HomeWining & DiningHail, The Centurion!

Hail, The Centurion!

No, the headline doesn’t relate to a professional officer of the Roman Empire who purportedly (but inaccurately) commanded 100 infantry soldiers, subduing the world, but a cricketer who’s knocked up a “century” (100 runs, or a “ton”).

Report by Dusty Miller

And the reason’s clear when you realise The Centurion is the new pub and grill at Harare Sports Club where, crossing fingers that the periodic exercising of democracy in this country hasn’t turned as bloody as was the case in previous elections, India should play Zimbabwe in the third One Day International today.

The Centurion is in the former classy dining and ball-room of Sports Club, beautifully designed and proportioned with a suspended timber sprung dance floor and 75 years of history.

The club itself is in an attractive Cape colonial Dutch gabled design and the cricket ground overlooked is often seen as among the world’s prettiest. The Centurion is where the Keg & Maiden was before then owners dropped the Keg franchise, renaming it, rather prosaically, Maiden Public House. Neither operation rated highly among my favourite watering holes.

But I like to be in on the first and last nights of Zimbabwean pubs, clubs, eateries and hotels. Sunday June 30 saw me spend an hour or two at the Maiden Public House with outgoing general manager, Paul Sinclair, who was there for 11 years and is now the sales manager of a local imported food and drink company, new owners of the Centurion, Lance and Jax Nettleton and friends.

Paul invited us to eat and a toasted cheese-and-tomato sandwich with chips was very good.

The Nettletons opened The Centurion the next day. Jax, a Shona girl, started work at the Keg as a junior waitress and rose to become the general manager and married one of the pub’s most loyal customers. She’s involved in other businesses with her husband, but this is Lance’s first venture into the demanding hospitality sector.

My next visit was for the launch and book-signing of my old pal Angus Shaw’s paperback autobiography Mutoko Madness.

I hoped to review this “memoire” in The Standard or one of our other papers, but find it difficult to constructively criticise a literary effort I’ve lived with vicariously for several years, over a long painful, tormented gestation period.

Angus is my oldest surviving mate in Africa. We met when he was a very reluctant National Service conscript at Llewellin Barracks, Bulawayo; I was a sub-editor for The Chronicle. He’d been dragged away from the reporters’ room at the Sunday Mail and forced to become a part-time soldier and I’d been in the country under a month. He gave me a story which almost got him shot at dawn and could have had me PI’d! We’ve been pals since.

I took the first manuscript of his book to Zambia’s tiger fishing tournament at Siavonga in December 2011, reading it three times in a week, highlighting bits I thought needed attention. I laughed, cried and was sometimes totally lost in an often maze-like construction.

I knew many of the characters: Some hidden behind pseudonyms: journalists, spooks and spies, politicians, soldiers, rebels, dictators, African leaders revered today and reviled tomorrow; some of the many women in “Goose’s” life.

It could have been a rattling good Boy’s Own Paper yarn about the four African wars he covered and the one he fought in; of 1960s-era sex, drugs and rock and roll, about corruption, megalomania, genocide, lunacy, disease, poverty and famine. All those elements are captured in a page-turner that is as much about the modern day history of Africa as the author’s battles with his own self-confessed weaknesses and vices.

As American Ambassador Bruce Wharton said at the Centurion launch of the book by the 63-year-old journalist who’s covered most of Africa from the Associated Press offices in Harare he’s run for 25 years: “Buy the Book. Read it!”

Snacks and drinks at the launch were memorably good and a few nights later, after working very late, I returned, ordering a platter of fish, calamari and chips in a basket at the bar, well after 10pm, when almost everywhere else in Zim would be long past “Last Orders”. It was grand. Even better when Lance said there was a misprint on the first menus and the US$13 dish was actually US$11!

It was too much for me and two friends helped finish it.

As Lance is a member of Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society, we voted to hold our July lunch at his new enterprise. It was a week earlier than usual; otherwise we’d have been there two days ago, with India playing: A real baptism of fire. So, on July 19, about 20 of us sat down to try the new menu, which mainly comprises pub-grub specials.

Obviously there were teething troubles, but none too serious; some were remedied as we ate.

I suspect mushroom soup came from a tin or packet, and was over-salted; at US$5 it was too pricey. A first set of dinky bread rolls were disappointingly fridge cold, a second helping comprised of confectionery at least still warm.

Chicken-and-mushroom pot pie was exemplary, packed with huku and fungi, perfectly cooked, exquisitely seasoned, with feather-light short-crust pastry lid, good chips, garden peas and butternut cooked so nicely even I finished what is definitely not my favourite veg. It cost US$12.

Members raved about liver-and-onions, bangers- (three) and-mash, rump steak, egg and chips and “the best spare ribs I’ve ever eaten.” Angus thought his lamb curry tremendous, another journalist moaned his wasn’t hot enough.

Two blokes also muttered that their fish, in fish-and-chips, weren’t hot enough, but both almost cleared their plates before mentioning it and after the alleged fault could be rectified.

Coincidentally an hour or so after we finished lunch was the official opening ceremony. I watched The Ashes on huge TV screens in the meantime, listened to a short, witty, speech by Jax, toasted the pub’s future, made my excuses and left.

The Centurion, Harare Sports Club. Opens mid-morning until late daily. Tel 70037; 702669.

Very well-stocked bar; reasonable wine list, which will be extended. No corkage for BYOB.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading