Dusty Miller: Chilling At Cresta Churchill

I WAS at official openings of many of this country’s hotels, lodges and conference centres:

many during UDI, when sanctions really bit and targets included recently opened tourism facilities and travellers therein. Bulawayo’s Churchill Hotel opened circa 1975 and flourished…for about six months until “Someone” sussed it flouted fire regulations and it shut ignominiously until Independence!

The unusual (for Africa) designed hotel (mock Tudor/Elizabethan, half-timbered, steep gables, grey slate shingles, mullioned windows!) isn’t somewhere I’ve stayed often, but when ever I laid my weary head on comfy pillows I was impressed. Before a recent stay, en route to Botswana’s capital, last time I slept there was 1999 when the Inglenook Restaurant was a serious contender for the In-Hotel section Restaurant of the Year competition (then run by ZTA) of which I was chief judge.

Crispin Chimumvuri, amiable general manager of Cresta Churchill, has been years with the chain here (and overseas on secondment.) Previously he cooked at the much lamented Regency Restaurant, Fife Avenue and Harare Club. He is mainly a chef, betrayed by a well-padded figure, but now duties include overseeing major extensions and refurbishment of the Matopos Rd hotel as rooms double from 50 to 100, enlarged conference facilities, gym/fitness centre and laundry continue apace, three months into a year-long programme

Churchill was packed, due to a talkfest run by an international NGO: participants intense delegates and “resource persons” mainly from the shateen.

I have a jaundiced view of these events, having organised scores here and in neighbouring states. An Eastern Districts boutique hotel owner chuckles most conferences/seminars/workshops there involve HIV/Aids and its avoidance or successful living with, but — he claims — participants spend all night, bloated with unaccustomed 4-star rations, enthusiastically playing Musical Beds! It was good to see a hotel so full; gratifying well-trained staff (I suspect Chris, one of the Old School of hoteliers, is a bit of a stickler) freshened mouth-watering displays, re-filling containers until the kitchen shut; an aspect of catering often spurned in Harare, during the worst of the food shortages.

There was grand homemade mushroom soup, rolls and butter and delightful crisp, crunchy, fabulously fresh salad on a buffet, followed by a very welcome lean, tender sirloin steak char-grilled exactly as ordered, with piquant pepper sauce; great, gold, properly cooked, very hot chips and stir-fried veg. Pudding was a competently constructed fruit salad and peppermint ice-cream. Risked a milky filter coffee from a jumbo pot, concerned I may not sleep: unlikely having been up since 5, fixing car, doing almost a full morning’s ZimInd graft, then zigzagging through the Midlands on newspaper business.

Slept like a log. I “always” wake within five minutes of first light, but not in Bulawayo this time: 7:45 before I emerged.

Talkfesters had vigorously raided the breakfast buffet, but all was tarted up, including cereal, fruit and yoghurt.

Chafing dishes had no bacon: flattened by delegates, or a boycott of Colcom’s ionospheric prices? With creamy scrambled egg I had locally bought brilliant beef bangers, beans, sautéed spuds, savoury mince. A cold display included CHEESE…for breakfast, in Zimbabwe…now? Good grief! Great!

Waiting for the bakkie to Bots, wool-gathering by the pool, sparkling in a cobbled courtyard of a type in which Shakespeare would have felt at home, I wondered why few African hospitality outlets invest in pool solar heating?

There’s abundant sun; harnessed, raising water temperature just 5 degrees above the ambient, Bob’s Your Uncle: swimming 24/7/365 could be enjoyable.

dustym@zimind.co.zw