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Memorable meal at St Elmo’s

Dusty Miller

I’D almost forgotten the pleasures…and pitfalls of taking a toddler to eat.

My daughter, Adele, (25) and a recent

mom herself 10 000km away in Oxford, first dragged me, almost kicking and screaming, into St Elmo’s, when in gymslip. I professed to hate plastic, veneer-coated, franchised restaurants, but was an instant convert.

A reservation, then, on trenchermen’s treks since and on our recent visit, is portion sizes. South of the Limpopo, they’re sure hearty eaters, if they can finish a St Elmo’s piled platter.

Perhaps five-year-old blonde-haired Michaela’s big blue eyes, weren’t ideal through which to re-examine the Avondale restaurant. Known as Little Miss Savoury, she loathes fizzy drinks, detests ice-cream, puddings and cakes but enjoys biltong, crisps and nuts and drinks water by the gallon.

She returned from Mozambique hooked on braaied prawns and wanted to order some at St Elmo’s. Wrong! Only seafood served is 100g starter-sized calamari, or 200g, with chips, as a main course — both “SQ”— which I know is a wonderful dish… or shrimp cocktail.

Having explained shrimps were baby prawns, a straight cocktail came instead of avocado Ritz, thinking that perhaps too rich. She took one tentative taste of, 1000 Islands-sauce, said “Don’t like that!” and was torn between making a Smiley Face in play dough, colouring a crayon competition or disappearing round the corner to indoor jungle gym-centred play area. (Shades of Adele who’d order food at Art Café, then have to be dragged away from the pottery painting studio, scoff untasted.)

Michaela’s mom, Charmaine, now a biggish cheese in tobacco, once did books and wages at the restaurant; we were welcomed effusively by franchisee Robbie Mellor and very attentive staff and drank ice-cold Pilseners on a kid-packed exeat weekend Sunday, whilst Michaela’s milkshake stood untouched after one short sharp slurp through a straw. She changed to spring water, relishing it by the bottle.

Despite concerns about huge helpings we were served Chita (garlic pita bread with grilled mozzarella and parmesan cheese: $950 000) almost before sitting down. A good half went in a takeaway box; Charmaine and I tried the shrimps as we both hate waste.

Michaela and her mom finally flattened six gypsy spits between them. Forget tiny button mushrooms you get some places, these were monsters, wrapped in lashings of tasty smoked bacon, cooked in garlic and herb butter, served with brown bread. I managed three of six large crumbed mushrooms with tartare ($950 000), the balance going in takeaway box. Other starters include minestrone, asparagus or mushroom soup, $700 000; piri-piri chicken livers, $720 000 and snails in garlic herb butter with a dash of brandy $1,25 million. Except for soup, any starter is, in my opinion, enough for two or three couvertes.

Don’t laugh: it’s still painful, but I got to the British Ambassador’s residence a few days earlier with just a nagging hint of a twinge of gout in right wrist; loyal toasts to Her Majesty’s 80th birthday and scores of hearty handshakes later, I was in agony, forearm the size of a watermelon, severe swelling from finger tips to shoulder. So I didn’t want steaks or ribs ($2,1 million — $2,34 million) Robbie was anxious I try. Other than dietary considerations, I was unable to work knife and fork simultaneously.

Pasta was the answer but my carbonara (penne with ham, bacon, salami, cream and mushroom) or Charmaine’s special chicken pasta with chilli, sun-dried tomato and olive pesto: $1,495 million and $1,550 million respectively, would have fed a stick of hungry caribaneri. The toddler’s regina pizza pie: enormous cornish pastie-shaped, filled with ham, mushroom and cheese, with chips and side salad would have gladdened Desperate Dan’s eye at $930 000. There’d be enough left over for a substantial meal for Michaela’s 13 year old sister, Jessica, on returning from a weekend’s horse riding and other gawky teenage activities at Ruwa.

Little Miss Savoury spurned sweet ($395 000-$600 000); mom and I risked a so-called half-portion peppermint crisp dessert: layers of caramel, peppermint crisp biscuit and cream, served with cream or ice-cream and hundreds and thousands ($400 000). Almost any five year old would have swapped her favourite teddy for such a concoction, but Micheala preferred to watch her artistic endeavours baked, allegedly for posterity. (Tears in the car, when cooked kangaroo lost a portion of tail but, a wee while later, morsel-sized bits of baked Smiley Face were surreptitiously broken off and eaten!)

“Half” puddings were rich, sweet and outfacing. We declined Dom Pedros and Irish coffees and
still left as replete as ticks, Michaela clutching giveaway Frisbees for herself and sister, making amends for her almost shucking her skin when Bho-Bho the Clown, with hideously painted face, left the birthday party he was entertaining to “amuse” her. I can still mentally hear her scream of terror, but the little lad at the next table enjoyed his antics!

I really love children….couldn’t eat a whole one, though!

Highly recommended for families. Check various packages (kids eat free on Wednesdays), and order sparingly.

* St Elmo’s, 7 Arts Complex, Avondale. Closed Tuesdays. Otherwise lunch and supper daily. Fully licensed, smoking/non-smoking, child, wheelchair friendly, parking immediately outside.

Booking advised. Tel 334981/2.

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