Food and Travel: Café Med…and farewell Da Guido’s

ANNOYINGLY, I several times recently ignored a sixth-sense telling me to visit Da Guido’s Trattoria in Montagu Avenue for a much overdue restaurant review.

Very vexingly, because at the end of last week the damned place burned down!
Da Guido’s was once arguably this country’s most popular restaurant with very often queues up to 50 metres long waiting for tables.  They didn’t take reservations. It was first come-first served.
And as the Italian peasant-style food was almost too wonderful for words, service was slick and prices extremely reasonable, the place was packed lunch and supper seven days a week.
Sadly it rapidly went downhill after the Australian “A” team tax instructors who, showing commendable taste, ate there almost daily, spotted most of the takings went straight into the proprietor’s various pockets. Receipts were as scarce as brains at a ruling party ward meeting.
After hefty fines and threats of custodial sentences were meted out, the restaurant changed hands several times; each new owner being apparently more clueless than his predecessor. It probably hit rock bottom when a critic in a state-owned paper gushed: “The good news is that now you don’t actually have too eat at Da Guido’s.”
Apparently it had become a total shebeen, featuring ladies of the night, beer drunk from bottles, “Old Skool “music” (so called because its exponents bunked school?) and…no food… whatsoever!.
Guido’s opened as an R&R centre for Italian engineers and artisans building Kariba and thrived for decades, even after its enforced move from the original site in Moffat (now Leopold Takawira) Street to Montagu.
Many readers will join me in mourning the once great eatery, which gave pleasure to perhaps hundreds of thousands of diners.
I heard many rumours about Café Med at Borrowdale It had changed its name to “Mozambique”. It was being taken over by Miller’s (no relation) Grill. They were going into partnership with a major rival.
In Borrowdale last week, I decided to eat there and query owner Llew Hughes about the village scuttlebutt.
He denied all the above versions, but admitted that because of planned major changes to the Borrowdale Village shopping complex, he is in the process of turning the popular steak house into a coffee and cake emporium.
It sounded to me as if most major South African chain stores are making a bee-line for Borrowdale. Woolworth’s was definitely “in” (not the old “W Shop” which moved  in and fled some time ago, but a proper Woolworth’s at the old, non-lamented Wimpy of unfortunate memory.)
Llew listed a whole lot more, which might mean much to me if I actually did much shopping these days. One retail store would be a branch of a Johannesburg chain specialising in first rate very fresh fruit and veg, he said.
I must admit total cynicism. Do these entrepreneurs know the much-vaunted coalition government is on its knees? Will the Jozi fruiterer bring stocks with him?  Since the mad farm invasions, you certainly can’t count on domestic fruit
or vegetables’ availability or reliability!
Café Med was packed. One lunchtime school of elderly businessmen and retirees apparently eats there every Wednesday. I briefly joined regulars Alice Hamilton and her colleagues from Celebration Centre.
I was so impressed by their Luigi (or Llew-igi) salad? I ordered one (half Greek/half Roquefort salad) little realising I would be served exactly the same size as they shared between three!
Whatever, it was quite exceptionally delicious with loads of luscious fresh lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and other greenery,  slices of plump, ripe salad tomatoes, whole cherry tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, croutons, a stack of cubed moist feta cheese, a generous number of purple-ish olives, crammed full of flavour and a piquant blue Roquefort cheese crumbled thickly over everything else.
It was far too much for one, at $7, but roughly half went home with me in a doggy bag for a rare vegetarian supper on the stoep on a steaming hot night.
It was also a broiling day. I’d gone to Borrowdale, mainly, to buy a pedestal fan advertised by a chain of hardware stores, but they’d sold out at every other branch in Harare. Quoted at $21,70, they’d relieved me of $22, all helping the rapid reemergence of inflation!
Still, other fans in the village cost between $45 and –– can you believe it? –– $197.  Café Med’s overhead ceiling fans churned around super-heated air, fighting a losing battle with the typical October weather of Central Africa, not for nothing known as Suicide Month!
Starter salads (or main courses, I suppose) were $5-$8, chicken livers or giblets $5, trinchados, mushrooms stuffed with prawns or char-grilled spare rib-lets $6 and haloumi cheese $5.
Llew has a friendly rivalry with near neighbour Danny Marini at Leonardo’s, who is generally thought to have introduced the credit crunch lunch (two courses for $10) to Zimbabwe.
Llew offers a credit crunch supper also at $10, but only one lunch offer: eight queen prawns and chips for $9. Danny’s suppers aren’t discountable.
My char-grilled half piri-piri chicken was a masterpiece: large, plump and moist, full of flavour of the fowl, plus a tingling “medium” heat on the mouth and pleasant slight after-burn. Half a chicken, with a mountain of excellent chips is $8, a whole bird (from the rotisseries) is $12.
Grills are $7 to $14 (for a mixed grill), pizzas $8-$12, bream, hake or calamari and chips $10.
Llew says he hates menus; his are only a guide. This seemed to be the case as the table behind me ordered calamari as an unlisted starter and the lunch club had several Spanish omelettes between them.
I approve of such lateral thinking, but not when it comes to my pudding (a splendid pavlova) being upped from the $3 listed on the laminated menu to $4 on the actual bill!
I witnessed a great piece of attempted Zimbabwean horse-trading. A briefcase salesman walked up to Llew, offering him beer glasses at $1 each. “But I’m buying them at 32c right now!” he protested.
“OK, it’s a deal, for you, especially, 32 cents!”
I didn’t see him order.
Café Med is open for lunch and supper except Sunday night. They offer a trademark Sunday lunch roast, usually with a choice, or combination, of two meats.
Salad, piri-piri chicken, pudding and three local lagers (it was VERY hot) cost $22, including the buck over-charge.

Tel 883357.
dustym@zimind.co.zw

 

Dusty Miller

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