I KNEW the Hellenic Cultural Centre was due to re-open because@ Iâ€™d bumped into chef-ette designate, Irene Verghis, the only blonde Greek I have ever met, at Valiâ€™s Bakery. She told me the move was afoot.
(Incidentally, I have known several Greek blonds, but no other blonde Greeks! American readers may not spot the difference.)
Irene Verghis is a consummate caterer. Readers may remember her most recently from Trax at Newlands, where she was briefly a business partner. Prior to that, she ran the phenomenally successful Fournos coffee shop, serving possibly the best breakfast in Harare, opposite Holiday Inn. (Itâ€™s now Symphony, also recently re-opened: see Eating Out in Sundayâ€™s Standard.)
Soon after we decided definitely to have a go at re-launching the madcap Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society, put into temporary mothballs late last year at the height of food shortages and cash crises, I met a long time keen member who, when asked for suggestions as to possible venues, insisted we return to an Hellenics whose re-opening had escaped me. It was a favourite spot of ours under two previous management teams.
So return we didâ€¦.and it was a fun-filled rousing success, attracting 16 members to the re-launch in early July.
Hellenics, at Eastlea, between Henry Chapman Golf club and what was the former Callies (Caledoniansâ€™) Club (now Motor Action), looked more attractive than I have ever seen it, scrubbed, re-painted and polished. Tables and chairs are more spaciously laid out; the linen was crisp, cutlery, crockery and glassware gleamed. Shining windows are gorgeously and ornately draped. Lighting has been much improved.
It really is a splendid place for a classy function: cocktail dos, company launches, re-brandings etc and is hugely popular for wedding receptions, engagement parties and the like. I even once attended a fabulous divorce party there!
The bar has had a major refurb and was stocked much more fully than some of our highly starred hotels, with local and many imported lines at reasonable club prices.
To avoid change problem, â€œtabsâ€ were opened and pre-prandial chilled articles of a moderately intoxicating nature were jotted down, pending post-prandial totting up and individual rounding-up or rounding down exercises.
I am not the only one pretty annoyed with one of my other favourite clubs, which has increased, without apparent justification, drinks prices by 50% recently. I hope what is obviously membersâ€™ major consumer resistance will force a change of heart on the part of the committee.
Back to Hellenics, and starters. At my suggestion, lots of bread, Melba toast and butter and â€œsufficientâ€ Greek dips: tamara (normally $5), dzadziki and skordalia ($4 each) and a deep Greek salad bowl ($6) were provided for four covers, with a selection of fried feta, pork and chicken mini-kebabs, chicken and prawn rissoles, chicken, beef and vegetarian samoosas. The latter were very welcome by three Hindu members.
There were four of these deliveries to cater for 16 pax.
Then members ordered whatever they most fancied from a smallish but workmanlike menu as main courses.
In my case that was two generous fillets of white, flaky deep-fried hake in a crispy batter with sauce tartare and a mountain of good chips. The one disappointment at my end of the table was that cooked vegetables: broccoli and carrots were served, plated with mains, just tepid, rapidly further cooling unacceptably. This was no train smash, though, as there was still lots of Greek salad left: an option which, candidly, I preferred.
Fish, chips and all the trimmings were $8, as were chicken Kiev (very rich and creamy), which journalist Angus Shaw, on my right, thoroughly enjoyed, half piri-piri chicken (probably the most popular choice), chicken schnitzel, pork chops or pork or chicken kebabs. Big T-bones or rump steaks were $10.
No one wanted pudding, so I never discovered what was offered in that line that Friday, nor at what price.
However, when I popped back to Hellenics on another matter a week later, only to find Irene had gone to Greece to see her mom for three weeks, her Portuguese business and life partner â€œJinxâ€ outlined the clubâ€™s reintroduced and always popular in the past Sunday buffet.
If you are going to try it, arrive hungry, preferably breakfast-less!: Greek dips, soup, choice of three or four â€œEnglishâ€ style roast meat dishes with all traditional accompaniments; Greek mains; sweets such as the South African favourite Malva pudding, rice pud, ice-cream and chocolate sauce and tea or coffee costs $15 and you can help yourself as frequently as you like.
Verily the eat-as-much-as-you-like/can, serve yourself, buffet is beloved by Zimbo diners-out, but can be a sight not for the faint hearted nor over-fastidious!
Confusingly, Hellenicâ€™s business card says they are on Samora Machel Avenue East. They arenâ€™t. The club is behind St Tropez flats, left off Henry Chapman Road, before you reach the golf club gates.
They open for non-members: lunch Tuesday to Friday; supper and bar snacks Friday; Sunday lunch buffet. On Saturdays they only handle private functions: wedding receptions etc; shut Mondays.
Divided by 16, regardless of what was ordered, our food bill was $18 a head. There was no wine corkage charge.
l Hellenic contacts: landline 776800; Irene cell 011405166.
(Next GGF&WAS outing: Leonardoâ€™s, Borrowdale; lunch Friday August 7.)
BY DUSTY MILLER