AS I couldnâ€™t accept an invitation to Kerry Wallaceâ€™s Shop CafÃ© at Doon Estate tonight for a special late opening of his award-winning, mainly vegetarian organic food establishment I sneaked a preview last Friday.
Canâ€™t do tonight as Iâ€™d long ago accepted an invite to belated 50th anniversary dinner of Cresta Jameson Hotel.
In theory that meant returning early from a few daysâ€™ assignment at Victoria Falls, but as we couldnâ€™t get AZ seats to or from the Falls this week (things must be looking up!) that was academic.
Shop CafÃ©â€™s a minor masterpiece of an eatery, a little gem of an establishment in the arty-crafty Doon Estate complex, an oasis of culture in the otherwise gritty, workaday Msasa light industrial site.
Iâ€™m an unashamed carnivore. Kerry offers only one meat-based meal a day. It was fortuitous that on my visit it proved an almost trademark signature dish: individual chicken and mushroom pot pie, deeply, solidly, filled with luscious white huku chunks and lots of button mushrooms, cooked through but still tastefully al dente, in a dense tasty herb-and-poultry rich gravy.
With a light-as-air puff pastry lid and sides, it came piping hot. Fragrant steam escaped as my knife made a first anticipatory incision of the glorious golden crisp crust.
The pie was supported by an attractive sparkling fresh mixed leaf salad pre-anointed with subtle herb dressing. Several more home-made dressings were also presented.
A basket of mixed breads, in-house baked, arrived first: bread sticks and bruschetta featuring imported sun-dried tomatoes. Kerry stressed the fact the “love apples” were imported, leading me to ask why?
Despite the parlous state of farming since 2000, we are surely capable of growing a few hectares of tomatoes of the right breed? About the only thing we arenâ€™t currently short of in poor Zim is sunshine.
(Thank God Zanu PF isnâ€™t in charge of distributing its beneficent raysâ€¦or that would be another item available only on the black market, in US$!)
Lovely herby garlic chilled butter came with the breads. Then a frosty Amstel Lager, a light Dutch beer, delightfully thirst-quenching and beautifully presented with Champagne-style gold-foil bottle neck and cap wrapper.
I had two: most welcome on a broiling day, dining al fresco in the restaurantâ€™s client-packed sun-dappled courtyard.
The car-park is always filled with late model 4WDs, many with CD plates.
Accents were American, French, Italian, German, local and one I thought Dutch, until, doing a recce of the complex, spotting its owner was proprietor of the dinky hand-made Belgian chocolate factory.
Kerryâ€™s son Leroy, and a dedicated team of mainly young staff do a sterling job with the fruit, vegetables and grains. I was torn between the huku pie and tilapia (Kariba bream fillets) with oven-baked crumbed polenta (posh sadza) chips and salads.
Later, I was also in temporary turmoil between various scrumptious puddings, settling for a decadently rich Pavlova (an Aussie â€“â€“ or, arguably, Kiwi â€“â€“ creation, named after the Imperial Russian ballerina, not the Soviet gymnast!). Chock-full of plump, juicy quartered strawberries, their heads bobbing coyly through a sea of blindingly white whipped cream, atop light, crisp meringue base, it was colourfully eye- and palate-pleasing.
A strong pot of Tanganda (they also have Earl Grey and Rooibos) tea, in attractive ceramic tea-set designed and fired at Ros Byrneâ€™s neighbouring pottery completed a delightful meal.
Shop CafÃ© usually opens only from breakfast to late afternoon, but as thereâ€™s a starlight shopping fiesta at Doon today, with all outlets open until 7:30pm, theyâ€™ll serve a tapas-style dinner, the traditional laid-back Spanish servings of various “mini-platters” of tasty goodness, washed down, unorthodoxly with a range of Portuguese wines, shipped by Mark Oxley.
Do try his chilled bubbly rosÃ©. Itâ€™s so seductive it could probably be blamed for a booming birth rate in The Vatican!
Doon Estate was HQ of the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (Wenela) responsible for recruiting labour from the former Federal territories for the Reef gold mines. Various ex-admin buildings, dotted through several hectares, are now occupied by art and craft shops, picture framers, hand-made hard and soft furniture, paintings, pottery, leather goods, ceramics and sculpture, fabrics and textiles, garments, the chocolate shop, jewellers, stationers, antique, collectible and gift shops.
Malawi-born Kerry spent several years in the UK.
Before launching The Shop CafÃ©, almost 10 years ago, he ran a successful horticultural/landscape firm, specialising in indigenous flora.
By Dusty Miller