WHO would have thought the day would come when an archetypical Zimbabwean middle-of-the-road restaurant like Mama Mia’s, Newlands, would have on
ly two items on the menu under half-a-million dollars -— soup of the day or minestrone at $420 000 -— and most main courses were well over a million?
Well that day has arrived — some weeks ago — and (I forecast) things can only get worse when enormous wage increases awarded and backdated to hotel and catering industry staff are fully in force, coupled with massive hikes in rates, rents, water, electricity, phones and fuel.
Many pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels already face huge, viability-threatening, consumer resistance fuelled largely by a simple lack of disposable income and a general inability to buy meals, drinks and entertainment, when costs thereof are out of all proportion to average salaries. First priorities must be mortgage, rates, water and electricity to maintain a roof over one’s head, food on the family table, school fees and fuel.
Be that as it may, Mama Mia’s was busy. Not very busy; not extremely busy; not pom-pom packed; not “go in the bar and have a drink sir and we’ll try to get you a table in half-an-hour or so”. And certainly not: “You didn’t book sir? Sorry there’s not a hope in hell for tonight; there are already five parties ‘wait-listed.’”
All of these scenarios I have seen at Mama Mia’s and its immensely popular predecessor, Fat Mama’s in The Avenues, over the years. Last week it was busy enough to make many Harare restaurateurs, currently in the grip of a worsening trade slump, fairly envious.
I arrived for a very late supper, having made the error of checking out neighbouring Billy Fudpucker’s pub on Thursday (live entertainment) night for the first time in perhaps six months. It’s a difficult place to escape convivial company, who don’t seem to have school fees heading their priority list.
Piri-piri chicken is perhaps not the best dish to order in an Italian restaurant run by a Greek husband/Afrikaans-speaking wife team. Annette Kalamatas protested it was by no means the house speciality, I should really have their highly praised pasta (from $660 000: Napoletana to $950 000: ravioli), fish, or a meat dish for which the restaurant is rightly famous.
I was tempted. They do excellent steaks — T-bone or fillet: $1 650 000 and $1 250 000 respectively with sauce an extra $200 000. If 200k for “sauce” sounds pricey, bear in mind these are mushroom (filled with the ultra-expensive fungi), creamy or crispy garlic, pepper, blue-cheese or chocolate-chili (eh?). I feel their steaks don’t need expensive dollops of glop, but sauces are popular. Liver alla Veneziana is usually memorably good (especially with mash) as are char-grilled Tuscany pork chops: both $1,2 million.
Mama Mia’s chicken is a big half-bird, meaty, served Portuguese piri-piri style, or with lemon and herb sauce, great chips, rice, mashed or baked potato and vegetables or French salad at $1 150 000. It was served fast and proved fine and filling, with just the right amount of tingling heat. But Annette was right: it’s not really the restaurant’s trademark dish.
Had I been hungrier and earlier, and not so addicted to p-p huku, I might have started with Carpaccio: thinly sliced cured beef fillet with a tangy dressing. At $550 000 it is the same price as most antipastos: mussels in white wine and garlic; deep-fried mushrooms topped with bacon and garlic butter; kebab of marinated fillet steak and Haloumi cheese and beef strips served in a paprika cream sauce are typical and all excellent. Long-serving chef, the talented Tisiana, who still cooks at lunchtimes, is immortalised in Pollo Tisiana: chicken fingers with tartar sauce.
Then a salad (both of these early dishes with really good crusty bread and butter). Italian country, Greek village or Adriatic salad (with apple slices and tangy cheese shavings) or a competently constructed Caprese are $650 000; Capri salad (smoked chicken and citrus with mild chili dressing) $750 000; salad Nicoise (with tuna) was $950 000.
Then a half-portion of Ravioli tradizionali, fretting whether to have it with Bolognaise, Alfredo, Carbonara or blue cheese sauce ($950 000 a full helping) followed by liver alla Venezia with creamy mashed potatoes and al dente vegetables at $1,2 million.
Puddings are around $500 000. I’d be torn between tiramisu, chocolate mousse or fresh fruit salad and ice-cream. A late night coffee would be $50 000 or $70 000 for cappuccino.
I enjoyed the brief company at their tables of a few friends late-night dining, before joining Annette, Nick and son George- — back in the family business after running de-luxe hotels in Mozambique — for a totally agreeable supper, a couple of lagers and a chat.
l Mama Mia’s, Newlands Shopping Centre. Open supper Monday to Saturday. Lunch Monday to Friday. Tel 252276/252278. Booking recommended.