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Le Francais weds classical cuisine to local ingredients

LAST week was rather busy but a highlight was a chef’s table, sampling a new menu at Le Francais, the fine dining French restaurant at Crowne Plaza Monomatapa.

Chef’s tables are hugely popular overseas, where those deeply interested in the nitty-gritty of gourmet catering pay a 20 or maybe 30% premium over the cost of a meal served in a cozy, comfortable restaurant to sample identical food in the middle of a hurly-burley commercial kitchen often under the foul-mouthed, braying dictatorship of a wannabe, or established, celebrity executive chef.
Apart from the hysterics and histrionics, food and drink is served amid a clatter of cutlery and crockery being washed and stacked, sous-chefettes bursting into tears and kitchen hands slicing off fingers or scalding themselves in often tiny, cramped surroundings which are frequently as hot as Hades.
Nothing like that at Le Francais!  After pre-prandial drinks in the well-stocked quiet cocktail bar, we trooped into the roomy, spotless, dedicated kitchen which caters for the adjoining restaurant. I sat opposite bubbly Christine Nyirenda-Chimuka, who runs Milestone, event managers, image consulting and advertising from Arnold Edmonds Drive in Glen Lorne. She was intrigued to learn something about the eponymous Mr Edmonds, a pioneer agriculturist, who pegged the original 3 000 acre Glen Lorne farm (it was once “sold” for two blankets and a shotgun!) who played a prominent role in the Rising of 1896.

There were a few more opinion former and decision makers and African Sun Group bigwigs. Next to me sat group exec chef (Zimbabwe and West Africa) Simon Davey. The Anglo-French master chef tells me that, despite the geographical confines of his job title, he’d been in South Africa trouble-shooting at the wonderfully appointed The Grace in Rosebank and The Lakes, in advance of World Cup visitors and helping put finishing touches on a new AfSun hotel in Gaborone, Botswana.
Plates of canapés sat on the crisp linen table cloth, including a pleasant carpaccio of marinated beef with sundried tomatoes and crispy capers and skewered snails in oyster sauce.

We then tried sample-sized portions of grilled bream fillet with sweet, spicy vegetables and a pesto oil, which I thought would make a superb main course with a suitable starch; and one of the restaurant’s trademark dishes from its standalone days at Avondale, under the eponymous Roger le Francais: French onion soup with port and croutons which can be a meal on its own.
For mains, a crocodile tartare pan-fried with slightly understated Cajun spices came before gorgeous roast lamb with mixed herbs, sweet potato (a filling and starch-free vegetable sadly neglected here) gratin with bacon.
I thought the dry fruit (raisins, sultanas, currents and nuts) in the dry fruit strudel with lemon yoghurt sauce candidly a little too dry for my palate, but enjoyed the accompaniments and loved a peanut mousse with caramelised macadamia nuts and caramel sauce which completed our chefs table.
Simon and his team have successfully married traditional classical French cooking to the best of fresh, locally available and easily sourced produce, offering excellent service in de-luxe surroundings at an affordable price.  Starters are $4 (soup) to $7 (snail casserole); mains $8 (blinis) to $15 (rack of lamb) with most dishes around $12; puddings are $4-$5.
Simon says a much-missed cheese board will soon be added to the menu and, come summer, the outdoor verandah area, last used when the incomparably good Bali Hai restaurant operated there, will be available for people (like shorts-clad me… usually!) less formally dressed than Le Francais’ fairly strict code demands.
A tremendously enthusiastic response to last week’s article on lovely La Rochelle at Penhalonga, mainly from people who have stayed there, endorsing my recommendations, but a dozen or so requesting further and better particulars, half a dozen trying to book Christmas breaks  through me(!) and one from the lawyer who drew up Sir Stephen and Lady Virginia Courtauld’s wills.
Sorry, there was an error on hotelier Simon Herring’s cellphone contact number. It should have read 0712 605 474 and NOT 0172…etc. Since writing the article I have also been told that the hotel has a “new” e-mail address: larochellezim@gmail.com, which is definitely news to me as I didn’t know it had an “old” one!
Esme van der Merwe, of a South African-based recruitment agency, is on the lookout for suitably qualified and experienced hospitality sector workers to take up pressing vacancies in Afghanistan on two-year contracts.
There are 20 job titles going, from executive chef and head cook, through head bakers and bakers, first and second salads to line servers and dining room attendants.
Her client plans to interview in RSA and “possibly” Zimbabwe on July 15.
As several of the jobs are, candidly, fairly menial and appropriate candidates would be unlikely to have either the funds or travel documents — given the total, crass incompetence, inefficiency and apparent corruption of the registrar-general’s department — to get themselves “down south” I strongly suggested that interviews be held locally.
If interested in temporarily joining the diaspora, in — shall we say? a challenging country! — contact Esme at esmevdm@capacity.co.za.
Please do NOT bombard me with CVs, letters of application or offers of bribes. I probably won’t even have time to read them, never mind re-direct them to Esme.
dustym@zimind.co.zw

 

Dusty Miller

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