Dusty Miller: No Shilly-shallying At Shilla

I’M unsure if there is any point revealing food prices at restaurants reviewed in these columns as, with now 9 000 000% inflation choking our beloved country, it’s of mere archival interest almost before I have finished weekly critiques.

 

I write 10 days after re-visiting re-opened palatial Shilla, Connaught Road. Some prices seem-ed stratospheric then and look little more affordable today (when they have probably at least doubled!) But what do similar outlets charge?

Manager Chris Dube, previously with Cresta Hotels…but as an engineer! urged me to return to Shilla, shut March-October 2007. Previously I’d met original owner, David Lee and his wife, Cherry, who cooked superbly.

He was a South Korean, early retired as a Seoul bank manager, but sold out to new Korean entrepreneur owner, Gilbert Baek.

Chris waited patiently while I snapped imposing duplex 1950-ish architecture of the former family home from several angles.

Previous trips were before I digitalised and the Hollywood-style building is photogenic.

It was a chill, grey day, like so many this miserable highveld winter: certainly not ideal to appreciate Shilla’s accent on alfresco food in fabulous clipped gardens, by attractive water features. Clean, minimalist lines and décor also scream for floor-to-ceiling sliding aluminium windows to be open…but it was too cold.

I was peckish, rather than ravenous, and curiosity, not hunger, made me order fairly disparate items from a catholic menu, now featuring original Japanese and Korean cuisine, plus Western dishes the Lees introduced and Chinese food, which is new.

So I had cream of butternut soup, seemingly currently the star starter at almost every Zimbabwean eatery. Most seem good; Shilla’s would have been merely good too, were it not accompanied by an unannounced house specialty, really great rich melted cheese on toast, a mini-Welsh rarebit, making it
outstanding at $30 billion.

I initially declined crumbed mushrooms, thinking they’d be the usual fairly insipid button jobs, coated in breadcrumbs, often garlic-drenched.

Shilla uses the thinly sliced plate-sized dark field fungi; dried, then re-hydrated before cooking. A herby-spicy crumb-coating was memorable, texture interesting, flavours deeply intense: also $30 billion.

Blue cheese salad comprised not only the eponymous dairy product: sharp, clean sliced apple and macadamia slivers studded crisp mixed leaves and standard salad ingredients. It was quite wonderful… $45 billion on June 17. All salads cost the same; many may feel chicken liver salad or one tuna-based better value.

However, prawn avocado at $30 billion was fine value: out-of-shell crustaceans in large, ripe half-avo, slathered in piquant rose-marie sauce.

While nibbling middle-of-the-road Western dishes, two young Koreans, in my field of vision, wolfed and gulped a largely noodle dish, eaten messily and noisily with chopsticks, then moved on (after chain smoking furiously, as if it were 1968) to something Chris called Bibim Bob: rice, assorted vegetables and fried egg: $85 billion. Maybe their starter was Gop Chang Jun Gol ($70 billion): beef broth with tripe, intestines, vegetables and noodles!

Shilla, by the way, was the name of one of three ancient Korean kingdoms (57 BC-AD 935); the restaurant specialises in traditional Korean table braais, which have me looking around urgently checking escape routes and fire extinguishers: $110 billion, beef, chicken pork or seafood. Sushi was $85 billion.

Couldn’t do justice to seafood curry with more prawns and generous hake fillets in a mild fruity sauce –– not masking delicate seafood flavours –– into which fresh peas and other greens were folded. It came with separate beans, carrots and “sticky” rice, Chris said grew in Australia.

By Dusty Miller

dustym@zimind.co.zw