Food and Travel: Cascais shining success story on catering scene

I AM extremely fond of piri-piri chicken, as long as it isn’t incandescently hot, and frequently found myself lusting after the typical southern African dish on a recent six-week sanity break to the UK and Caribbean.

Popular (with many) Tex-Mex type food available on most of my trip was hot, spicy and featured good quality ingredients: but there’s something about a plump, tender, flame-grilled, marinated, meaty, half-huku, dripping in flavour and goodness, eaten Henry VIII style in greasy fingers, for which there’s no real substitute.
Piri-piri specialist outlet chain Nando’s — which I’m pretty sure started in Zimbabwe –– thrives in Oxford, near where my daughter lives and I spotted another branch in Aberdeen, but I have never been a real fan of the Innscor food court operations here.
My spies say the Nando’s in the British Isles bear little resemblance to the horrible, noisy, smelly, places in Zimbabwe’s major towns and cities and, homesick, they often patronise them.
I haven’t….up to now…visited one; maybe I’ll hit a branch on my next visit in late July or early August?
At the end of my second week back in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital) penned in my diary was the delayed February monthly lunch of the Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society at the ever popular Cascais Portuguese Restaurant in Samora Machel Avenue.
The trademark Lusitanian colonial-style dish would keep until then, I decided.
I like Cascais, which was the subject of the first restaurant review I wrote in our sister paper the Standard’s first edition about 13 years ago, worrying whether my daughter, her mother and I might have ripped the ring out of the expenses on Night One! Would I be commissioned to write any more? (Well, yes….several hundred more!)
Good job I’d booked a table for “12 to 15 covers”, as the place was pumping…as it usually is.  Cascais is one of the shining success stories of catering in Harare, and deservedly so.
In consideration of the very few members of the society who still smoke, our table had been set up in the outside area where smoking is permitted.
There is no smoking inside the restaurant, which few people use in the hot months anyway, or the other half of the semi-alfresco dining area.
A very few noxious cigarette fumes billowed in super-heated, shimmering muggy air which ceiling fans battled lethargically to cool.
I was one of four members who opted for a starter: a lovely bowl of the famous Portuguese caldho verde (green) soup, full of thick satisfying vegetables honestly cooked, with two fiery chunks of chorizo sausage as a tasty centrepiece.
This was $3 and came with a basket of beautifully fresh, still warm crusty continental-style bread and butter,
From the specials blackboard, the restaurant –– named after an ancient Metropolitan Portuguese resort town, close to Lisbon and beloved by generations of deposed Balkan monarchs, dictators and spies –– offered the succulent grilled prawns a couple of members enjoyed.
I saw one Cascais special steak (topped with a fried egg and served with saffron rice) ordered, plus a single portion of pan-fried kingklip fillet, which was described as “disappointingly dry”.
But it was the house speciality chicken I craved and so did most of the members. A nice, big, tender job, cooked to perfection at an ordered “moderate” degree of heat went down a treat, with the accompanying mountain of thinly cut willowy golden chips (or typical Lisbon-style boiled spuds or savoury rice) at $8, which (I checked) is US$2 cheaper than the same dish was there a year ago!
Two or three members, including myself, obviously oblivious to calorie-watching and martyrs to sweet teeth, ordered the ubiquitous Zimbo ice-cream and chocolate sauce, rich chocolate mousse or generously portioned helpings of crème-caramel.
Cascais’ owner is the always elegantly attired and splendidly groomed Paula Conceicao, who several members have known since she helped out at her dad’s wonderful Copacabana Restaurant in the Kopje many years ago.
Before concentrating 100% on looking after the eatery and her family, Paula also held down demanding jobs in the airline industry here in Harare
Her mum, Madalena Baptista, usually runs the busy kitchen like a martinet, but unfortunately doesn’t speak much English.
Their restaurant opens seven days a week for supper and for lunch every day except Saturdays.
Optimistic friends rocked up there unannounced on Sunday, apparently unaware it was St Valentine’s Day and it had been fully booked probably since St Swithin’s Day. They had to “make a plan” and go elsewhere (to a local club.)
On Monday, I met journalism colleagues from Botswana in town in advance of the tourism investment talkfest at the Rainbow Towers Hotel and Conference Centre, who had been unable to find anywhere to have a meal on Sunday.
Sadly most Zimbabwean restaurants routinely close on the Christian sabbath; those actually trading were more than fully booked –– and some “wait listed”–– for tables on the feast of lovers!
Incidentally, Paula replaced the allegedly “dry” kingklip (every morsel of which had been eaten!) with a takeaway half chicken and chips; she gave an unexpected but welcome 5% cash discount off the final food and drink bill and the puddings were on the house.
Booking is strongly recommended, sometimes vital. Tel 704830.

dustym@zimind.co.zw

 

Dusty Miller