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Food & Travel: Carping about Carveries

MY last “proper” meal in the UK introduced my daughter’s family to their local Best Western outlet: Sudbury House Hotel, within easy strolling distance of their Faringdon, rural Oxfordshire home, but somewhere they’d never set foot.

I found this odd, as when they first left Zimbabwe, arriving in UK with no roof over head, they worked in fine residential hotels in excellent locations; comfortable free accommodation being not the least attractive bit of  their packages.

We drove, as it was a squally night and we had my grand-daughter (well under three years old, delighted over a night out with Oupa!) in tow.

They oohed and aahed at a delicious-looking carvery. We’d relished family carvery the previous Sunday lunch, following a pleasant after-church short drive through verdant fields to the lovely little historic market town of Burford. That old misery Oliver Cromwell had a few dissidents —“Levellers”—shot against the wall of the ancient parish church (“to discourage the others”).

Burford had a choice of seemingly scores of attractive pubs doing lunch, restaurants, café and tea-shops.

But as “the kids” once worked at the 250–year–old Cotswold Gateway, that’s where Adele and I had  roast pork carvery, son-in-law the same but with very rare juicy beef; young Siena picked at our plates and had a something from the kiddies’ menu.

With puddings, a carafe of South African Shiraz, soft drinks and a couple of pints of lager, the bill was £50 (about US$77). Sudbury House’s carvery was exclusively for a couple of small conference groups meeting there.

From the “early-bird” dinner menu, baby had fantail of watermelon with berry compote; Adele thought her grilled greenlip mussels with lemon and garlic crust “tremendous”; Mark had a chicken and cheeky chorizo salad, dressed with tarragon-scented oil he declared first rate and my splendid carrot-and-ginger soup with crispy sippets, had a pleasing lingering after-taste.

Very young, very blonde, very local (judging by rural accents) waitresses candidly didn’t seem to know what they were doing, but were sufficiently pleasantly amateurish to encourage forgiveness.

Adele and my grand-daughter both gave thumbs up to pan-roasted chicken supreme on gallete potato with ratatouille vegetables.

Mark’s meat-packed lamb ragout with rosemary-flavoured dumplings was pronounced “magic!” and, because we don’t get much decent fish in Zim, I had a stunning mustard-glazed red mullet with shallot and lemon-grass butter on crushed potatoes with young green beans.

The three adults shared a delightful bottle of a crisp, clean, chilled Pinot Grigio 2007 from Veritiere and I also had a couple of pints of lager. Torn between a very old school-sounding steamed lemon pud with vanilla custard, and fruit salad laced with fresh citrus juice, I chose the former, but found chef a bit mean with custard.

Mark and young Siena chose the ice-cream selection (“Sorry, no chocolate today!”) layered in a tuille basket and Adele went for chocolate ganache tart, with lots of berries).

The bill was £52 (about US$79) and Sudbury House made a couple of useful converts.

My final meal was sausage (three links) and mash I found faultless, but unbelievably tasteless hard peas in an improbable shade of green, at Gatwick’s Village Inn pub at the airport. Apart from a couple of slices of toast I’d eaten nothing since supper the day before and was ravenous.

I shouldn’t have eaten as, under three hours later, Air Zim served the best meal I’ve eaten on a plane in months (but, candidly, that’s not saying much!). Bangers-and-mash was £7,99 (about US$13).

lMy first proper day back at work and there was an invitation to try the new menu at Meikles Hotel’s Pavilion Restaurant. They now no longer routinely offer the popular carvery/buffet at lunch: only if numbers warrant it. Sensible, but slightly pig-in-a-poke-ish for casual diners.

I am often accused of never writing anything critical about Meikles. That isn’t true and never was, although usually they do a pretty fine job.

A female foodie wrote about some grubbiness on the table cloth and crockery I didn’t spot from my position. She didn’t read the menu properly, ordering fish of the day (US$20) topped with original tartare sauce, when she can’t stand the stuff!

My soup (thick vegetable) was superb, with great warm rolls and butter; a fellow guest enjoyed cream of potato soup. Soup is US$5. At the same price, traditional Greek salad looked a meal on its own for many: especially ladies who lunch.

For guys who graze, the (beef) curry of the day “with rice or chips! sambals and chutney” (US$15) would usually do the trick. But the nyama was slightly tough and could have done with at least another couple of hours bubbling and squeaking (it was probably great the next day).

Sambals were insipid, thin on the ground and –– unforgivably –– there was NO chutney. It also needed poppadums, naan or chapattis for bulk.

Stuffed baked jacket potato makes a grand light lunch occasionally and a fellow diner’s looked scrumptious at US$10…but was accompanied by …chips! It reminded me of the legendary Irish mixed grill: mash, chips, sautéed potatoes, baked potatoes, boiled spuds, roast potatoes and pommes duchesse!

Grilled chicken breast with satay sauce looked a nice, healthy Oriental-style dish at US$20.

Our hostess, the potato-fan, excused herself as she had a 2:30. I thought US$5 a bit pricey for local cheese board sadly lacking variety in flavour, texture or colour. At the same price there was choice of waffles with various toppings, fresh fruit salad, warm apple pie with cream or ice-cream or chocolate gateau.

Tea or coffee is US$3, hot chocolate, milk shakes, fruit juice or iced tea or coffee US$5.

A good friend of mine has only recently re-started enjoying the odd beer, gin-and-tonic or glass of wine in Meikles bars.

A fairly wealthy man, he says this is the first time in years he’s been able to afford to drink at the capital’s premier hotel where lager is (or was a week ago) a sensible US$2.

I found it rum, Meikles saying there’s little custom for trademark buffet/carveries (breakfast buffet is still “on” at US$15), as I was a guest at Crowne Plaza Monomatapa soon afterwards and the place pumped with punters for their all-in lunch or supper buffet, again at US$15, the centrepiece of which was fantastic stir-fried chicken and/or beef. Full details next week.



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