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Singing about slick Sopranos

Dusty Miller

AVONDALE is definitely the place to see and be seen. The dining out public is still inordinately loyal to Italian Bakery, despite the service there being fr

equently abysmal, with very often not a chair or table to be had.

After struggling for years, Wimpy is now packed at lunchtime for “traditional” meals like sadza and bones or roadrunner stew, but what the international franchise owners say to this turn in trading techniques — away from their global tradition of burgers and hot dogs — is problematical.

St Elmo’s is possibly the best franchised restaurant in the country, serving enormous South African-approved portions of splendid quality pizza and pasta, great grills, super salads and pleasant puddings.

Just a little way from the main shopping centre, Sopranos’ (named and themed after the TV Mobsters, not diva treble singers) is always busy, but rarely so much that you can’t take the weight off your feet. Service — with a warm, genuine smile — is consistently impeccable.

The only sad thing about my recent Monday lunch visit was that the delightful Fatima Naik, a good pal of my friend Irene Hunt — who introduced us — and usually a very high-profile hands-on partner in the strictly halaal operation, had just left. Her husband and business partner, Barrett, arrived soon afterwards, came over and said “hello” briefing me on many problems besetting the hospitality industry.

It was a steaming, hot, muggy, day; there was hardly a breath of breeze, not even on the wide, shaded, usually airy verandah, which is all cool, gleaming Portuguese tiles and sliding aluminium-framed sparkling windows. An icy lager or a crisply chilled white wine would have gone down a treat, but the Naiks are Moslems and their eatery neither sells nor allows the consumption of booze on the premises and, of course, pork’s out of the

Go there for breakfast and you get eggs and macon (smoked silverside) or eggs and beef salami with your mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, toast and marmalade. Whatever, it still tastes good.

I had a thirst from hell after the weekend’s excesses and the first of two generous pots of Tanganda tea ($395 000 for four + cups) hardly touched sides, while I studied a laminated menu which, unlike in many restaurants, wasn’t tacky, sticky, unpleasant to touch or unhygienic. It takes a bit of studying, too, as many dishes are named after TV bad guys and I rarely watch the box.

I hadn’t been there for nearly a year. Goodness knows what this poor country’s real inflation rate is, but prices, which just before last Christmas, were quoted in thousands of dollars are now (once again, even after the draconian devaluation which bankrupted many folk) back in the millions they had been a few months before last yuletide.

The superbly sparkling Sopranos’ — which is being constantly swept, polished and wiped down as clients leave — was never the cheapest eating house (but is authentically bargain basement compared with Café Espresso round the corner, close to 40 Cork Road.)

Coffees were $390 000-$780 000, breakfasts $3,5 million – $4,2 million; doughnuts $550 000, scones $650 000, muffins $850 000. Sandwiches and paninis were from $2,1 million (egg and salad) to $2,95 million, for chicken mayo, with a range of club sandwiches at $2,49 million.

I rarely order red meat these days, but had, unusually, decided on a medium-rare grilled T-bone steak with a bowl of the most delicious-looking cool, crisp salad I saw delivered to a neighbouring table. The waiter pointed out that if I ordered one of the daily specials: fillet or rump steak at $8,9 million with chips and vegetables, a large salad was “thrown in.”

A fair one! My fillet was unusually-shaped for that cut of meat (it really resembled a porterhouse), but was toothsome, tender and tasty, if slightly more redolent of garlicky-marinade than I, personally, might have wished.

Other main courses included tilapia at $9,2 million, chicken escalope $7,9 million and pastas from $6,9 million- $7,7 million. They have a wide selection of fusion food, strictly vegan or merely vegetarian dishes and a sensible children’s menu (with a well-equipped play area if the little lambs grow bored.) In the unlikely event I grew bored of people-watching there (fellow diners and a constant traffic stream outside) I could gawp at their fascinating tropical aquarium for hours.

I ended with two large-ish scoops of rich, creamy vanilla ice-cream, dusted with chocolate powder and the last dregs of the second tea

Two teas, fillet steak and a large salad with chips and vegetables, pudding $10,6 million.

Sopranos’, 6 Argyle Rd, Avondale. Smoking/non-smoking. Not ideal for wheelchairs. Unlicensed; alcohol not allowed. Open daily 8:30–5:30; Friday/Saturday until 10pm. Tel (04) 333833.

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

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