I TRAVELLED widely on three continents in the past 10 months and, while usually avoiding converting prices back to Zimbabwean dollars, million dollars, trillion dollars or squillion dollars â€” an exercise in sheer futility â€” sometimes it is useful. As I had a swipe at local club catering in a recent article, Iâ€™ll set the record straight, saying Iâ€™ve rarely had better food or finer value for money than at the Jaipur Indian Restaurant above Sunrise Sports Club in the cityâ€™s Asian residential quarter nor, under various managements, at Hellenic Cultural Centre, Eastlea.
Service seemed to take for ever at Jaipur last Sunday, but I was with friends, the Matthews family; various other pals and acquaintances were dotted around the first floor restaurant with its birdâ€™s-eye view of our host Hindu club playing fairly competitive cricket against (presumably, judging by the beards) the neighbouring Muslim club, Universals, as weather threatened play.
Owner Vaysan Nayee was even more relaxed than usual in knee-length pukkah-sahib fawn shorts and chefs were also laid back â€” I assume â€” as we just waited, waited and waited, after nibbling our way through Indian starters for five pax and sipping colas and lager. The starters were so tasty the boys were treated to a takeaway box of appetisers for their St Georgeâ€™s School lunches the next day (if they survived the trip home!).
The lengthy delay didnâ€™t worry me, but young Ian was anxious to return to see a Harare Sports Club cricket game from which weâ€™d uplifted him and dad, Richard, was on that nightâ€™s AirZim flight to Joâ€™burg. Check-in time grew worryingly nearer.
Must remember to order medium curry on my next Jaipur visit: mild is very mild, but hot is incandescent! However, there was scarcely a grain of rice, scrap of sambal, piece of poppadum or hint of naan between our five platters: four medium lamb curries, one buttered chicken, when the graze finally arrived.
Bill for 10 starters (remember the takeaway) five mains, eight lagers, numerous cooldrinks (Ian and Kyle could win Olympic gold medals at coke-slurping!) was $775 500 000 which, I know, is a hang of a lot of money to a hell of a lot of folk here.
But the next day a billion Zim dollars fetched just US$24 (and was dropping) on the black “parallel” market, making this wonderfully memorable meal for five well under Â£10 in the real world.
Compare that with my penultimate meal with son and daughter-in-law in Aberdeen at the Light of Bengal, where supper for three and a few drinks cost Â£55; or my “last supper” (for a few months!) with daughter and son-in-law at the incomparable Saffron Bengali Restaurant, Faringdon in the Vale of the White Horse. Granted, there, we ate prawns almost the size of lobsters and delightful duck dishes. And I pigged out on copious quantities of magical Bengali, Indian and Singapore draught and bottled lager, but that bill was Â£77,50 which, if Iâ€™m not mistaken, is now worth something more than $6 billion in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africaâ€™s fun capital.). One could cover the UK bills by slinging burgers or stacking supermarket shelves for a day-and-a-half. Here most folk would need at least a month-and-a-half of comparatively well paid toil to get six billion in their back sack!
Thought $80 million for “pork chops” at Hellenics Club sounded dear, as Iâ€™m a member of another club where pork chop (singular) was less than half that. There all comparisons end. Hellenics served two huge, meaty portions of pork which many of my fellow diners found difficult to finish. Indeed several went into doggy-bags for cold supper or lunch the next day. Iâ€™ve had thicker, meatier bacon rashers than the “chop” at the other club.
Nyama came with a veritable mountain of well-cooked, big square cut golden chips, al dente broccoli and butternut to which chef Clive (Teletubby) Jones had done something so toothfully interesting, even I ate it with the deep-fried bream fillets I had instead of chops, half chicken or chicken schnitzels.
Before mains and included in the 80-bar was lovely, light, fresh, still warm continental bread, not quite enough butter for the 30 members of my luncheon club who sat down and skordalia: other than its name, the clubâ€™s only lip-service to Greek-ness.
Icily chilled draught Castle there was $14 million; bottled Castle $10 million at Jaipur. I see on my computer that when I previously ate there in September, beer was $100 000!
(See what happens when I go away?)
The bad news is the Joneses: Clive, Tracey and extended family, leave Hellenics at the end of April. Good news is they have one firm offer and are negotiating a second to take over club catering at outlets within a kilometre of present operations.