Packed Cascais pumps, despite food crisis


Dusty Miller



IF things get back to normal in this country (and nothing’s been “normal” in the third of a century I’ve been here) will diners still patronise ci

ty centre restaurants and hotels at night, something they haven’t done for decades, before the present dire protein shortages?


And will restaurateurs recognise that, with economies of scale, sensible honest profit can be made if the volume is there?


Or will we go back to a ghost city-like Harare after dark; menus reprinted twice weekly, reflecting every piffling 10c increase in inputs, passed on to customers, multiplied by 300%?


Only time, and a lot of “ifs”, will tell.


Cascais has always done extremely well at lunchtime. A no fuss, no frills, Portuguese eatery it’s run by mum-and-daughter Madelena (who speaks hardly any English) and Paola Conseicco, a lively, lovely, Lusitanian lassie, whose sole interests seem to be looking after her larder, kitchen, wine cellar and clients


And punters have been thronging there incessantly, since the current food crisis began. I drive past almost every night and the number and newness of cars outside reminds me of a motor show.


On Friday I had to drive round the block twice, settling for a space on the far side of Samora Machel, outside Symphony’s. Traffic was so intense it took several minutes to get one way, longer to return across the dual carriageway and reversing into the city’s main thoroughfare was worrying.


Why…when there’s hardly a garage open in Mashonaland?


Every table was taken: almost every seat at 1:50. I grabbed one vacated by a couple indoors on possibly the hottest day of this summer (only a week old, but muggy with a capital M.)


Paola was overseas (sourcing Portuguese wine, I expect) but when I commented I’d never seen a restaurant in this country so full, my waiter said it was typical of the past six weeks. The place was pumping, ambience throbbing with excitement. Despite the many worries of living here, there seemed to be a genuine smile on every face.


Ignoring the menu, I ordered the signature half piri-piri chicken with chips and salad “with cheese”: a good mixed bowl with plenty of cubed moist feta. It would have been almost a “Greek” salad had it contained olives.


A large bird, I struggled to finish the dish while reading a late-off-the-press ZimInd and (trying to) complete Jemima’s always challenging general knowledge crossword puzzle.


It was $750 000, as opposed to $900 000 for a bigger bird at Arnaldo’s a fortnight earlier and around half-a-million for plainly more petite portions of poultry at Coimbra and The Pointe about a month before that.


All these prices were — presumably — frozen at June 18 levels dictated ham-fistedly by government in its too-little-too-late clumsy attempt to stem hyper-inflation.


And just how horribly hyper that insidious inflation is, became chillingly clear as I wrote this review. I covered Cascais for our sister paper, The Standard, in March and, calling up that computerised critique to check Paola’s surname, it leaped out of the page that a fairly reasonably-priced three-quarters-of-a-million dollar meal now, cost $33 000 on March 19… not six months ago! And, of course, six months before that $750 000 was $750 million!


There seemed no shortage of lager (big tick for that) and two creamy-headed comely Castles cost $60 000 each. I ended with ice-cream (three scoops vanilla) and chocolate sauce: $200 000.


I may have stayed longer once they got an overhead fan creaking reluctantly into life, but with the heat of the day in a fairly airless corner of the restaurant too near a pulsing hot kitchen, with no through-ventilation, plus internal central heating from a very piquant “cheeky” piri-piri marinade (and being worried about my car: no sign of Symphony’s security when I parked) I thought I’d better leave. The place was still packed (after 3); food still being ordered and served.


Friends going mob-handed after the cricket were vexed to hear that chicken, that night, was “off” (almost like having no strippers at Teazers) but were placated, nay pleased, to eat steak-egg and chips or pepper steak at $910 000.


Starters are from $68 000 with very popular, rather retro, prawn cocktails, $360 000, prawn rissoles $100 000 and trinchado $500 000; salads around $140 000.


Cascais night and day opens seven days a week, except Saturday lunch. Ensure you go to the right place! Cascais (named after a Portuguese beach resort) is on the south side of Samora Machel past Holiday Inn. The so-called Portugal Restaurant on the north side, 300m east, apparently doesn’t offer food…but, reportedly, has certain other “attractions” available.


Telephone 704830. Take cash; they don’t (routinely) accept cheques and I didn’t see a swipe machine.


Comment, queries, suggestions: dustym@zimind.co.zw