SEVERAL Harare restaurants have recently introduced entertainment, trying to woo an ever decreasing number of potential diners, coping with massive hyper-in
flation and transport woes, away from an economically oddly ever increasing amount of competition.
The Manchurian at Belgravia, celebrating its 21st anniversary and the original home of the Mongolian-type stir-fry barbecue in this country, has got in on the act with one of Zimbabwe’s most successful young singers, Dean Raybould, performing there on Wednesday nights. He sings a selection of pop music, ballads and other songs during his performances, which start about 7pm and end when diners have finished their evening out.
In Belgravia’s shopping complex, adjacent to Reps Theatre, the Manchurian is a well-known restaurant, despite a definite handicap of being “upstairs” (on the first floor of the shops above a takeaway.) Cooking is oriental; diners select their own main dishes and hand these to the chef for stir fry preparation on a giant flat wok.
“We decided to introduce a singer on Wednesday nights as this is usually a popular evening out for many people and because it adds value to our diners’ experience on those nights,” said Kathy Johnston, owner of the venue.
Foodies were invited to sample the menu, a fine array of Cape wines from Glen Lorne Cellars and a cabaret from Dean and his former contemporaries from the 5 Star boy band last week. On cabaret nights, prawn crackers are “on the house” as a free starter course and queen prawns are guaranteed to be one of the selections available for professional braaing.
The idea is you can fill a bowl with raw shredded and diced vegetables, add meat or fish dishes, then herbs, spices and seasonings, then liquids of your choice: chilli sauce, beer, plain water, soya sauce, lemon juice etc, then hand the lot over to the master chef who cooks it all dramatically and speedily on a super-heated powerful gas-fired flat wok.
I didn’t try the prawns, but my guest Barbara Georgiadis, the bubbly blonde barber who had done most of the bands’ hair-styling and tinting jet black for their recent Reps appearances in the Elvis Lives show did, enthusiastically, along with bream chunks and -– a first for her — crocodile tail, with a variety of al dente vegetables strong in eggplant, noodles and white fluffy rice, served separately.
We managed two helpings each. The record is 15 helpings-but the bowls may have been slightly smaller — set years ago by a group of teachers who were regulars. Our original choice was almost translucently sliced ostrich fillet (also a first time for Barbara), chicken breast and (for her) “pork” (it looked like bacon to me)
The Manchurian used to be hugely popular. I remember the original owner, Clive Malloy, telling me he thought the novelty would wear off within 18 months to two years, but 10 years later it could still take you three weeks to get a table. When many international airlines landed at Harare it was a favourite place with pretty air-hostesses and crews on lay-over.
It is a long time since I have seen the place as full as it was on Wednesday, suggesting the introduction of a popular laid-back singer, easy on the ladies’ eyes, may well be a winner.
The restaurant is airy with picture windows open to catch the faintest breeze and ceiling fans working overtime. Décor is an attractive warm colour, somewhere between plum and aubergine, with eye-catching paintings, mirrors and discreet wrought iron bulls-eye type light fittings acts should avoid standing behind as the audience only sees a silhouette. Dean got the message and perambulated around packed tables crooning into a hand-held cordless microphone.
Starters are $850: soup or spring rolls (or prawn crackers on nights other than Wednesdays, when they cost zip); main courses (eat as much as you can…try to beat the 15 bowl record if you like) $5 800 and puddings also $850.
I had the ubiquitous ice-cream and chocolate sauce having forgotten lichees and ice-cream are a house speciality.
Glen Lorne Cellars’ Heron’s Nest Cabernet-Pinotage (but tasting more like a spicy, peppery Shiraz to me) went very well with the stir-fried ostrich. It is $7 750 a bottle from the shippers.
White wines being sampled were Flagstone’s Field Day Glen Lorne’s new assistant, Lisa, told me was a Colambar, retailing at $7 750 (notice how many Cape wines are suddenly becoming more pronounceable to Rooineks!) and a Van Loveren no nonsense, no argument, Colambar at $5 050.
The Manchurian, Belgravia SC, fully licensed, opens for lunch Monday to Friday, supper Monday to Saturday. Up steep wooden stairs, it is not disabled friendly. Booking suggested, certainly on Wednesdays. Tel 336166.