask them to keep the dinky cappuccino cup and bring mine in a workman’s pint pot!
Fish course was The Midnight Celebration Catch. Spectacular to taste buds, it consisted of an elegant stack of herb-crusted kingklip fillets, topped with sympathetically cooked and delightfully soft pan-fried calamari, served with warm mushroom feta cheese salad and lemon butter. Now, personally, add a scoop or spoonful of “starch” to this dish and it would do it for me! Bang on the money, all the right boxes ticked.
But…it’s Christmas (the Feast of St Loneliness!) and absolutely vital to get stuck into turkey. The Feast in the Manger delivers roast, festive turkey (white, moist flesh and quite delicious) with chipolata and bacon roll, sage and onion stuffing and piquant cranberry sauce. I suspect over the festive period (which begins at Meikles December 1!) this main course will be either (the above) or…roast prime beef fillet with fragrant dill-scented roast potatoes, red wine jus and Hollandaise sauce.
(At this stage, an old chestnut tells us totally inaccurately, our Roman ancestors, no slouches at feasting, would have slipped off to the vomitarium, two fingers down the throat, to make room for more graze! Cobblers, the vomitarium was the entry or exit to a theatre, much less colourful…and sick-making!)
Anyway, despite a few moans and groans, most of us flattened Three Gifts from the Wise Men: a Yuletide pudding served in a golden tulip basket with minted ice-cream and lashings of brandy custard. A few even sampled the assorted cheeses (Brie and a local blue cheese at my side of the table) with fruit compote and home-made cheese biscuits.
Coffee (or tea) proved popular among more alcoholically abstentious folk at our table and there were delicious traditional mince pies available for anyone with any room left. (No takers, I think!)
I gather bookings are pouring in for office parties throughout December and family get togethers, especially on Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve and Day. There’s full entertainment, crackers, funny hats and the like and spectacular fireworks on the Roof Garden on Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
I’ll be in Faringdon in rural Oxfordshire with my new grandson on the former date, probably at Edinburgh Castle for Hogmanay. I’ll raise a glass to my Harare pals enjoying Meikles’ hospitality (and considerably more warmth!).



Dusty Miller

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