QUESTION: When is a Black Steer restaurant not a Black Steer restaurant?
ANSWER: Iâ€™m not sure! When the franchisee decides to dump the franchise? Or perhaps when the franchiser feels the franchisee isnâ€™t good enough to hold the franchise further?
Anyway, come what may, Black Steers and their associated Bulldogs pubs are as dead as the dodo in Harare, nowadays.
The Borrowdale branch closed many years ago, the premises being successfully converted into the award-winning Leonardoâ€™s Restaurant and (at one stage) Da Vinciâ€™s pub/bar/night club.
The Westgate branch shut around 2003 and at one stage became a steak-house run by a Greek family of cattle-breeders, slaughtermen, wholesale and retail butchers.
It should have been a carnivoresâ€™ heaven, serving nyama to die for, but lasted about six months.
I havenâ€™t been to Westgate for ages; last time I did many of its little shops and eateries had been converted into store-front micro-churches run by previously unheard of â€œcharismaticâ€ denominations.
I canâ€™t say I was ever wholly comfortable at the CBD branch, above Greatermanâ€™s. It was always depressingly dirty, dark and dingy.
Down South, and regionally, Black Steers have a fine reputation, but on my few visits to the Sam Nujoma operation the steaks and chops left much to be desired and a female expert on the subject once bitterly complained to me that the much-vaunted burger she had looked forward to was positively the worst sheâ€™d ever tried.
During â€œthe shortagesâ€ you couldnâ€™t buy a steak, burger, chop or even the odd chip there if your life depended on it. I looked in about a year ago to find only gruel-like road-runner stew and rice on the â€œmenuâ€.
I wondered in a column why the Meikles Organisation (the franchisee) had anything to do with Black Steer; musing whether Black Steer in South Africa had any idea of the possible damage to their brand being caused in Harare?
Greatermanâ€™s Black Steer has gone the way of all flesh and is now the Pub & Grill Restaurant. You wouldnâ€™t know it, other than the big outdoor sign has gone.
Chipped, steep ugly steps are still as dirty and unwelcoming as ever. Signage, artifacts, table mats and crockery all carry Black Steerâ€™s logo; the menu is a truncated version of the old BS one.
Staff seem to have a few more people-skills than their predecessors. At least when they tell you now that this, that and the other arenâ€™t available (but why not, I must ask?) they do so with a cheery smile, rather than sullenly.
I heard there were no starter courses available and only one of three salads listed on a grubby typed A4 menu, inside Black Steer menu holder was â€œonâ€. It was â€œFrenchâ€ and $1.
For mains I could have various chicken dishes, $4-$10; pork chops or T-bone $6; ribs, $6 or $10; or â€œsmockedâ€ sausages (pronounced and typed thus!)Â $3. Meat would come with chips and cooked vegetables.
I ordered T-bone-steak â€œblindâ€ (no-one asked how Iâ€™d like it cooking.)
It wasnâ€™t bad for $6, I suppose: at least there was actually meat on the fillet side, as opposed to porterhouses widely being sold in Zimbabwe as T-bones, but it was very thinly cut, so thereâ€™s no way it could retain vital juiciness.
Chips were acceptable; there was no sign of the â€œcooked vegâ€ and I thought the salad â€” although excellent â€” a bit pricey (vis-Ã -vis quantity) at $1. When the bill came it wasnâ€™t charged forâ€¦.so thatâ€™s ok!
The meal would have been better had it been served quicker. I saw it sitting under an alleged â€œoverhead plate warmerâ€ several minutes, before a waitress who hadnâ€™t taken the original order served.
Of course, sodâ€™s law, if the warmer had worked well, the plated salad would have been disgusting!
Having brought the (slightly warm) plate, she then went to look for cutlery and condiments (no black or white pepper â€œonâ€/ no mustard, let alone Hot English.)
However I still couldnâ€™t eat, because a gimcrack, light, zhing-zhong-style fork, simply bent and buckled in half on coming into contact with the nyama.
Local beer is $1 a pint, $2 a quart, but they had only the rather over-sweet Lion I dislike. I had, instead, my first bottle of imported Hansa Pilsener. Very familiar with the breweryâ€™s highly acceptable cans, a quart bottle (which should have been a tad colder) was $2,50.Â A little extra chilling and it would probably have lived up to its slogan: â€œBracingly Crispâ€ (How was that said in the Hanseatic League?)
Floors are filthy, many once attractive green leather upholstered bench seats ripped and torn (presumably) by vandals.
I can do without music or Muzak when eating, but what was on the sound system was mostly listenable-to and at a pleasant volume level.
Puddings were â€œoffâ€.
It took a long time to get the bill; much longer to get change. Whilst waiting for one or the other I made the mistake of visiting the gents andâ€¦good griefâ€¦I nearly parted with the T-bone, chips, salad and beer with violent upchuck.
It was the filthiest loo Iâ€™ve seen this side of Benghazi. A khazi from hell!
On remonstrating with the manager about it, he claimed it had been cleaned â€œin the morning.â€
â€œWhich morning?â€ I asked. â€œPancake Tuesday?â€
I was tempted to take a deep breath and photograph the disgusting mess, ordure, broken ceramics, cracked tiles, missing cistern covers, empty toilet roll holders, but couldnâ€™t have printed the pictures in a family newspaper.
In few countries in the world would an outlet storing, preparing, cooking and serving food and drink within a few metres of such a hygienic horror be allowed to operate two seconds after a health inspector discovered the nightmare.
Which begs the question: where are our health inspectors?
As I have wondered here before, how can Meikles â€“â€“ owners of three of the best hotels in Africa â€“â€“ be associated with such vile mismanagement?