Ooh la La Chandelle?!

Dusty Miller

LA CHANDELLE’s back at Rainbow Towers (née Sheraton) after several years of “French leave”; a closure forced by almost total absence of the well-

heeled sophisticated international travellers on which the plush Parisian-style restaurant relied.

Years later, we’re still a pariah nation; few tourists “jet in”; the once promising conference industry and hordes of lucrative visiting film makers looking for new locations have all taken their business lapa-side of the Limpopo.

But young French professionals grasped the nettle, signed a lease with RTG, and opened, full of appealingly quiet confidence, last week.

Regular readers know I don’t visit a “new” restaurant for three months, unless invited. This gives owners, often strangers to the hospitality scene, a chance to settle. Some places open with a false flurry of flash professionalism, then deteriorate. Others have initial hallmarks of ham-handed amateurism, but lessons are painfully (often dearly) learnt and, after the magic 90 days, it’s a pleasure to go there. Either way, after a three month “probation period” a restaurant review should be fairly accurate, reflecting immediate post-teething trouble period.

I was invited to La Chandelle on its second day of trading; not by young Parisian Charles Croisette or his wife, stunning chief meeter, greeter and seater, Frederique, but by Rainbow Towers’ deputy general manager, effervescent Leboahang Galubitse. Despite a Tswana-sounding moniker she’s Zimbabwean through and through.

Décor, furnishings, crockery, cutlery, napery, floral arrangements and views are to die for. It’s every bit as impressive, on an international scale, as I recall it in its first heady days when Zimbabwe, the jewel and breadbasket of Africa, headed confidently towards becoming the Switzerland of Africa. Sadly the breadbasket is a basket case and it’s probably insulting to Tirana to say not even Africa’s Albania!

But for couple of hours we were in Paris: Harare! And it was pretty busy for an almost unheralded opening, with top decision-makers and opinion formers from local big business and international diplomacy trying it.

Candidly, I thought the Croisettes would pitch the tariff a little under the hugely popular Victoria 22’s, trying to lever away some of that suburban restaurant’s lucrative and loyal client base. But no!

Currently, set supper at “22” is $5 million; La Chandelle’s four-course version $6 million!

At lunch, each course is priced separately. Starters $2 million (pricey for assiete de potage du marche a l’ancienne, pain et beurre: seasonal vegetable soup with bread and butter!)?

The same $2 million buys tartare au deux saumons et salade de pommes de terre aux graines d’aneth (marinated, smoked and raw salmon minced, with potato salad garnished with dill seeds), wolfed ravenously. (No Zesa, no breakfast.)

Lebohang expressed total satisfaction with, prawns rolled in cabbage leaves, served with mixed seasonal vegetables. Or: Italian slices of smoked fillet beef with Parmesan cheese and balsamic salad.

The menu is concise. Amazingly there were no snails (hugely popular here) or frogs’ legs listed; they must offer French onion soup and, ideally, drop potage du jour price by $1 million.

At $1,5 million extra, duck paté with jams and toast is available.

The wine list is short but workmanlike, labels listed bi-lingually, with a map of France pinpointing from where the wine came. No local or South African wines are listed.

Whites are from $4,5 million: Vin du Pas des Cotes de Gascogne 2002 Domaine du Ballade to $19,7 million (Mersault 2001 Mestre Michelot) with sparkling Cremant du Borgogne Chevalier Brut Prestige or 2003 Chardonnay at $9,6 million; 2001 Chablis $15 million.

These are not for the faint hearted! Reds from $7,4 million (Chateau Saint-Seurin 2001 Cotes de Bourg, Bordeaux, peak at $30,1 million (2002 Chateau Giscours Grand Cru ClasséMargaux); Beaujolais Villages 2004 Domaine Lardy is $9,5 million and Château Peuch-Haut Tete du Cuvee Coteaux du Languedoc $24,4 million.

Champagne is from $3 million a flute to $130 million (I kid thee not!): Moet & Chandon Dom Perignon rore 1996.

They offer white, red or rose wines by the glass (one label each) at $500 000 or $2,8 million a carafe. I had to work and stuck to Pilsener, then $350 000 each before last weekend’s astonishing 50% brewery price hike.)

Scotch from $900 000 (J&B or Clan MacGregor) to $3 million a tot (the Macallan Fine Oak 18 year old.) His 12 year old younger brother is $2 million.

$3 million main courses include wonderful Nile perch in creamy saffron, basil and garlic sauce, with rice and vegetables. (Sadly, fish knives hadn’t arrived from France!) pork or beef fillet or steak tartare.

My hostess selected delightful breasts of chicken in morilles sauce with home-made puree and vegetables, but this meant a $1 million surcharge ($4 million)

Puddings or cheese are $1 million; we had superb crêpes Suzette, mine flambéed, Lebohang’s as it came. Options are Belgian chocolate cake from Msasa’s Cocoa Tree, a trio of tartlets or sample plate of all three. Cheese option features three different types and green salad.

Almost any other Tuesday, I could have relaxed, enjoyed coffee and liqueurs ($200 000- $2,5 million) and mused whether to risk a small cheroot: the perfect end to a perfect meal. (Alas, last time I tried that I was back on three packs a day
faster than you could say chronic emphysema!) All academic anyway; I’d a mountain of work on my desk.

Highly recommended; booking essential. La Chandelle, Rainbow Towers. Lunch Monday-Wednesday; supper Thursday-Friday; supper only Saturday. Closed Sunday (but Sunday brunch/lunch is on the cards.). Tel 772633 e-mail parisharare@yahoo.fr