THERE canâ€™t be many restaurant reviewers who can write â€“â€“ honestly â€“â€“ that their post-prandial chat with the award-winning chef whose specialties had just been sampled was constantly interrupted by the interviewee breaking off to chase away monkeys!
Thatâ€™s exactly what happened last Thursday when, comfortably replete from the extremely health-conscious offerings at Shop CafÃ©, Doon Estate, Msasa, I tried to talk to Kerry Wallace, whose team recently walked away with the Speciality Restaurant of the Year Award at an annual foodie event co-hosted by our sister paper The Standard.
â€œTourists and other visitors love them,â€ croaked an exasperated Kerry, having dashed from my table on the stoep of the historically interesting building to a recently emptied chair in full sun, as the cheekiest of a troupe of grey vervet monkeys leapt onto a still warm seat to grab a leftover morsel.
â€œVoetsek!â€ he snarled at a supple simian scampering on a sun-awning. â€œThe damned things will grab the bread and butter out of your hand if youâ€™re not careful!â€
Iâ€™ve experienced that sort of thing before. At braais in Victoria Falls, Iâ€™ve seen baboons thrust paws into hot charcoal to snatch tin-foil-wrapped baked potatoes. Kites (yellow-billed if I recall correctly) often swooped down on the plates of hungry folk leaving theÂ Hwange Safari Lodge braai, snatching in beaks or claws sausage, boerewors, steak or chop before startled guests could reach their tables.
At my place in Eastlea, a few weeks ago, I left lunch on a garden table to answer my phone charging indoors, returning to see pied crows feasting on what was left of half a piri-piri chicken on the lawn! Ravenous, I wasnâ€™t amused!
Iâ€™m glad the Msasa anthropoids left my lunch alone.Â Prices at Shop CafÃ© at first seem relatively dear for contemporary Zimbabwe, but bearing in mind the quality, quantity,Â ambience, service (where applicable) and â€œextrasâ€ thrown in and I feel sure Kerryâ€™s charges are reasonable.
They must be, because often youâ€™ll battle to find an empty seat in the place,
The dayâ€™s soup special ($5) was cream of butternut with coconut milk, steaming, piping hot, redolent of assorted herbs and accompanied by four delightful home-made â€œartisanâ€ home-baked bread varieties. I went for beetroot bread and garlic bread, both slathered with best butter.
The only reason I didnâ€™t sample the rest of the scrumptious selection was that the starch was potentially overfilling.
I was literally surrounded by ladies who lunch. In most cases very lovely ladies who lunch! There was also a sprinkling of guys who graze. Many diners seemed to be diplomats or aid agency folk.
Many of those are very satisfied with the vegetarian buffet, comprising a wide range of colourfully attractive ultra-fresh salads and hot vegetarian dishes. These are $5 or $10 a plate, subject to size, but are â€œthrown inâ€ when you order a daily special.
On Thursday (unusually I suspect) there was fillet steak, the chicken pot pie, I can vouch for as superb or tilapia (Kariba bream), farmed so it has no muddiness in flavour, flesh is pristine-white and flaky. These dishes were $12 each.
Kerryâ€™s usual method of cooking fish is to simply pan-fry with herbs, so all the taste is retained. There were two meaty fillets in a small puddle of buttery, herby jus.
With them I helped myself to possibly a dozen different items from the vegetarian buffet: Dauphinoise-style creamy potato gratin (â€œpotato bakeâ€), baked sweet potatoes and brown rice salad with home-made mayo and dill were the starches. Shredded raw cabbage; char-grilled brinjal with feta, taste-filled oven-roasted cherry tomatoes; mange-tout; soused mushrooms; butternut, feta and black olives on rocket; spinach; julienne of broccoli with grilled yellow peppers were also on my plate.
Candidly, thatâ€™s all I can remember. I was too busy enjoying this feast of flavour, texture and colour to note all individual components!
Other mains were pasta of the day with green side-salad at $8 and omelettes: big, fluffy ones filled with either mushroom, cheese and rocket; blue cheese and spring onions or cheese and tomato: $5.
As part of the package, a free â€œbottomlessâ€ jug of chilled homemade lemonade is served. I got this as a matter of routine and enjoyed a sharp glassful of the nectar-like drink until Kerry spotted who was at Table 3 and a delightfully icily cold bottle of something of a moderately intoxicating nature (imported Bavaria Lager) came.
I ended with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream with what had been hot chocolate sauce poured over it, the whole dusted with crushed pecan nuts ($1).
I declined any of the seven different coffees ($1-$3) available; three teas ($1 each) or hot chocolate ($2) Shop CafÃ© specialises in and finished a second 340ml 5% alcohol beautifully dry, sharp, thirst-quenching Bavaria, then waddled to the car to return to the chaos of deadlines.
I promised to try to return two days later (last Saturday) for the Doon Estate festival of food, drink and books and farmersâ€™ market, which is held the last Saturday of each month.
On other Saturdays, Shop CafÃ© does a healthy breakfast/brunch featuring crunchy granola with farm-fresh milk and fruit salad with yoghurt. Omelettes and other eggy traditional breakfast fare come with toast, butter and marmalade.
Doon Estate is an arty-crafty village type complex which was once the Wenela (Witwatersrand Native Labour) recruiting HQ for this country and neighbouring territories, for the Reef gold mines.
There is plenty to see and do there any day. Shop CafÃ© serves lunch Tuesdays to Fridays. On Saturdays they do breakfast, teas and lunch and they shut Sundays and Mondays.
BY DUSTY MILLER