ALBAN â€œBannieâ€ Chirumeâ€™s paper qualifications are impressive: a bachelorâ€™s in physics from the local varsity, and MBA from the prestigious business school at Cardiff University, in Wales.
He used his first degree to get a first foot tenuously on a varied and variegated career path, as a telecoms engineer with Zimbabweâ€™s PTC and his Masterâ€™s to enter the corporate world of local commercial banking and to later start his own Harare-based stock broking firm with business advisory consultancy.
But, since 2003 his work has taken on more of a TV sitcom Good Life appearance. Because of his love of food and cooking, he has produced lush organically-grown vegetables and herbs and bred meaty, tasty rabbits for the table at Umwinsidale.
The next project is poultry: fattening table chicken broilers and free-range eggs.
Much of the smallholdingâ€™s produce ended at his takeaway and filling station in Beitbridge: where Bannieâ€™s insistence on the total freshness of main portions and salads won many friends and much repeat trade from satisfied customers of his eponymous outlets in the busy border town on the Limpopo frontier with South Africa.
In 2006 and by now tragically widowed, Bannie, who lives in Borrowdale, moved into the capital city, taking over a former CaterCraft restaurant and coffee shop operation, known as Hambakwe Bakery, which was doing very little trade in the rather grim, grey, concrete neo-Stalinist-designed Social Security Building, next to the National Art Gallery at the junction of Park Lane and Julius Nyerere Way.
It is only a pleasure to visit the place now. The, initially difficult to ventilate properly, open-plan restaurant could never be called â€œchintzyâ€ or â€œhomelyâ€, but Bannie has risen to many challenges, using umbrellas, newÂ furniture, double-glazing what were enormous bare open â€œwindowsâ€ and using lighting cleverly to give it some atmosphere and a welcoming alfresco appearance.
I wandered in on Tuesday to find Bannie out: at the library doing research into rabbit-breeding. At the moment the only rabbit on Bannieâ€™s Harare menu is tsuro stew with sadza (US $3) but rabbit sales are going through the roof overseas where this high-protein, very low-cholesterol tasty white meat has made a dramatic comeback, especially as roast rabbit and steaming rabbit pies, in the restaurants and gastro-pubs of the Western worldâ€™s new elite: celebrity chefs.
AsÂ Bannieâ€™s is famous for the quality of its serve-in or takeaway pies and pastries, IÂ immediately suggested to Bannie (having returned from his rabbity research) he should addfragrant, meaty, rabbit pie to the menu or put it on the daily special menu at least once a week.
It was the daily special three course menu (US$12) I attacked hungrily. It varies each day, Monday to Sunday, but on Tuesday was two very more-ish tightly packed chicken spring rolls, without a taste of the greasiness often associated with this dish; attractively garnished with home-grown crisp salads with a separate bowl of garden greens in a pleasant, sharp, piquant, tangy dressing.
The mains of pork chop I chose with chips, instead of rice, young tender steamed vegetables and more dressed sided salad.
It wasnâ€™t the biggest chop Iâ€™ve grazed in the past few years but it was delightfully tender and meaty, with a thin layer of crackling crisped to perfection; chips big, square, golden and obviously fried in fresh oil at the correct temperature.
Chop and chips or sadza off the a la carte menu is US$7, with fish and chips $6, T-bone, chips or sadza $9, smoked pork with sadza $4. In the past I have had excellent spicy curries in generous portions there and both chicken and beef curry were available at $6.
That was the same price as the splendid breakfast of bacon, two eggs, Cambridge sausage, grilled tomato, chips, toast and tea, coffee or Mazoe. It if you canâ€™t manage a â€œfull Montyâ€ fry-up, omelette (onion and tomato or ham and cheese) with chips were $3 and $4 respectively.
Salads as mains are $3 and $4, sandwiches and rolls $2, as was the trademark chicken pie.
Ending the three course special was a rich Dairibord Devonshire ice-cream, anointed with one of the best, richest chocolate sauces tasted in ages.
Bannieâ€™s is not licensed to serve alcohol and, on a very hot, sticky, muggy day, I quenched a raging thirst with two colas at $1 each and a pot of black tea (same price).
The outlet opens seven days a week from 7:30am to 6pm. Until fairly recently they were the only restaurant serving 24/7: night owls and after-show and cinema crowds arriving for coffee, other hot or cool drinks, milk shakes or smoothies and the famous cakes which are still baked freshly in the early hours of each morning.
Chelsea buns, queen cakes, Danish, doughnuts, croissants, apple slices, muffins and scones are all $1 each; cakes $2 or $3 a slice.
BY DUSTY MILLER