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Viva Mama Mia’s!

MAMA Mia’s at Newlands is, without a doubt, one of Harare’s major success stories in terms of family-owned and run restaurants and one to a large extent patronised by families.

I passed recently on a bitterly cold Thu

rsday night en route from the car park to the sing-along, spit and sawdust scene at neighbouring Billy Fudpucker’s Pub.

I still find it amusing that arguably the country’s No 1 Italian-style Mediterranean restaurant is owned by a Greek, Nick Kalamatis, and his Afrikaner wife Annette, who switches languages, apparently effortlessly, from die taal to Greek to English as circumstances or clientele change.

Their one son, George, fairly recently back from running Five Star hotels in Mozambique’s Indian Ocean, resorts assists them in the businesses and one of the country’s best known chef’s, Tisiana, cooks at lunch time. Her name has been immortalised in a Mama Mia starter dish: pollo Tisiana, a chicken fingers speciality.

Nick was talking animatedly on the telephone as I passed, to see him beckon me in urgently. He said son George was at the airport collecting his brother, Peter, a Johannesburg stock-broker, home on a long weekend’s leave, could I join them for supper in, say, forty-five minutes?

Well, of course I could! Three quarters of an hour was plenty of time to see the folks I planned to meet in Billy’s and I was already ravenously hungry having eaten nothing since a very light early lunch.

Mama Mia’s used to be the wonderfully politically incorrectly named Fat Mama’s Restaurant abutting the Russell Hotel in 3rd St/Baines Avenue, deservedly renowned for great value for money continental dishes. Allegedly the cuddly matronly Annette was the eponymous “fat mama” but I find that difficult to believe!

The family also had a tie-up with Taverna Athena, which used to do spectacularly well in Union Avenue, behind the Holiday Inn. That closed at Christmas-time; I’d heard they were to re-open mid-year in the Kensington shopping centre, in the old Mateo’s restaurant. A sign went up in their familiar Hellenic script, but nothing else has happened since and an e-mail to partner John A Aganapostolous asking for further and better particulars remained unanswered as we went to press.

None of us wanted a starter course, as such, although I, for one, had pigged out on lots of wonderfully fresh crispy bread and salty butter with a suggestion of garlic sauce smeared on as I waited for the family to complete their various tasks and join Nick and I. We sat at a table, conveniently close to an upright gas heater, one of several slinging out about five million BthU/s per hour each and fighting the evening’s chill so successfully that winter-weight jackets were gratefully removed. Goodness knows what they cost to buy or run, but the 100% full outlet graphically and dramatically illustrated their success. It would have been unpleasantly cold without the strategically placed heaters.

Soup of the day, or the restaurant’s trademark minestrone were $520 000, Mama’s mushrooms or deep-fried Haloumi, $700 000, chicken livers, beef carpaccio or pollo Tisiana $660 000. Salads as a separate course are $800 000: blue cheese, Greek village, Italian country or caprese, etc to $1,1 million for salad Nicoise.

I had a workmanlike side salad to accompany two mouthwateringly tasty and extremely generously cut Tuscany pork chops at $1 520 000, which is the same price as a fillet steak (without sauce), beef schnitzel or pork fillet. The side salad came instead of cooked vegetables, but it is usually both that are served and with a mound of excellent chips.

Nick had a ladies’ fillet steak, which is mentioned, but unpriced on the menu. (I believe all meat dishes are available in “ladies’ helpings”, not necessarily half the weight of meat, not necessarily half the price of a regular portion.) Annette, who had a small portion of spaghetti with a special sauce served separately and lots of Parmesan asked me to stress that Mama Mia’s rack of Marco Polo spareribs weigh in at a handsome 600g for $2,1 million and are reportedly hugely popular.

Peter had eaten on the plane (God help his digestion) and the boys were more interested in chatting animatedly about squillion dollar cars I’ve never heard of, now being driven by old Greek friends, formerly in Zimbabwe, now prospering on the Reef, rather than the attractions of a family get together supper.

The Kalamatises all drank Arniston Bay red wine from Africa’s most southerly vineyard in the Cape. I have tried it and enjoyed it tremendously, but often muse, have I, perhaps unknowingly, sampled wine from Africa’s most northerly vineyard, presumably in Tunisia, when I was knocking around that part of the world nearly four decades ago?

Most pasta dishes, including the ever popular Bolognaise, are $1,1 million, with Napolitano and Arrabiata at $850 000 and $950 000 respectively and ravioli at $1,3 million. Chicken dishes are $1,4 million to $1 760 000.

Mama Mia’s is open lunch Monday to Friday, supper Monday to Saturday. Highly recommended, booking essential.

* Mama Mia’s, Newland Shopping Centre, Tel 252276/ 252278.


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