ONEÂ problem with being a restaurant critic â€“â€“ especially a fairly big fish in a relatively small pond â€“â€“ is that if chef knows you are present he or she spends so long trying to make things perfect, that the meal in question is often a total disaster.
Our lunch at the new Liquid Lounge Wine Bar and Grill (formerly Branniganâ€™s/Aguillas) at Rhodesville on Tuesday wasnâ€™t a total abortion â€” indeed it was well worth waiting for â€“â€“ but, my goodness, we did wait!
I called the driver asking him not to collect me, as previously arranged, between 2:30 and 2:45, because at 2:17 we still werenâ€™t served a one-course meal ordered an hour earlier. Occasional food writer, wine buff and connoisseur Norma Kitson, who happened to call in the outlet on her fourth visit, said sheâ€™d be pleased to drop me off at the office.
En route there, she said she and a party had waited roughly 90 minutes a few nights earlier for a snack platter, some guests almost fainted with hunger, before nourishment arrived.
These teething troubles obviously need a good tweak, if owner Faith Madziwanyika â€“â€“ who also runs the baby shop in the same complex â€“â€“ is to profit from her brave venture into â€œthe tradeâ€: despiteÂ global economic meltdown and our own very special; ultra-chaotic financial woes.
Faith rang frequently nattering me to try her new operation; it was high on my â€œmust doâ€ list, but the only other reason I had to visit that end of town was to assessÂ Cresta Lodgeâ€™s proposed St Valentineâ€™s spread â€¦and thereâ€™s no way this reviewer can eat two very square meals in a day.
Overseas critics often deny accepting restaurant review invitations, but I have severe doubts.Â Youâ€™ll never convince me itâ€™sÂ coincidence 60%+ ofÂ leading London foodies often write about one particular outlet in the same week, sometimes two reviewers covering the restaurant in the same issue.
I donâ€™t know if Rosie Mitchell, one of the allegedly anonymous Le Connoisseur team, was as effectively nobbled as me to get to Liquid Lounge ASAP, but a rather gushing piece from her was in The Standard recently.
Iâ€™m glad my less hagiographic version didnâ€™t appear in the same edition as that could have been CONFFUUUSSSING!
Faithâ€™s publicist Stan Higgins and wine expert Bunny Landon chose to â€œgate-crashâ€ (their words!) â€œmyâ€ lunch with Faith; nothing wrong with that: it helps idea bouncing, widens morsels sampled, aids comparisons.
I had heard nothing but good about Liquid Lounge from guys who certainly enjoy a daily intake of delightfully chilled articles of a moderately intoxicating nature.
They said the hooch was the cheapest in town â€“â€“ more reasonable than most clubs â€“â€“ especially in Happy Hour or if oneâ€™s hair was these days salt-hued (rather than pepper-and-salt) and imbibers qualified for pensionersâ€™ discount.
(I have had a complete paradigm shift on this. When asked atÂ Gatwickâ€™s bus terminal was I by any chance over 60, my first reaction was to deny such a scandalous suggestion, but when I heard the fare to Oxford was half-price, due to reaching Three Score Years a little earlier, I admitted it, pocketing the balance in pounds.)
Not only was Faithâ€™s grog cheap, but she had a wide range. Thereâ€™s huge consumer resistance to Delta products after they let Zimbabweans down so badly in the shortages.
Many of us have got so used to brews fromÂ (say) South Africa, Namibia, Germany, Belgium, USA, UK, Ireland and Italy that now local Castle, Lion, Pilsener, cokes, Fanta, Sprite, etc, are available, competitively, in US dollars we say â€œNo thanks.Â
We recall pubs, clubs, restaurants and hotels void of your monopoly labels. We then had to make a plan, which weâ€™ll stick with, even if imported goods are slightly dearer.â€
I endorse that philosophy, but when Faith offered me excellent Italian Peroni lager or Natbrewâ€™s Pilsener, it took a second or two to select a quart of the old favourite Harare lager.
Liquid Lounge is a bit of a barn, with high ceilings and echoing acoustics, but sparklingly clean. There are two well-stocked bars. I couldnâ€™t really hear the music that was played.
I gather theyâ€™ll get a flat-screen TV for sport: a move I support, but a fellow foodie who beat me up the very steep, decidedly non-handicapped friendly, stairs pooh-poohed.Â Damned snob!
Customers were friendly; booze, cold, plentiful and cheap: I can see me watching major cricket or rugby games parked there on a bar stool.
Menu isnâ€™t extensive (and sandwiches were â€œoffâ€) but I enjoyed a â€œquarterâ€ lemony-garlic-and-herb chicken (surely the worldâ€™s biggest quarter?) with mushroom sauce, chips and julienned al dente vegetables at US$8. It was excellently cooked and presented but should have been on a hot plate, the sauces accompanying, not following well behind.
Remarkable value was a smallish sirloin steak, good golden-yolk egg, chips and salad at only US$4, which Stan and Bunny had. (You couldnâ€™t buy this in the States for $4 or the UK for Â£2,50, but probably could eat as well in South Africa at the equivalent: R40.)
Norma and Faith went for stir-fried chicken (or pork or beef) with vegetables and rice (without starch in Faithâ€™s case) looking good at US$6. Norma kindly treated the table to a crisply chilled Nederburg Sauvignon-Blanc, 2008, (US$10), which went well with all dishes.
Faith has a bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™s in hospitality and tourism and clearly believes in high turnover: low margins, leading to VOLUME=PROFIT (and happy punters):Â a basic economic philosophy largely missing in Zim, certainly since Independence.
No starters or puddings listed or mentioned, but they usually have sandwiches and snacks.
We enjoyed lunch, but felt it may be more of a night venue. Bunny especially disliked a window vista-â€“â€“ which I couldnâ€™t see without turning round â€“â€“ of the sort of arbitrary garbage dump (picked over by guinea-fowl!) which, sadly, presently scar and mar our once lovely â€œSunshine Cityâ€.
Clearly chef Joseph Chokunda, ex-Squabbles (former Newlands restaurant of fond memory), Imba Matomba and Kerrygans, was flustered by feeding what he understood were â€œVIPsâ€.
Service (when we got it) was friendly and efficient but â€“â€“say â€“â€“ half an hour after most folk would have gone back to work!
Liquid Lounge opens daily from 10am to 11pm.
BY DUSTY MILLER