ALMOST everything on Gecko Gardensâ€™ lunch menu sounded totally delightfully delectable, perhaps doubly so given the dreadful food shortages facing our country.
Starters included spicy prawns, deep fried, served with garlic or lemon-butter sauce; chicken liver patÃ© with orange confit and Melba toast and pan-fried Haloumi cheese and tomato and basil salad with a chili, garlic honey and Balsamic vinegar dressing, all at $400 billion; Caesar or a warm seasonal vegetables salad were $350 billion.
When manager Anita Tobitt solemnly confessed herself a soupaholic, I immediately chose the potage du jour: nourishing, piping hot protein-rich lentils with bacon and cheesy croutons, accompanied by dinky home-baked still warm bread rolls and great butter ($250 billion).
I last saw Anita manfully (or womanfully?) coping with a human avalanche of avaricious gate-crashers at the British Military AttachÃ©â€™s Armistice Day lunch, held that year at Chapman Golf Club. She served full Sunday roast with Yorkshires and all the trimmings and two other courses to about three times the number the embassy had ordered for and around twice the turnout sheâ€™d presciently feared! The then Belgian Ambassador, the urbane and amiable Boudewijn Derymaeker, sitting at my table with the late Air Vice-Marshal Ian Harvey said the Brits should instantly decorate her!
Since then this annual “must attend”, A-List event is always
held at the British Ambassadorâ€™s residence, where numbers can be contained!
Dispossessed farmers Mike and Alex Johnson, who quickly won their spurs in the hospitality industry after losing their Headlands tobacco farm, own Gecko Gardens and also close-by Imba Matombo, both in Glen Lorne. These operations are overseen by Julie Webb, ex-Leopard Rock, whose dad Rob, an ex-Zimbabwe Tobacco Association president is, or was, growing fodya at Centenary.
The restaurant is one of the countryâ€™s most attractive, featuring stiffly starched crisp linen, gleaming solid heavy cutlery and, the finest china and crystal. Diners are surrounded by valuable Cape and European antiques and interesting memorabilia. Principal architectural feature is glass and shining windows overlook clipped, sculptured terraced gardens, cool water features and bright pools stocked with colourful fish.
I was sorely tempted by the daily main course special: fillet of Kariba bream. After mulling various combinations such as chicken and button mushrooms in a sour cream and paprika sauce; Yorkshire fillet of beef, grilled to perfection on a bed of Mediterranean-style vegetables with a red wine jus sauce; half Kashmiri barbecued chicken marinated in Indian spices; grilled sirloin steak served sliced with lemon-and-herb butter; peppered escalope of chicken breast with tomato pesto and grated Parmesan, I plumped for two gorgeously caramelised prime pork chops, topped with glazed apple slices, served on a bed of surprisingly splendid creamed spinach.
Asked by functions coordinator Nakai Mutemasango, doing her charmingly efficient Glen Lorneâ€™s answer to Mary Tyler-Moore bit “What starch?” I hardly hesitated in choosing simple old chips, (“French fries” she called them) because Iâ€™m tired of hearing, almost everywhere else, theyâ€™ve no cooking oil. The hearty, meaty dish was delicious at $600 billion, half-chicken was $650 billion and beef presentations $800 billion; three types of pasta were $550 billion each. The chips and veg were scrumptious.
As I had spent much time wandering through and photographing the stunning, lush green Zen-peaceful gardens, alive with birdsong and butterflies, then rabbiting in the well-stocked bar with a barman chuckling that after my last visit to the then freshly launched Gecko Gardens (early 2007) I described, in this column, young Sandy Mellet â€” then running the kitchen- as a “young blonde chefette” I had no time for pudding ($300
billion) or coffee. Incidentally, Sandy had cooked for many celebs, including Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II.
The bar was out of local beer, except for Lion Larger, so I settled for two splendidly chilled bottled Millerâ€™s Draught (sorry, itâ€™s American: Millerâ€™s Draft!), which I found extraordinarily palatable. Apart from the restaurant â€” open to non-resident guests seven breakfasts and lunchtimes a week and supper except Sunday â€” Gecko Gardens has four luxuriously appointed and equipped guestsâ€™ lodges, plus conference facilities and can handle receptions, company and product launches for up to 250 pax. In its previous incarnation as (the original) Seasons, it was the venue for my daughter, Adeleâ€™s, beautifully spectacular garden wedding reception.
Light meals are available at all hours from a Tea Garden menu: served al fresco or indoors, there is a wonderful eat-as-much-as-you-like/can Sunday buffet family lunch with live music; on Wednesdays an international class jazz band entertains during set family dinner, with complimentary Irish coffee.
lGecko Gardens, Sunninghill Close, off Ard-na-Lea Close, Enterprise Road, Glen Lorne, Harare. Tel 494621/7.