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Da Guido’s changes hands (again!)

Dusty Miller

FOR several years I’ve often felt depressed visiting Da Guido’s because it’s merely a skeletal shadow of its former self.

align=justify>It was always a family favourite venue: a place where the children were introduced to various dining experiences.

I’ll always remember perhaps three-year-old Rhoderick’s debut dealings with prawns. Having heard from Ouma there was a “fishy” treat for New Year’s Eve, his eyes grew saucepan-wide when he saw the sauce-dripping pink crustaceans, still in shells, heads intact, lifeless eyes staring into his own, whiskery antennae drooping. The tot looked disbelievingly from the dish, stared at grandma and said: “Dem’s not ‘fishy’, Ouma . . . dem’s fings . . . horrid fings!”

He’s planning to take me to what he calls the finest fish and seafood restaurant in Scotland when we RV just before his wedding next May and I’ll be interested to see what he thinks (24 years on) of prawns, shrimps, scampi, lobster and other “cockroaches of the deep”.

On that Old Year’s Night, folk queued 50 metres and more hoping for a table at the popular Italian trattoria, which spurned bookings, insisting on a first-come-first-served policy. Queues were often the order of the day Wednesday to Saturday nights, Friday-to-Sunday lunchtimes. I felt guilty tucking into terrific Tuscan tucker while latecomers stared through the window, plainly wishing you’d say ‘no’ to fruit and coffee, forego the ABF nightcap and decline a last cigarette.

Prior to moving to Montagu, Da Guido’s was in Moffat (Leopold Takawira) Street. Established as an R&R centre for Italian artisans escaping the blistering heat of heavy work building Lake Kariba, its good, honest, sensibly priced peasant food soon became a favourite with the capital’s cognoscenti.

That character-filled building was demolished as were so many to make way for featureless high-rises in modern Harare. The restaurant owners were sure they’d never financially survive the forced move to The Avenues. Not a bit of it. They kept all old clients: it was a 10 minute walk and in those Bush War days, almost everyone had a reasonably reliable car, petrol was equitably rationed, available…and cheap. Additionally they won new popularity with thousands of singles living in Flatland.

It was cheaper to eat at Guido’s than cook. I knew bachelors and (spinsters is such a cruel, ugly word . . . unclaimed blessings?) who ate almost every meal at Guido’s year after year.

You must be very well-heeled to do that now. Although — under new management — it is, again, possibly one of the most reasonably priced restaurants in town, it is still too dear for the average punter to patronise regularly.

For years good crusty bread and butter (later one of the less deplorable margarines) was placed at the table as you sat, swiftly followed by kidney-shaped bowl of basic salad, but these two gratis items were relished with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar as menus were studied to see if any variations on the firm favourites could be worked.

Tuesday, I will ever recall was — and still is — grilled liver or liver casserole. It was always delightfully tender, a bit of a gamble for those suffering the odd bout of gout. When I first went it was $1,75 a plate, including chips or mash, cooked veg, salad, bread and butter and fruit! T-bone or fillet, chicken or “fish” were about $2,50.

Nowadays those four worthies cost $7 200, $8 500, $10 500 and $6 800 respectively. There’s no longer free (or any) bread and/or butter. Long gone are the days of free anything: green salad is now $3 900, insalata caprese (oddly) $1 000 less. Minestrone (which 30 years ago — if you were skint — was a meal on its own with good crusty bread and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and cost about 45c) is now $2 800, soup of the day $3 600.

Frank King, ex-Lion King (now a zhing-zhong imports emporium) runs Da Guido’s for owners who (I am told) include tourism minister Francis Nhema’s brother. Whether that’s good or bad news for diners, remains to be seen.

On an early Sunday lunch last week, not a single “customer” ate anything, except me. The takeaway pizza business sold the odd brown paper bagged meal. One client consumed an incredible amount of Lion lager sitting in almost full sun outdoors; others sipped sickly coloured cooldrinks.

The place has been tarted up significantly, inside and out and looks less dingy than on my last few visits. But outside blackboard menus have gone. Interior ones merely identified daily specials: Sunday: roast chicken
$10 500.There was no sign of a conventional menu.

Candidly, I nearly left Da Guido’s in disgust when a slack-jawed youth I asked for a menu sidled to the bar looking as if I were certifiably mad, cackling unnervingly. A more “mdala” type, offered a chair and swiftly brought a much-altered, rather tacky, laminated tariff. I wasn’t ravenous, but had to eat before taking muti; also it was a good idea to have “blotting paper” before a farewell session with a visiting friend who could be Commonwealth (maybe World?) Boozing Champ.

Alfredo fettuccini with mushrooms, cream and black pepper, sounded acceptable. If service wasn’t exactly lightning swift, it wasn’t tardy. Pasta was good, al dente, hot (suspiciously hot, but I didn’t detect taste of the dreaded microwave); sauce creamy; there were definitely mushrooms in it: but tiny, sliced microscopically thin. I think crunchy bits at the end may have been peppercorns.

I am sure my body cried out for vegetables, but a rather raggedy stub of scooped cucumber with big ugly seeds still intact, plonked upright in the centre of the dish didn’t exactly scream ‘eat me’. “Parmesan” had never seen or heard of Parmigiano reggianno. A soft milky Edam/Gouda-type, it went gooey on being folded into steaming pasta.

Having got that off my chest, the meal wasn’t bad and I doubt if you could eat cheaper in any other Harare commercial outlet. (You can’t now, in some clubs.)


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