My assignment was to dine at The Courtney Hotel’s restaurant “L’Escargot”. Bearing in mind the lack of street lighting and general seediness of the area I decided that my female companion and I would be wiser to eat at lunch rather than dinner time.
By Le Connoisseur
Parking on the street in front of the hotel first impressions were not propitious, the hotel is much in need of a good make-over and the on-street entrance to the restaurant was so dark and uninviting that we both assumed there had been a power cut.
Not so, once inside there was light but no other diners. Our initial impression was that of stepping back in time, but alas not to the time in the 80s when L’Escargot was Harare’s premier dining venue and tables had to be booked months in advance around major holidays. The décor is indeed recognisably the same, only several decades older and much faded, dusty and worn.
The bar, in which I remember enjoying pre-dinner drinks while perusing the menu, was a mere shadow of its former self — the shelves empty and the seating torn. Memories of the exclusive ambience and the anticipation of a celebratory meal created by smartly dressed diners remained just that!
Pre-lunch drinks abandoned, we went straight to our table. The trade-mark wooden covered menus with a snail carved on the cover were still in use, but the inset bore no resemblance to its past glory. Neither did the two waiters who had neither uniform nor name badges but who were remarkably well-trained.
Having asked for the wine list, our waiter Prince returned with two bottles of Nederburg Red Wine and the disappointing news that there was no white wine.
Although I would not normally drink red wine at lunch, I chose the Nederburg Winemakers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (2011) and glasses and an ice-bucket (I like my red slightly cooler than room temperature) were quickly produced.
Although the menu offers a reasonable if not large selection of dishes, Prince was quick to inform us that there were only a few starters — mushroom soup, salad, tuna or chicken liver pancake. Gipsy spit mushrooms which I remember with salivating clarity were not available, neither were fried mushrooms — enough evidence for me to decide against the mushroom soup.
We decided to share a tuna pancake and tuna salad (each US$4). The pancake was paper thin and filled with tasty tomato and tuna stuffing but the salad was a sad offering of limp iceburg lettuce, tasteless tomatoes and a few shreds of tuna.
The menu did not have a dessert section but Prince, our ever reliable talking menu, told us we could have ice-cream (US$2), but there was no chocolate sauce! So we did, two scoops of vanilla ice-cream followed by very good filter coffee for (US$1).
Main dishes prepared to perfection at l’escargot
Main courses were arranged on the menu in sections corresponding to the main ingredient, out of each section there were only one or two dishes available, except for the vegetarian which had none and the beef which had most of the dishes!
My companion chose baby chicken nerone (US$10) and I the garlic steak (US$12). To our admiration the chicken arrived flaming in brandy and I can vouch for the fact that not all the brandy went up in flames!
My steak had a covering of lovely crispy garlic and both dishes were served on hot plates. Vegetables (a mixture of beans and carrots) and rice were served separately, neither of us chose to have chips.
The chicken was particularly well-cooked, crispy skin, succulent meat and most importantly not a trace of red at the bones, the vegetables though unexciting were pleasantly crispy.
Expect to spend US$15 to US$30 per head
Courtney Hotel, Corner Selous Ave/8th St