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Food and Travel: Gallery Café a Masterpiece

I’VE followed delightful Nomsa Gwataringa’s catering career with semi-proprietorial interest over the years.

When I didn’t know her then business partner from Adam, nor she from Eve, they phoned inviting me to breakfast at what was The Art Café (nee Steak Out, now Utano Junction) Avondale.
They wanted to pick my meagre brains on the right way of entering the hospitality industry and, over bacon and eggs, I insisted that the correct method of dealing with the catering trade was to steer as wide away from it as possible.
I couldn’t deter them, however, and when it became clear they meant to pursue a cherished dream I let on that the Botanic Gardens Restaurant was on the market, but a tender and business plan must be submitted by noon the next day.
The partner excused himself, left coffee toast and marmalade untasted and disappeared to prepare the required papers. Three days later they phoned elated they had won the tender and were proud new tenants of the “Botanic”; then in sad need of much TLC, elbow grease and strong disinfectant.
Although the business partnership broke up, Botanic Gardens flourished until National Parks terminated the lease two years ago saying they wanted to operate the by now pumping, lucrative al fresco outlet themselves.
Nomsa reluctantly moved out at Christmas 2007 and — over 20 months later — National Parks have done with it…. absolutely zilch!  
It’s falling to bits due to total neglect and vandalism, Nomsa lost a business to which she was devoted, some staff presumably joined the millions of unemployed Zimbabweans and locals and tourists were denied a place which served a fine breakfast, lunch or high tea. (Or just a coffee or cooldrink, sandwich, scone or slice of cake after a stroll with the pooch.)
This dog-in-the-manger attitude vexes me. Track Armour had to close Trax at Newlands “urgently” because landlords Innscor allegedly needed the premises. That was almost two years ago and the place still stands empty and forlorn, giving the whole shopping complex a hollow, dirty, uncared for look and ambience.
Nomsa opened Gallery Café at the National Gallery before the axe fell on Botanic Gardens and, while many former regulars miss the wide-open space and sylvan setting of her former operation, the Gallery has much going for it.
I called last week to TRY to see the “Portraits” exhibition running for a month or so, curated by Pip Curling.
That was not to be, because the walk there and back took a wee bit longer than I’d estimated and my cellphone never stopped ringing. When we have crises in the newspaper lark they come with a capital “C”. Wednesday was such a day!
So I never saw a single daub!  
But, sandwiched between indoor and garden-based Shona sculpture exhibitions, and surrounded by attractive looking and sounding young French folk, mostly smoking cigarettes as if it were still 1966 and facing a new (to me) busy Internet Café set-up, after perusing a short menu and scanning blackboard specials I was on the first drop of a splendid home-made cream of broccoli soup with Melba toast ($2) when Nomsa’s husband, Tendai arrived.
He’s in merchant banking, with an outfit just about to convert to high street commercial banking. He told me all about the trials and tribulations of the sector, but it might as well have been in Sanskrit to this simple scribbler!
All I know is that almost no Zimbabwean now trusts banks or bankers; especially not Reserve Banks, having had life savings and investments wiped out several times.
For the first time in my life I don’t even have an account in the country where I am based, having been with Standard-Chartered well over a third of a century and Stanbic (jointly) for more than a decade.
Gallery Café isn’t licensed. I was (honestly!)  enjoying a cola with the soup. But rank hath its privileges and wine connoisseur Tendai produced a beautifully chilled bottle of Nederburg Lyric, 2007, redolent of peaches, apricots and newly-mown grass and with vibrant palate and nose. A lovely, light, luscious, lunchtime drink, it blends Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay grapes and is one of South Africa’s best selling labels.
It went a treat with my main course: creamy chicken curry, a Thai-type mild presentation full of herbs and spices. A pleasingly presented generous portion, it was accompanied by a stack of savoury saffron-coloured rice and pleasant salad garnish.
Main course specials are $6. Tendai had stir-fried beef which looked splendid. People at the next table tucked into great meaty home-baked pies ($2 each) or toasted sandwiches at the same price.
Feeling on the replete side of comfortable and with the switched “off” mobile glaring at me accusingly, Tendai talked me into sampling the day’s special pudding: home-baked chocolate cake with strawberry ice-cream and a twist of orange ($3) and a cup of filter coffee before returning to the office chaos.
I hear they still do one of the best one-plate “full English” breakfasts around and will probably give that my considered opinion in the next few weeks.
Gallery Café is on the ground floor of the National Gallery, abutting Harare Gardens at the junction of Julius Nyerere and Park Lane. Open 8:30am- 4:30 Monday to Friday and 8:30-2 Saturdays. Ring National Gallery (704667/704666) and ask to be put through to the café.



Dusty Miller

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