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Bulawayo coffee shop choice brews storm

Dusty Miller

IT must be assumed organisers of the recent Zimbabwean Restaurant of the Year Awards function, held at the Wild Geese Lodge, Teviotdale, anticipated “flack”

when — perhaps rather defensively — they printed two different dictionary definitions of “a restaurant” on front and back pages of the programme.

Chambers Dictionary is cited as saying: “A place where food or meals are prepared and served or are available” and Collins: “A commercial establishment where meals are prepared and served to customers.”

Sure, but the whiskery, dog-eared but venerable (1935) Gresham Comprehensive English Dictionary I often refer to daily, and most up-to-date computerised e-dictionaries say: “A commercial establishment for the sale of REFRESHMENTS; an eating house.”

Refreshments (plural) are defined as “almost exclusively applied to food and drink” and when we look up “drink” Gresham says, inter alia, (as a noun): “Liquor to be swallowed; a draught of liquor; intoxicating liquors.” And if it’s not gilding the lily, check out LIQUOR: A liquid or fluid substance, specifically, an intoxicating beverage.”

Probably hardly any of the guests at the prestigious event could have even paraphrased any of those sage words, but body language and many loud tut-tuts and other standard international sounds of disapproval and mutterings of discontent, indicated there was something at least questionable when a Bulawayo coffee shop without a liquor licence, one operating just over a year, was named 2006 Restaurant of the Year.

I was amazed, myself, as the judges have stressed on many occasions during the year in the columns of our sister paper the Standard that rating was based on 55 critical (but up to the awards function apparently secret) points relating to running a restaurant.

Delete from these 55 points seven as plainly being “not applicable” and either The Roasted Berry in the City of Kings must be either a paragon of perfection, or something very un-kosher happened to get it to beat such finalists as previous R-o-t-Y Victoria 22, swish fusion foodery, Amanzi, and the stunning Boma and Makuwa-Kuwa at Victoria Falls with unrivalled naturally illuminated views for diners over the watering holes of big game.

The world-class, five-star Meikles’ La Fontaine got a literary drubbing when (by the sound of it) two very grumpy, out-of-sorts foodies tried a restaurant praised to the rooftops by international journals. Thus — a previous winner — it didn’t feature in this year’s RoTY (but won all three wine awards at t same function.) Although two Victoria Falls restaurants excelled, it is thought another extremely superior up-market venue in the resort town: Livingstone Room at the exquisite century-old classically elegant Edwardian Victoria Falls Hotel didn’t enter the competition.

Is physically entering an outlet in the Restaurant of the Year competition now necessary? As far as I know, it happens nowhere else. Restaurant reviewers just descend and capture the picture, warts and all. Even in the hospitality industry, certain people are shy and hide their lights under bushels (if you can find a bushel these days!)

The guide says inapplicable criteria were discounted when calculating the outlet’s score. One wonders if, in the case of a joint without a toilet, the restaurant reviewer and rater would simply delete the two relevant check points?… as they obviously did with most of:

* Presentation and content of wine list

* Fair pricing of wine

* Wine waiter’s knowledge (including knowing availability of stock)

* Good variety of “beverages” (presumably “labels”)

* Beverages served cold (presumably if appropriate or requested)

* Fresh drinks regularly offered and served promptly

One wonders how Bulawayo’s July Five Star coffee shop, unable to sell wine, would fare in straight competition against (say) Bulawayo’s March Four Star New Orleans Restaurant with (the last time I went) an admirable, fairly priced, wine cellar. How do their hours and days of trading compare? Or is that judging apples against oranges, venison versus veal?

Having re-read the anonymous Le Connoisseur’s gushing review of 2 July and recognising, by both literary style and cultural interests who the author almost certainly is, one must ask how many other members of the panel (of apparently seven or so) visited the Roasted Berry during the year to check (and balance) if her unbridled enthusiasm is still entirely valid six months later, with the novelty possibly well and truly worn off. Also how many “conventional” licensed restaurants, especially in the de-luxe category, did she compare with this Bulawayo cafe which has only, now, been open 14 months.

It is extremely hard to be totally objective on these matters which can make or break a restaurant and the dining public take most seriously. On the three occasions I chaired the RotY judging team (once for Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and twice for industry supplier The Cheeseman) I often had to be a martinet, or benign dictator, to stop bombastic, strong personality, members cowing the more timid into supporting them.

Congratulations to Ms Mumford and her Roasted Berry. It’s hardly her fault her day of glory was bathed in the merciless light of considerable concentrated contention.


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