O’HAGAN’S crept quietly into Zimbabwe during my recent working holiday overseas.
Regular readers know I’m not the greatest fan of international chain franchised restaurants, but I had a very pleasant experience eating with Bulawayo hospitality folk at the splendidly professionally run O’Hagan’s in Francistown, Botswana, during our crippling shortages and galloping hyper-inflation.
I was less impressed, however, with an outlet of the same name that appeared suddenly at Borrowdale Brooke and disappeared almost as quickly to continue trading as –– retaining a faux-Irish theme — Paddy’s at the Brooke.
I’d seen builders’ boards announcing the brand would “soon” open at Borrowdale Village, also at Chisipite, but “soon” means almost anything in Zimbabwe!
The Harare rumour mill also claimed O’Hagan’s would “soon” take over the former Trax/News Café outlet at Newlands, now –– sadly, frustratingly and unforgivably –– empty well into a third year and at Country Club, nearby.
Well “soon” finally came to Borrowdale proper a month ago, having totally made-over the former dreadful Origins night club.
They are next door to another chain outfit, Keg and Sable, which, I hear, is soon to “disenfranchise”: like its sister operation the ex-Keg and Maiden at Harare Sports Club, which now trades simply as Maiden Public House.
On the other side is Miller’s (no relation) Café. I’ve not yet been there, but it was pumping with prosperous looking punters indoors and out when I checked O’Hagan’s, which I’d been put off a bit by mendacious tales the new restaurant was “terribly dear”; service less than Prussian in efficiency.
“Dear” is relative; I found prices extremely competitive.
The menu offers the same sort of mall/pub food I’ve eaten extensively for the past several weeks, at similar, or less, cost.
I had a deep, piping hot, intensely flavoured potato, pumpkin and leek soup with moreish loose-crumbed bread at US$4.
Starters also included cheese and bacon potato skins, US$5; piri-piri chicken livers (US$4), same as “Gaelic” garlic bread. (Some phony-Irish descriptions of what are plainly non-Irish dishes are a bit grating!) O’Sullivan’s snails or Claire’s crumbed mushrooms cost US$7.
I fancied the sound of nearly every main course dish, assuming, probably rightly, they’d be no nonsense, man-sized, comfort food portions, served reasonably promptly.
Beef lasagna and spinach was cheapest at US$6 and –– ignoring steaks –– lamb curry (reports from the UK now suggest curries help avoid common colds!) dearest at US$12.
Most other non-steak mains are US$10 –– including bangers and mash with three sausages (rivals usually serve two); two pork chops and mash; chicken schnitzel; liver- bacon-and-onions; lamb casserole and the beef and Guinness pie I chose.
This was as good as any similar dish I’ve enjoyed recently in 700-year-old honey-coloured thatched Cotswold pubs or those in workaday UK city centres or suburbs and harbour taverns: high praise.
Meat was flavoursome melt-in-the-mouth tender without gristle, fat or bone in rich, dense, stout-thickened gravy. The pie came in a three-legged individual potjie with light-as-air puff pastry crust.
It initially LOOKED as if there’s not a lot of filling, but I struggled to finish the dish. Menu says it comes with mash or vegetables, mine arrived with chips AND veg, both cooked beautifully.
Along with former British socialist prime minister Harold Wilson, I have an arcane addiction to bottled brown HP Sauce with some dishes.
Good steak pie is one of them and I relished a splodge or two of the uniquely flavoured relish.
Sisters Alice Nyadongo and Mabel Hungwe are entrepreneurs who invested at least US$500 000 into this project, of which the main talking point around the dorp is that it is –– daringly I thought –– a no smoking in bar or dining room operation. Nicotine addicts congregate on the stoep.
As there’s now no smoking in bars and restaurants in South Africa, home of the O’Hagan franchise, I assumed banning tobacco was a condition of the lease.
But the sisters said: “No, we didn’t want the smell of cigarettes and ashtrays marring the enjoyment of a visit here and spoiling the food’s flavours.
The no smoking rule is ours!”
I salute their courage; I’m not sure if I’d sunk half-a-million greenbacks into such an operation, I’d have the bottle to tell countless Zimbo smokers to do so other than indoors.
O’Hagan’s, Borrowdale, joins bars at Bronte Hotel and New Club in totally banning smoking.
At Papa’s, Newlands, cigars or pipes are taboo indoors and some other outlets have distinctive, but not exclusive, no smoking areas.
I’ll return soon to try beer-battered fish and chips at US$11 (a dish I thought grand in land-locked Botswana!), 500g T-bone (US$16) or a US$17 600g rack of ribs. Fillet steak, however, will have to be extraordinarily exemplary to justify a US$15 for 250g price tag.
Nice sounding puddings (I didn’t try one!) are US$4. Local canned Pilsener was US$2; they have a huge range of drinks including Guinness, Kilkenny Ale and at least four Irish whiskeys.
From this week, O’Hagan’s opens breakfast, lunch and supper daily; they serve coffee any time.
What a great place to sip a brew and people watch on the stoep… even if you don’t smoke!
O’Hagan’s Irish Pub and Grill, Shop 113, Borrowdale Village. firstname.lastname@example.org