IT’s clear to me that many diners out find it difficult to get it round their heads that the extremely popular Mama Mia’s Italian restaurant, Newlands, is now called Papa’s.
There’s not only an alteration in the eatery’s gender, but a paradigm shift in cuisine served there: from solid spaghetti house Italian to some Greek gems.
Chef-partner George Kalamatas is young, locally born, highly trained, qualified and experienced who recently grasped the popular outlet’s management reins from his father, Nick –– a son of the Greek islands –– and mom, Annette, an Afrikaner.
Although semi-retired Nick spends many of his days ruining a good walk playing golf — mainly at Royal Harare –– and a big bit of the northern summer on the Mediterranean island of his birth, this eminence grise of the local catering scene still meets, seats and greets during evening service at Papa’s.
It was Saturday. I’d been working, but caught a few overs of the South Africa v India game over a chilled article or three at Harare Sports Club. My pal was a week into a wussy “dry” January, after (presumably) some heroic Christmas and New Year slurping (during my absence overseas) and was little fun, sipping cola and soda water.
South Africa were well and truly walloping the visitors as I left the Red Lion.
But I was still shaking on arrival at Papa’s a few minutes later, having smacked a flooded pot-hole the size of Tasmania at the junction of Herbert Chitepo/Enterprise.
Yes, I know it’s ALWAYS there, but I’d been away almost two months and it was probably four months since I’d used that bit of road.
A new high-level plasma TV beamed cricket into the recently refurbed restaurant; I mentioned it to Nick as we shook hands. No, I wasn’t bothered about a table near the telly; the fat mama hadn’t yet sung, but it was obviously a South African walkover after a less than sparkling Indian batting performance.
So I sat al fresco, talking with Nick, whose return from overseas overlapped my flying to the northern hemisphere’s bitter winter; and George, when he left the kitchen occasionally; and Nick and Annette’s other son, an old friend Philip, a Johannesburg stockbroker, who’d flown in on BA by Comair ex-OR Tambo that day.
The nearest I’ve been to Greece recently was flying over stunning Athens in December, twice, at 35 000 feet. At least I assume it was breathtaking by moonlight going north from Egypt (I slept deeply).
But on the southbound leg, a pretty girl sitting next to me asked where on earth we were, as she’d never seen such rugged landscape as the one below in her perhaps 35 years.
I shook my head. This was Thomas Cook Airways: no fascinating seatback GPS on this trip (we had them on a long-haul TCA flight to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean last year)… nor even fairly accurate route maps in the in-flight magazine.
“Dunno! It’s very inhospitable, though….Bulgaria, Albania, perhaps?” I replied as helpfully as possible.
Fifteen minutes later the unmistakable sight of Athens and the sparkling turquoise Piraeus harbour came into view.
“You could have been right with Albania… or maybe Macedonia?” she commented: not the sort of conversation expected from fellow Thomas Cook travellers, usually more stressed whether on-board duty free fags are cheaper than those at destination!
I should now be writing sagely or otherwise about the culinary joys of Hellenic fare: unpronounceable dishes such as skordalia, dzadziki, tirosalata, lokania, sikoti moschari and baklava. (Spellcheck queried all, except the last: a Balkan pudding which sounds like a woolly helmet worn by night watchmen!)
I can’t, though, as I was on a good steak kick, simply ordering a US$15 medium-rare juicy fillet as tender as a nun’s heart, anointed with pungently powerful, crispy garlic. This splendid lump of locally reared grass-fed export quality nyama was pink, slightly bloody, within, deliciously seared (almost caramelised) outside.
It came with well cooked crinkle-cut chips and young tender veg, Nick tut-tutted over me for not finishing.
I’d declined a starter, but nibbled at olive-oil dipped pita before mains and –– arm-twisted –– sampled a couple of the Greek equivalent of vol-au-vents, which I recall being pleasant, but couldn’t accurately describe (now) if my life hung on it!
I also tried a soupçon of Philip’s tin-foil wrapped lamb kleftiko. “Stolen” lamb (kleftiko’s from the same root as kleptomaniac!) is a favourite dish, but very rich and can be sleep threatening eaten after 10 at night, which we then were.
I again stuck to a New Year’s resolution not to, routinely, do pudding on restaurant reviews (not even baked “balaclavas” or Turkish delight!)
I got home –– late –– to hear South Africa snatched defeat from victory, losing by one run!
Papa’s is at Newlands SC, newly brightened by the opening/re-opening of not one, but two bars: Bolero’s and Reds. They do supper Monday to Saturday, lunch Monday to Friday with outside catering anytime, almost anywhere.