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Food and Travel: Fishmonger’s fine food

IT’S an oddity of Harare that the few-and-far between seafood restaurants we have, or had, are usually totally misperceived as being ionospherically expensive.

Being a Yorkshireman by birth, and frugal by nature, I was totally miffed when finally invited to the late, great, much lamented Pino’s to find it was no dearer than most other family restaurants in the capital or Bulawayo at the time.
But the range of fish, shellfish and non-fish items was breathtaking, cooking splendid, service superlative, atmosphere and ambience warm, welcoming. It had a great pub; parking outside.
Rather academic now!
Peerless Pino clobbered a client over the occipital with a flambé pan and that was the end of his licence and livelihood and, in the fullness of time a gastronomic gem. It changed hands once or twice but went rapidly downhill and finally shut.
Incidentally a popular myth that Pino  –– a hot-tempered Sicilian –– crowned the punter for complaining his Nile perch was overcooked is apparently tosh.  Someone who was actually there recently whispered in my ear that a “Rhodie redneck” seriously insulted Pino’s wife. Obviously the redneck hadn’t seen Godfather movies. He was lucky to end up with a bruised pip and pride. Sons of Sicily don’t usually mess around when their distaff dames and damsels are abused!
We briefly had an Ocean Basket branch at Newlands (now Mama Mia’s) but South African chain restaurants haven’t really flourished here. There’s talk Ocean Basket will return  –– this time to Borrowdale, where the Wimpy is, but talk is all it is. The ill-conceived, prematurely announced, Indigenisation Act seems to have put several such trade moves on the back burner. If OB moves to Borrowdale, the good news will be that dreadful Wimpy will have one less branch from where to inflict its gunge on the public. Wimpy, Victoria Falls, is shut: its dirty windows dangerously cracked. If they couldn’t make a go of that  –– a licence to print money if I ever saw one — they really shouldn’t be in the catering lark.
Fishmonger began as a branch of a South African chain, but soon broke away while –– unusually — retaining the name and logo. What I like about the place is it mainly offers open air eating and they serve all afternoon.
Every job I’ve ever had involved working odd, often totally unsocial, hours and if I want to go for lunch at (say) 3.30pm or supper at, perhaps, 5.15pm God bless the restaurateur that caters those irregular hours.  I often used to go there mid-afternoon with the late “Bloody” Mary Cosgrove. She introduced me to the bargain of the century: Fishmonger’s so-called kid’s portion of hake and chips with salad and a great crispy, crusty roll and butter, now costing $8.
That’s what I meant to eat on Thursday, but the rather piratical proprietor Jean-Pierre (JP never says what his surname is!) spotted me hiding behind a menu. He knows I love their conventional Greek salad (small $4/medium $5) and insisted I try the same dish but enhanced with almost translucently thin slices of delightful Scottish smoked salmon (the Real McCoy from Loch Duarte) and hauntingly tasty smoked mussels. Also from Scotland, I could still mentally taste their mouthwatering flavour two days later.
All tastes and textures melded superbly. I shouldn’t have eaten the still warm roll, but then JP, a Frenchman born in Algeria, shouldn’t have served it! It magically mopped up the moreishly spicy drizzled Greek dressing.
JP was slung out of Algeria, when the nationalists took over without even a suitcase to his name when he was “about 15”. After compulsory army service in Metropolitan France, he headed back to Africa and was an established, successful classical chef in Johannesburg by the age of 21. The Algerians must have forgiven this “pied noir” because he’s always invited to their national day each year: a “mustn’t miss” date on the social calendar.
My pal Louis Uys, a dispossessed Lomagundi farmer now in the grain trade, arrived late, ordering just the seafood/Greek salad (it’s $14: JP must think up a name for it) and two rolls.
That’s what I should have had, but was told I must try grilled medium tiger prawns ($5 each, queens $3, kings $4) with half rice, half chips, two juicy lemon wedges and a sufficient slathering of lemon/ garlic butter to scare away any vampire for days.
Fish and shellfish starters are $8; fish, prawn and veg soup $5: same price as fried halloumi cheese or Portuguese chicken giblets. Fish mains are $11 (bream or trout) to $19 for grilled kingklip. Fishmonger is one of a few places where you can usually get fabulous calamari steak in Portuguese or garlic sauce ($18), calamari rings are a dollar less. Prawn curry is $20, calamari curry $18, prawn and calamari $19.
If a guest doesn’t like or is allergic to the fruits of the sea, piri-piri chicken, fillet, rump or sirloin steaks are $11-$15.
Other than being hungry, another reason for visiting Fishmonger was to check whether a reported ban on imported protein from South Africa was working.  For the life of me, I can’t see what line fish and crustaceans can possibly have to do with spreading bovine Rift Valley Fever, but the Herald of Total Honesty said we wouldn’t be seeing such items in the foreseeable future.
Fish and shellfish on my hors d’oeuvres were from Scotland, prawns ex-Mozambique, but almost everything else on the menu was from “Down South”.  Deliveries continued as normal, I heard.
I ended with pudding Maria, I think created by JP’s manager “Butch” Culverwell: a signature dish, featuring layers of fruit, cream, Cointreau and crushed biscuit, it costs $4.
Fishmonger opens for lunch, then straight through until late evening, Monday to Saturday; Sunday lunch only. 50, East Road, Avondale. Tel 308164.



Dusty Miller

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