SEVERAL readers asked what had happened at the very popular Mandarin-style Chinese restaurant,
The Great Wall, Belgravia as it had been shuttered and locked for weeks. Discreet inquiries lead me to believe the owners and Chinese staff have taken a well-earned break, going home to Mother China for a month or so.
It was probably mere coincidence the monthâ€™s leave neatly bracketed â€œthe free and fair electionsâ€ sche-duled for their adoptive country, Zimbabwe, but it is a self-evident truism underscored by very recent history and illustrated graphically on TV, that when Africa votes itâ€™s a pretty good idea to return to Shanghai…or Sheffieldâ€¦Seattleâ€¦.Strasbourgâ€¦St Petersburgâ€¦ Strathspeyâ€¦Stromso, Sfax or even the Straits of Hormuz for the duration.
The Chinese obviously love their holidays, travel generally and going home. Diners out used to get very miffed years ago when the capital had only two decent chop-suey houses: Mandarin and Bamboo Inn, both in what was then Manica Road, currently Robert Mugabe Roadâ€¦watch this space! and both shut the same time each year. Pretty sure that was something to do with Chinese New Year celebrations.
Whatever, you couldnâ€™t get a wanton soup or sweet-and-sour pork, crispy duck or beef-mushrooms-and-oyster-sauce chow mein for weeks on end in a sit-down restaurant.
At least now thereâ€™s a little more choice, certainly in the suburbs, but with the exception of a really horrible looking (and smelling) joint in George Silundika (formerly Gordon) Avenue thereâ€™s no Chinese â€” nor any other ethnic standalone restaurant for that matter â€” in the CBD.
As I will be pestered for further and better particulars (as the lawyers say) on the Chinese just mentioned, itâ€™s diagonally opposite the Herald of Total Honesty building. Zhong, Guo, Shen, Yang (inevitably nicknamed Zhing-Zhong!) offers such delicacies as salad of pigâ€™s ear, stir-fried fungus with cabbage and â€œsheet jellyâ€. (The mind boggles, but the grubâ€™s not bad!)
Elsewhere, I recently bemoaned the lack of restaurants in central Harare; certainly a critical shortage of â€œgoodâ€ restaurants. The CBD is a gastronomic wasteland compared with 30, 20, 10â€¦even five years ago.
Upper Crust is fairly â€œgoodâ€, however. Itâ€™s not fine dining, it would never earn a Michelin star or an AA rosette. Itâ€™s not licensed. They are often hit by shortagesâ€¦or power cuts. Escalators rarely work. Lighting is dim.
But itâ€™s there and usually open on working days and they have at least some food, which is always edible, reasonably presented in a reasonable length of time and usually good value.
Owner, Lorraine divides her time between running Upper Crust, first floor Batanai Mall, and earning â€œreal lootâ€ in the UK. She was in the Diaspora when I called last week. The staff seem to manage OK without her, but I miss her cheery face and a chat.
I asked a waiter what was available; he said chicken curry and rice as if that were all.
â€œOn or off the bone?â€ I asked, preferring the second. Cook the bird on the bone for extra flavour, nourishment and goodness by all means, but then dispose of skeletal remains before dishing. I donâ€™t like bony stews, casseroles, curries etc; many folk share that prejudice.
It was perfectly acceptable and bone-less. I wouldnâ€™t have taken an old chum from the sub-Continent there, nor my son, reputedly champion vindaloo eater of the north of Scotland. But for a light lunch itâ€™s fine. Rice was long-grained and cooked just right, there was plenty of huku (which, candidly, would have been better an hour later.) Chopped onion, pepper and tomato sambals were pre-folded in to the one-bowl dish. Best of all, it was â€œonlyâ€ $60 million.
I had a pot of tea on arrival and, with a slightly tingling after-burn from the medium curry, a second later, which also accompanied pudding. Torn between Lorraineâ€™s wonderful light-as-air tangy lemon meringue pie and Cornish ice-cream, I had both.
The bill was $130 million which overseas readers (especially ex-Zimbos) will be intrigued to hear is bargain-basement cheap.
I was maybe the only punter not eating mealie-meal-based meals: great heaps of sadza resembling the snowdrifts which hit my daughterâ€™s Oxfordshire village the previous day.
Upper Crust has an apparently loyal sit down clientele and does a big turnover in takeaways, delivered and collected. I was sorry the waiter never mentioned home-made chicken pies and lasagna were â€œonâ€ and nearly returned the next day to try one or the other and read another of the fresh UK newspapers, with virgin crosswords, they usually offer.