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Le Francais: now more fusion than French cuisine

Dusty Miller

I always think it’s a pity you can’t try everything on the menu when compiling a restaurant review.

At Le Francai

s, the flagship French restaurant at Monomatapa on Tuesday, lunching with ZimSun’s new group communications boss, Farayi Mangwende, we were both intrigued and tempted by tuna wassabi and sesame salad with hoi sin vinaigrette ($800 000), deep fried poached pear stuffed with feta cheese, orange zest, nuts and crumbed in a herb bread crumb mix ($750 000) and snails with cumin croutons ($900 000), but settled for beautiful smoked salmon and spinach roulade salad with anchovies each ($1,2 million) after soup of the day which was an intensely constructed vegetable marrow-and-ginger blend with delightful small warm rolls and butter. (I was on the point of murdering for the merest taste of bread, again!) Soups are currently $750 000.

The restaurant, which first flourished three decades ago, when it was in the 7Arts Centre, owned and run by the then eponymous Roger le Francais, has seen a new lease of life recently and it was a long time since I have seen it so full, apparently with mainly “walk-in” clients (without reservations.) Food is now more fusion than French, but fusion without the confusion which often accompanies it.

Farayi, a trained journalist, is back at “Monos” (and ZimSun) after many years working in PR and marketing both here and in the UK. She was previously employed on the entertainment side of the organisation, under Alan Riddell.

For mains, I was fascinated with the thought of tasting and writing about chicken and tripe balantine (galantine?) served with a peanut-enhanced dried fruit compote, seasonal vegetables, mash and a chicken jus (gravy!), or coulibac: poached bream with calamata olives in a puff pastry parcel, served with a mélange of seasonal vegetables and a tomato béchamel sauce. Both were $3,5 million. Cajun crocodile cannelloni, topped with a Provencal sauce and feta cheese
sounded — well, different — at $5 million.

I settled for the grilled pork
loin steaks, mainly because
the maitre d’hotel, Never Chirinda, who has been at Le Francais since Pontius was a pilot, made them sound mouthwateringly delicious. Which they were: gratinated with honey sabayon, placed on a bed of stir-fried vegetables and accompanied by duchesse potatoes ($4 million).

Farayi ordered a whole Kariba bream, de-boned but with its head still intact, something that used to have the mother of my children almost passing out. She would gag and firmly stare the other way as I decapitated the beast. Farayi managed to find the odd hair-thin bone in the white flaky flesh of the fish and didn’t like them. This was a special of the day, unlisted or priced in the menu. It would have been churlish to ask what the damage was.

Because La Francais has “always” done a very fine trademark crepes Suzette dramatically flambéed at the table by Never, I ordered one for each of us without even glancing at the desserts section of the menu. Later, when price checking, I saw the classical French pudding was not listed, but Never made them with his usual thespian élan.

Two similar sounding dishes: warm fruit salad crepe flambé served with chocolate-flaked cream and deep-fried chocolate mousse flambé with Amarula sauce were $600 000 apiece. Vinegar pudding, which sounds ghastly, but is quite lovely (I think it’s an Afrikaner specialty) was also $600 000 frozen Milo parfait $990 000; Pavlova $650 000 and fruit pannacotta $620 000.

We had a good, strong filter coffee each (at $500 000) and, while sipping them, Farayi, the mother of an 11-year-old at Bishopslea proved there’s no such thing as a free lunch by asking me to write food, wine and travel articles for the new ZimSun Leisure magazine, Zeal.

Only a pleasure!

Comments, queries, tips: dustym@zimind.co.zw

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