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EatingOut: Big biz news at Rainbow!

Actually, to be perfectly candid, I’d heard the biz aspect almost a week earlier, paradoxically over a chef’s table lunch at probably Rainbow Towers’ main competitor, Meikles Hotel.

And the big biz news confirmed by almost all of my RTG management chums, confidants — and the main hall sweeper — was that unless something goes spectacularly wrong between now and May, Rainbow Towers will this year be managed on behalf of RTG, by a world-wide, highly respected hotel group.

I was hoping for a definitive statement confirming this exciting development from RTG CEO Chip Mtasa, but she was deeply involved in business in Harare and the Victoria Falls last week and as I’m flying to Dubai to join the Brilliance of the Seas on an eight-day Persian Gulf cruise, even as you read this on Sunday, I’ll announce to the great general public what the whole Zimbabwean hospitality sector has been talking about for ages!
Rainbow Towers, now in its 25th year of operations, of course, was the Sheraton Harare Hotel until about five years ago when that major hospitality chain pulled out in the face of ever diminishing occupation and profits in Zimbabwe.

As I hear it, shutting the dreadful Stars Nightclub at Rainbow Towers, recently, was just the first phase of a US$60 million refurbishment and makeover of the iconic government-owned Jugoslavian-built, multi-storey hotel, with its distinctive old-gold clad structure, standing in Harare’s less-than-glamorous Kopje district.

I assume it’s not unrelated to these changes that acting food and beverage manager Audrey Moyo told me over lunch in the Komba Hari Grill Room that it and the neighbouring Harvest Garden buffet restaurant will be closed, along with the main booking desk, from May until (it is planned) September.

(I always qualify such statements, Spar Groombridge was SUPPOSED to be open and running by Christmas 2009!!! It’s still at least a fortnight off trading, if you ask me.)

During the period of closure, meals will be served in function reception rooms on the 2nd Mezzanine Floor an arrangement, sadly, I thought less than satisfactory the last time it operated during the hotel’s most recent refurb.

Audrey said the hotel’s ground floor restaurants would have a total change of concept and theme after re-opening in time for the outfit’s silver jubilee.

I have mixed feelings about this. I was in the party which ate the first lunch in Komba Hari and, a few days later, debut supper in Harvest Garden and have always basically liked both operations. Tourists, too, seem fond of the restaurants when staying at the hotel.

Komba Hari was a new concept to many travellers. Personable and highly professional chefs prepare and griddle meals in “open squares” surrounded by perhaps 16 diners. Each “square” has two cooking areas.

I’m still amazed that whatever is grilled: chops, steaks, boerewors, fish, prawns or eggs or, stir-fried: vegetables, rice and Japanese/Korean style dishes, the flavours remain intact and separate and I have always experienced all dishes being fully cooked and served simultaneously no matter how many covers are seated.

I have often described it as part of the living theatre of dining out and have relished introducing newcomers to this healthy eating concept.
Well if you haven’t been…you’ve got until sometime in May to rectify that omission.

On Tuesday, Audrey and I each had a very fine cream of vegetable soup with croutons, which was satisfactorily piping, steaming hot at US$3.
She had a mouth-watering looking Japanese chicken tepanyaki dish I was tempted to return and sample that evening (it would have been churlish to have asked the price).

My main course was a grand, grilled entrecote beef steak done just slightly rarer than ordered, which was soon rectified, potato wedges and steamed vegetables. The exterior of the lump of dead nyama was seared, almost caramelised; the inside pinkly juicy and a thin wafer of fat on one side deliciously crisp at US$16. Our chefette was tiny Zee.

As per a New Year’s resolution I skipped pudding but snapped them anyway and (space permitting) you’ll see here how wonderfully tempting they look.

Executive chef Eliot showed a Valentine’s menu which will be available throughout the hotel.

He was trying to arrange a photo opportunity with the actual dishes before I flew out but, in case it didn’t happen and you can’t see illustrations next week, imagine:

Starter: Duck liver parfait with heart of black cherry jelly on marinated vegetables (Toast would be better!)
Soup: Double beef consommé with Udon noodles and sesame puff pastry heart.
Palate cleanser: Lemon sunrise sherbet tutti frutti.
Mains: Pralines of salmon and kingklip fillet with shrimp-flavo-ured lemongrass sauce on a bed of sautéed spinach OR Beef fillet and tiger prawn on wild mushroom ragout and red pimento sauce with vegetable and polenta hearts.
Pudding: Heart of Amarula mousse with forest berries compote; or chocolate box with fruit jewels.
Tea or coffee: US$30 a head.
As a natural conservative (with a lower-case “c”) I’ll miss these restaurants I’ve grown to (usually) enjoy over the past quarter of a century, but Radisson, who run over 180 luxury hotels in 40 countries, have an enviable reputation for the quality of their eateries, so…can’t wait until September!


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