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I came&I saw&but didn’t concur!

Dusty Miller

I CAME… I saw… unfortunately I did not concur that Panarottis is all it’s sometimes, methinks mendaciously, cracked up to be!

All restaurants suffer the dreadful shortages hitting our country, but when a supposed leading South African pizza/pasta chain, new to Harare, can’t serve simple minestrone soup ($450 000) or indeed any other starter except chicken livers ($1,3 million) something is seriously amiss.

I tried four tables before finding the (marginally) least wobbly. One waiter blamed the aluminium tables’ dodgy delirium tremens on poor workmanship, a second on the courtyard floor’s unevenness.

I suspect probably a combination of both, but, ye gods, they spent three or four years converting the old picaresque boozy George Hotel into a new lavishly larney hi-tech retail outfit, so if the “dog-shelf” is out of kilter, someone should have knuckles firmly wrapped.

It’s not easy to see how to enter the eatery area. You can spot where the (empty in my case) seats are, but due to an absence of old fashioned signage (pointing fingers and the like), getting in is a cross between a maze and an obstacle course.

All staff were outside, shouting at each other at about Strength 15 when I arrived at 12:37. There were no other sit-down diners then (three girls later) but, Sod’s Law, a stroppy looking dude obviously driving daddy’s Merc (and parking it illegally on the footpath) plonked himself two metres upwind of me, chain-smoking nasty, cheap-smelling, acrid cigarettes, which wafted up my left nostril, while he waited impatiently for a takeaway.

There were no “oven-bakes” (lasagna or cannelloni) which would have been a hefty $3,2-$5,2 million were they “on”. No ribs ($5-$8,5 million); no fillet steak ($4-$5,5 million); no T-bones ($3,95 million) no beef ($2,8 million) or chicken ($3,75 million) schnitzels; no stuffed chicken breasts ($4,55 million) nor calamari ($7 million).

I told the waiter it would be simpler if he related which culinary delights he could actually offer on a hot Tuesday lunchtime, when Panarottis presumed main opposition outlet, St Elmo’s, is closed and one would have expected the relative newcomer (it’s been open a year) to benefit from extra trade.

He suggested rump steak ($3,8 or $4,7 million) or roasted chicken (God, no!, not again!) at $4,5 million.

I decided spaghetti Bolognaise was as good a yardstick of a wannabe trattoria as any. But $2,35 million sounded a fairly dear yardstick. This proved the case as:

There wasn’t an awful lot of it;

Pasta was gloopy, starchy (and pretty cold);

Bolognaise sauce was gritty;

They had no Parmesan cheese, despite the place-mat boasting Panarottis is famous for its fromage;

It came with a fork and serrated edge steak knife.

The last point may be contentious. I like a soup spoon with pasta; these aren’t often used in Italy, the home of the dish. But in Tuscany, for instance, neither would you get the sort of eating iron with which a commando could kill five of the enemy as quick as a flash.

There was no salt or pepper available; no bread and butter (absolutely vital with a pasta sauce) but the tendency now is to try to sell you garlic or pitta bread rather than “give away” (I’m sure it’s in the costings) the staff of life.

I was asked if I wanted a drink in an odd sort of a tone of voice, somewhere between rhetorical and academic. Well yes, I did. There was a short litany of cokes and other cooldrinks. I ordered Sprite, but then asked: “What’s the matter; aren’t you licensed? Don’t you have beers?” They were. They did. In that case I’d have a Pilsener, I said.

When I put my novel down, I expected, therefore, a bottle of wallop with a green label, but got a plastic bottle of cooldrink.

“What happened to the Pilsener?”

“We’ve only got ‘bombers’ (quarts: 750 mls) and they’re a million dollars each,” he mumbled.

Quarts I don’t mind, a million bucks for a lunchtime ale I do, oy veh!

I objected strongly to the waiter’s cheeky assumption that I couldn’t afford a million buck beer. He’s not my bank manager, nor the mother of my children! (But he was right!)

Only pudding available was waffle and that wouldn’t have a cream or ice-cream topping because they hadn’t got any, said kitchen manager Pardon Chakauya, very gloomy when he realised a restaurant reviewer was seriously underwhelmed with the operation.

The waffle came with ultra-sweet, syrup which must be very popular with dentists, a fork and yet another lethal-looking steak knife.

Pasta, pudding, 500ml “pop” $3,5 million October 9, 2007.

* Panarottis: telephone 307089. Open seven days a week for lunch and supper, but shut Monday afternoon for (sorely needed) staff training.

Comments, queries, tips: dustym@zimind.co.zw

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