AS the Restaurant of the Year awards were held at Wild Geese Lodge on Sunday and as Iâ€™m trying to help current management compile a potted history of the place, I spent part of the weekend there as their guest.
Like the proverbial curateâ€™s egg, it was (very) good in parts. I dashed from CBD at half-time in the Lions/Boks game on Saturday and had checked and settled in to see most of the second half. But the TV in my room would only receive the Afrikaans commentary. Might have been worse: it could have been the Xhosa voice-over!
Immediately after the game, tea on the lodge stoep was a rewarding experience. Sheltered from a bitter wind, basking in the last of the dayâ€™s warm sunshine, there was an astounding array of birdlife, twittering in trees, bushes and shrubs. The view over the game park, towards an attractive dappled dam featured plainsgame and a small herd of weaner steers, grazing wintry grass and baled hay, the colour of a lionessâ€™ belly.
I managed a short stroll in rapidly dying daylight under a crimson sunset. Air was like the finest champagne rolling, untrammelled, across the stunning Mazowe Valley from far beyond. Wild Geese, on the edge of an escarpment, is the highest point for scores of kilometres. The source of the Mazowe River bubbles, burbles and babbles from a verdant vlei in the lodgeâ€™s grounds. This often hesitant stream forms a major river irrigating much of Mashonalandâ€™s prime farmland and finally gushes into the mighty Zambezi.
I was ready for supper, in a comfortable crimson dining room, not quite as open plan as it once was. When a log fire was lit, using a napalm-like jelly to aid flame, it was comfortably warm near the Jetmaster.
Thereâ€™s a small manageable menu and Wild Geese cooks have been weaned off a fairly natural tendency to think in terms of banqueting catering. The taste, texture and piping hot temperature of nourishing cream of butternut was wonderful, but why â€œsoup of the dayâ€ took 19 minutes to be served beats me. (Surely it should be ready in a kitchen stockpot before the restaurant opens?) There was also no bread, rolls or toast to accompany the starter.Â That vexed me then, but the main course was so filling that, in retrospect, I was glad I hadnâ€™t filled up with starch.
Main was a tall tower of tilapia (bream): four generous white, meaty flaky fillets basted in basil pesto crust surrounded a generous portion of creamy mashed potato. Candidly the portion didnâ€™t LOOK enormous; it sat artistically positioned in the centre of a huge plate, which made it look small.
Vegetables were a bit too al dente, even for me. They were also on the cold side; something I whispered to the friendly waiter. It was obviously not passed on to the cook, as I overheard precisely the same observation, but this time a loud whinge, from the next table.
Apple-and-cinnamon crepes with ice-cream and coffee ended a meal which needed tweaking, but by and large, was of a high culinary standard.
I was also more than ready for breakfast, eaten an hour later than usual, after yomping across early morning veld with field glasses and cameras profitably bird and game spotting.
Cereals followed by scrambled egg, great bacon, tasty chipolatas, coffee, toast and peach jam was enough to keep me alive until an anticipated feast, â€œa sumptuous luncheon from Cheeseman productsâ€ scheduled for 1:30, after the awards.
Sumptuous, it was: great hams and other cold meats, a myriad different cheeses, wonderful warm crisp rolls and butter, lots of salads, pickles and sauces.
But in previous years of the competition, food was left to very specialist outside caterers and the meal has gone like clockwork: each of the dozens of tables being called to the buffet separately, avoiding bottlenecks; sensible lay-outs of food types, little duplication.
On this occasion Wild Geese catered. A â€œcrisis in the kitchenâ€ meant several folk around me whoâ€™d skipped breakfast claimed to be â€œstarvingâ€; it was a first-come-first-served rugby scrum.
To be fair, people whoâ€™d never been to a previous RoTY banquet thought it a magic meal. Those of us with yardsticks to judge the spread against were between slightly and very disappointed.
There was no pudding, per se. But rich, creamy, very potent Dom Pedros were served and, after a few of those, whingeing tangibly reduced!
Many raised eyebrows (as always) over who won what, maybe even more so about the restaurants which didnâ€™t take first prizes, some, of international standard, which werenâ€™t even mentioned.
I wasnâ€™t alone in querying Tonyâ€™s Coffee Shop in The Vumba not being in the De Luxe Coffee Shop category, as a slice of cake and a hot drink there were US$15 three months ago. Rustic Tonyâ€™s was also praised for its â€œimaginative menuâ€. As far as Iâ€™m aware, they serve (from, granted, an enormous list) at any one time a fairly limited choice of sugary, creamy, fruit-rich confections, coffeeâ€¦or tea…or drinking chocolate! (Imaginative?)
De Luxe Coffee Shop winner was, again, Bulawayoâ€™s Roasted Berry. I can only assume it deserves it, as on my odd visits to â€œSkiesâ€ these days Iâ€™ve yet to find the place open. (On first attempt, couldnâ€™t find it, chete!)
A personal prejudice maybe: Iâ€™m not potty about the touristy Boma at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge (Award of Excellence), but am very pro the same outletâ€™s Makuwa-kuwa Restaurant, overlooking a game park watering hole with magnificent wildlife (De Luxe Restaurant of the Year).
Our sister paper the Standard will publish a souvenir supplement on RoTY soon.
Coffee Shop of the Year â€” Tonyâ€™s, The Vumba (Tony Robinson)
De Luxe Coffee Shop of the YearÂ Â Â â€” Roasted Berry, Bulawayo (Kusum Louw)
Family Restaurant of the Year â€” Alo, Alo, Avenues (Adrian and Lesley Orford)
Speciality Restaurant of the YearÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€” Shop CafÃ©, Msasa (Kerry Wallace)
Wine List of the Year â€” Millerâ€™s, Ballantyne Park (NO RELATION!)
Award of Excellence â€” The Boma, Vic Falls Safari Lodge (Heath Dhana)
De Luxe Restaurant of the Year â€” Makuwa-kuwa, VFSL (Glenn Stutchbury)
Restaurant Trade Personality of the Year â€” Danny Marini, Leonardoâ€™s, Borrowdale.
BY DUTSY MILLER