Iâ€™M totally amazed at how many restaurants, coffee shops, pub, bars and clubs etc are still opening in hyper-inflation hit, cash-strapped Zimbabwe, compared to those that shut up shop, for whatever reason.
Especially when, worldwide, what with the credit crunch, the shorter (or no) lunch, forced unemployment, short-time and bank failures, eateries are closing in droves.
I have a diary note of seven or eight hopeful establishments opened or re-opened in Harare alone in the past few months, all of which I am trying to visit professionally.
Last Wednesday I set off to one. Operating as a private membersâ€™ club in yet another very imposing former Colonial-style dwelling house in Belgravia, blue@2 at 2, Aberdeen Rd, was highly recommended for its great range of wines and other drinks and reportedly excellent lunches (then) served only on Wednesdays.
Unfortunately, last Wednesday, no-one had pre-booked a planned roast beef and Yorkshire pud (a firm favourite comfort food) so nothing was cooked. I was briefly and hungrily shown round the place by ex-Doma farm girl Danielle Hartmann, running it with her mum.
Danielle is a qualified photographer and photo-journalist, having studied in Melbourne and runs a photo gallery in addition to the laid back food-drink-sophisticated music outfit in the two-storey buildingâ€™s former garages. Mum also operates a property rental agency in the main building.
Clutching a delightfully chilled item of a moderately intoxicating nature: Windhoek Lager, I became a member (No 44) and was invited to return two days ago to try the skoff. Hopefully youâ€™ll read about it next week.
So, lunch hour half way through, two tins of strong Namibian beer sitting not too well on very empty stomach and feeling fairly light-headed in blistering sunshine on a cloudless day, I tried to picture my desk diary and recall other recent openings.
The drive wasnâ€™t 300 metres to Shamwari Coffee Boma at the junction of Sam Nujoma (2nd Street Ext) and Maasdorp and yet another well proportioned double-storey former Rhodesian home, now impressively tarted up, sitting amid clipped, manicured, sculptured gardens.
A smiling waiter approached with outstretched hand and welcoming smile, greeting me by name.
Sadly, he had the advantage. I knew his face…chete!
He reminded me heâ€™s served my family scores, if not hundreds of times, at Da Guidoâ€™s. Well itâ€™s years since anyone in my circle has visited the Montagu Avenue trattoria, where it was often necessary to queue, so popular, successful and good value was it years ago.
He said he was there with â€œMadam Erosâ€, making it at least two decades ago, which explains, historically, why I couldnâ€™t name him. It was impolite of me not to ask his moniker on Wednesday. Mea culpa!
â€œWho owns this place?â€ I asked, impressed with design, layout, the obvious sacks of loot thrown at the project: and large number of shiny metallic oyster-coloured 4WDs, mainly CD or RSA-registered in the car-park.
Pretty convinced heâ€™d name dispossessed tobacco farmers from Umboe or Chivu, Odzi or Mutematepa, Chegutu or Chinhoyi, Banket or Beatrice, I was stunned when he answered: â€œThe Chineseâ€
It just didnâ€™t look like a Chinese-owned gaff. The menu betrayed no culinary affinity to Cathay, except possibly â€œgreen teaâ€ (1) and I saw no Oriental person around.
At the waiterâ€™s urging, and as I was short of time, I ordered the daily special which proved a delightfully tasty, herby-spicy, fairly large portion ofÂ moist chicken breast (7), pan-fried with cream, with nice, crisp, crunchy, golden chips, tender julienned vegetables and a fringe of salad garnish.
For a special it took an inordinately long time to come. I wandered around the possibly two acre grounds taking photographs, foundÂ a safari firm and travel agency operated from the premises; gift and African curios shop within; scanned a rack of imported magazines and newspapers available, selected a recent International Daily Telegraph, began the crossword puzzle and still waited to graze!.
It proved fine when it came and it was really delightful eating in a Zen-peaceful lush verdant well-shaded garden next to a tinkling water feature as weaver birds collected nesting material and butterflies fluttered by.
The previous two days had been grey, miserable, overcast, chilly and squally: â€œDriech:â€ is a superbly evocative Doric/Scots onomatopoeic for such weather conditions. On Wednesday God smiled bountifully on lunch.
I didnâ€™t learn whether the (1s), (7s) (2s-5s= breakfast), (7s= pepper steak or chicken and spinach pies), (3s= cheese and tomato sarnie)Â (4s= quiche of the day or pizza slice) were â€œunitsâ€, â€œpointsâ€, â€œstars:â€ or whatever euphemism is nowadays shyly or slyly used for US$, but a lunch special andÂ pot of rooibos (annoyingly served pre- rather than post-prandial) cost (8) which was, of course, US$8.
And they demanded (8) not the equivalent (ZW$16 million, then) which I, unusually, happened to have on me.
But, (20) was my smallest note. I had ordered only after having been assured the place had plenty of US$ change (and that makes a change in Ha-ha-ha-rare, Africaâ€™s fun capital!)
Reality was I got a (10) note, plus R20, which was far better than a (10) and ZW$4 million half expected!
Shamwari Coffee Boma opens Monday-Saturday 8am-4pm.