Food & Travel: A right old Eton Mess!

IT was fortuitous I  lunched at Mama Mia’s in Newlands.

Otherwise most of you wouldn’t now know they will be shut next week (July 11-15) for refurbishment.
 George Kalamatas, running the place with girlfriend Tamryn, while his folks are in Greece mentioned it to me just as I was leaving. So now YOU know!

Re-opening is at supper service on Friday July 16 with some new items on the ever popular menu.
There’s a tendency in Zimbabwe for restaurants to shut shop, unannounced, for an open-ended length of time for refurb, or while owners take what they consider a well-earned rest.

I was invited to a function at Flying Frog, Arcturus Road. I couldn’t make it, but asked whether the place was still open, as I’d tried to eat there three times in quick succession on either Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays.
“Oh, that must have been exeat weekend,” I was told by my would-be host. “They closed for a fortnight.”

Excuse me… is this Zimbabwe… Ireland… or Cloud Cuckoo Land? How do you get away with shutting down for two weeks, because some school kids have a couple of days off?
Komba Hari, at Rainbow Towers (ex-Sheraton),  recently re-opened something like three and a half months after closing for a month for a refurb. But they didn’t officially tell anyone they were shut… or for how long… and they’ve never announced they’re now back in business.

I like Mama Mia’s, one of Zimbabwe’s shrinking number of Italian-style restaurants, ironically run by an amiable Greek and his bubbly Afrikaner wife!
I thought briefly about having supper there the previous Tuesday, assuming I could watch Portugal vs Spain on telly over pasta. But the place was almost empty. There was no TV, thus no match.
“World Cup’s killing Harare restaurants,” George complained.
I can’t agree. Those which went out of their way to cater for soccer fans have made, if not a killing, certainly healthy revenues. I suppose the sensible place to have watched Portugal and Spain was at blue@2, with unarguably Lusitanian-biased management, but that was out of the way and the night was cold, blustery and miserable.
I saw the game at Billy’s Bar, Newlands, but food was limited to a shared packet of imported crisps over a few lagers at an almost empty pub bar with flickering Zesa. Apparently Thursdays is still THE night at Billy’s: but probably not that week, as the band wasn’t playing.
I had Mama Mia’s incomparably good minestrone soup, a lip-smacking nutritious, steaming-hot vegetable broth so thick you could stand half a canteen of cutlery up in it; slathered in grated parmesan cheese for protein, speckled by freshly ground black pepper at US$3.

 I have rarely tasted calamari as good as Mama Mia’s do it either as a starter course as US$6 or as a main  with chips, mash, baked potato or rice, seasonal vegetables and a hint of salad at US$13.

I enjoyed a main, flash-grilled in butter and lemon juice for “about 10 seconds”, George said, and with great crinkle-cut crisp, golden chips.

 Readers have complained about the outlet’s chips being too limp, pale or under-cooked, but on Monday they ticked all the right boxes.

An old Croatian chef who made incredibly good seafood dishes (ingredients usually hooked out of the Adriatic Sea about 20 minutes earlier) decades ago, once told me calamari should be cooked for either 30 seconds… or 30 minutes, but not within those two parameters. Allowing for a smidgen of hyperbole on George’s part, Mama Mia’s seems to be successfully following the first philosophy.

I had never before eaten Eton Mess,  a  hugely popular pudding overseas,  featuring whipped cream, meringue and strawberries, either in a coulis, whole, chopped, sliced, pulped or a combination.
In British gastro-pubs they sometimes substitute other locally sourced (often scavenged) fruit: blackberry, raspberry, bilberry, blueberry, loganberry, elderberry, etc, in a sweet created at the famous public school.
So I  reeled back in disbelief when Mama Mia’s version used canned fruit cocktail. A brief crisis of expectation: if I hadn’t confidently anticipated fresh strawbs, the tinned fruit would have been reasonably acceptable.

 The dish grew on me and, as Tamryn explained, the strawberry supplier’s delivery was rejected as “too bitter”. I raised a piled spoon of the stuff and toasted: “Floreat Etona!” (May Eton flourish!)
Esme van der Merwe, who — as I mentioned here recently––is recruiting hospitality industry staff for a two year contract in sunny Afghanistan! tells me only one CV was received from the whole of Zimbabwe, as a result of my publicity.
Can you believe that, with five million unemployed in Zim, many from the tourism sector?
Come on guys, this is two years of highly paid graft for kitchen hands to exec chefs, while staying all found, cost free at the Kandahar Air Force Base, free jet travel to and from the Mysterious East… free body armour.
Ignore the hype. Interviews will now be held locally, soon. Interested: contact Esmevdm@capacity.co.za(Not me!)
dustym@zimind.co.zw

Dusty Miller

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