Taverna Athena soldiers on despite shortages

Dusty Miller



IT’S over a year since Taverna Athena re-opened at Kensington, moving from the wrong end of The Avenues (behind Holiday Inn) to premises vacated by Ma

teos.


So I wish they’d replace the “Mateos” logo in the signage area in the centre of the car-park which highlights the attractions of the shopping centre.


Not that there were many attractions the day I visited. Vali’s Bakery was shut. A power surge after yet another extended electricity outage had apparently zapped an expensive industrial oven, almost causing a fire which could have destroyed the bijou pavement restaurant/coffee shop and hands-on bakery and possibly taken out the whole shoppping parade.


The supermarket was almost empty. Like all such enterprises, whether in a chain, or owned by individuals, they spread out the few lines they have: Jik, tomato sauce, tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, tomato paste, tomato soup, contraceptives and burst packets of salt to make shelves look “busy”.


Which they are not! Incidentally Jik, apart from being used to bleach clothes and clean toilets is apparently a preferred method of committing suicide in Zimbabwe! Swig a cup of the stuff and in a few agony-filled minutes you can forget all about shortages, 8 000% inflation, power and water cuts, bus queues, HIV and Aids, malnutrition, starvation, the ZBC “news” and, indeed, horror of horrors: Zanu PF, itself.


Taverna Athena closes Sundays and had remained shut the previous Monday lunch, as they had no meat other than chicken, partner Stavros Anagnostopoulos told me. A late delivery saved the day in time for Monday’s evening opening but they still had no haloumi or feta cheese, chicken breasts, the restaurant’s signature pork spare ribs, imported fish or seafood. A board listing daily specials was blankly black. Manager Ryan de Villiers’eloquent shrug when I raised my eyebrows at this spoke volumes. He was previously with Meikles Hotel.


Popping into the Greek restaurant to say hello and wash hands a week earlier, Pilsener was spotted in the friendly bar’s chilled drinks display cabinet. They still had the blessed green label bottles on this visit. A polite waiter proved he had no idea who I was by apologising profusely they only had quart bottles of the stuff…no pints.


My only complaints about 750ml presentations are they look ugly (sorted by being served in see-through ice-bucket, filled with cubes, draped in gleaming linen as if it were priceless Rothschild champagne) and tend not to stay beautifully cold very long. This latter problem was solved one, by the ice-cubes and two, by the fact I poured it down my throat as if I hadn’t had a drink for a week. Come to think of it, other than stuff like Chitungwiza vodka, cane-spirit, gin with guava, mango, lime and lemon cordial, diluted by Harare’s unspeakable tapwater, I hadn’t.


All around me yuppies and buppies attacked delicious-looking fillet or sirloin steaks anointed with sauces and accompanied by chips, rice or baked potatoes and two or three vegetables. They looked about 300-350 gramme cooked weight. Taverna Athena has never been the cheapest little family restaurant around, but they had red meat and apparently lots of it. When I told that to my pal, a disposessed beef and tobacco farmer, he couldn’t wait to get there and spend $1 740 000 – $1 835 000 a head on grilled dead mombe.


Salads are $450 000-$650 000; I had a delightful blue cheese version at $545 000, accompanying a meaty moussaka: $1 620 000. If Stavros’ prices aren’t exactly small, his portions are huge and I took almost as much food away in doggie bags as I actually ate for a candle-lit (no Zesa!) supper.


Puddings are around $375 000. I had a fresh fruit salad which, candidly, could have used a bit more colour, and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.


The place was very busy. I narrowly missed out on the last al-fresco table under a shady awning, but indoor fans made the heat tolerable, as I people-watched the next table: Third World Groupies from some do-gooding NGO. I mentally labelled them with Freedom From Hunger. The TWOGS, themselves, were remarkably free from hunger when they walked in and rotundly replete when they waddled out. Life’s hell in Africa!


The restaurant has ambience and atmosphere aplenty. Authentic Greek music plays at an acceptable level in the background. Attractive checkered table cloths in a two-tone grey gingham made a pleasing backdrop to gleaming white napery, non-obtrusive fresh flower arrangements, sparkling crystal and crockery, flashing cutlery. An attractive, appealingly primitive, mural of a Greek island harbour scene fills much of one long wall, Hellenic ikons and paintings occupy most remaining space. There is a cosy, well-stocked bar, dominated by colourful draught beer pumps; bogs belong in the Good Loo guide.


* Taverna Athena, Kensington SC open lunch and supper Monday-to-Friday; Saturday supper only, closed Sundays. Booking recommended. Tel 705617/8.


dustym@zimind.co.zw