Food and Travel: Alexander’s was great!

I’M always sad when a favourite restaurant shuts.

But, with Alexander’s, the sorrow is tempered by the fact that closure is temporary, pending relocation from its CBD position to one of Harare’s suburbs.

 

Mind you I remember a pet Indian restaurant in The Kopje –– Mayur –– shutting “temporarily”, pending a move. That must have been 12 years ago. I still await an invitation to check out the new premises!

Cascais is due to move very soon: from Samora Machel Avenue to Glenara Avenue, according to chef/patron Paula Consecao.

Alexander’s owner Cheryl Sambaza e-mailed on Thursday saying Alexander’s would close the next day (April 30) pending translocation.  She wants to make the move in her own time so declined to tell me where they’re going… or when…. which is her privilege.

Cheryl and husband, Chris, are number crunchers who went into the hospitality lark by buying Alexander’s from the Beckett family.  The eponymous Alexander is/was the Becketts’ elder son and a chef. They put the apostrophe in the wrong place on Alexanders’ (sic) menu and logo 30-odd years ago and it’s been there ever since. (Pedantically, Delhi Palace has always been misspelled “Dehli”!)

I was rather harsh on Alexander’s soon after its indigenisation. Cheryl said she almost wept when she read my stern, but fair, critique; but then thought about it, realised she’d had a free consultation, invited me and a couple of chums for dinner and we’ve been great pals ever since.

The restaurant has mostly served fairly consistently good food and has much character. Prices are reasonable; service slick and friendly, but professional. There’s a well-stocked bar and its five or 10 minutes’ walk from most places in the CBD.  You can often park outside.

But it’s in Livingstone Avenue in the now much deteriorated former Sunshine City and  –– at night –– the street is dark and menacing: obviously a minus factor in contemporary business.

I was, coincidentally, near Alexander’s when a mobile call announced the safe arrival of my gorgeous grand-daughter, Siena-Rose, at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, on March 20, 2006.

 

I went inside to celebrate and — soppy old me — made a point of returning there for a meal on her birthday each year since. Except this one — her fourth –– I was in Vic Falls, scribbling and snapping, and raised a glass to her health at Elephant Hills.

I’d planned a belated meal there, anyway, but when the email announcing imminent closure came, instantly opted to mark the sad event with farewell lunch on the penultimate day.

If possible, I like to get to eating and drinking establishments’ debut and final sessions. I’ve still not forgiven proprietors of the Windsor Hotel for shutting a fortnight earlier than the announced day in November 1980. (Apparently to avoid the “souvenir” collecting  –– ie theft and vandalism –– experienced when Meikles’ Long Bar closed.)

Alexander’s really should have been packed and pumping each session. I had a favourite starter, from the daily specials list, of deep-fried whitebait with lemon segments, garden salad and a smidgen of coleslaw. With great bread and butter this was a meal on its own for the not-so-hungry at $3.

In this country and Zambia, whitebait is kapenta (freshwater Tanganyikan sardine introduced into Kariba).

In Britain and northern Europe it’s usually the –– frankly much tastier –– smelt of the herring, netted in saline estuaries. There’s a totally different fish caught, cooked and eaten as whitebait in New Zealand, where it’s a national favourite dish. Up to about 5cm long, the crunchy little fish are eaten whole: eyes, brains, guts, spines, and scales — the lot! –– much to the horror of several gals to whom I’ve tried to introduce the delicacy.

My main course was beef stroganoff in a rich, creamy sauce, which they usually serve on rice. As that’s not my favourite starch, mine came on mash; it also goes well with al dente noodles.

Alexander’s version didn’t   feature mushrooms, upon which the classical Russian recipe insists. (Neither did the one at City Bowling Club on Sunday)  Fungi here –– and I’m unclear why –– are ionospherically dear and the whole course, including a separate bowl of steamed courgettes, carrots and beans and slightly caramelised onion was only $7. Sautéed strips of good quality nyama were melt-in-the mouth delicious.

In the absence of local Pilsener lager at the otherwise well-stocked pub (they had Johnny Walker Green Label on optic!) I enjoyed a brace of imported Amstels and finished with fruit salad: apple, orange, banana and diced plum (I think: something red, anyway: no time to ask, my driver was waiting.)

I wait…with semi-bated breath… for news of the “new” urbanised Alexander’s. Hopefully they get the apostrophe in the right spot this time!

I hear a more blue-collar (or no collar!) eatery will operate from 7 Livingstone Avenue “just now”. Watch this space.

dustym@zimind.co.zw

 

Dusty Miller