Peppers has much going for it: lots of land, neat attractive gardens, massive outdoor eating area, much of it umbrella-ed or under an IRB lean-to roof as protection against the monsoon-like rains lashing the capital for weeks…or the fierce sun, if we see it again!
There’s lots of secure parking. My eyebrows were raised a bit at its positioning on a possibly dangerous bend on The Chase. Turning right from the Avondale side could be a bit problematic, I thought (especially at –– say –– 10pm with drivers worse for wear with wine!) but there have been no incidents or accidents since it opened in August.
I enjoyed sitting in the lean-to area on Wednesday last week. Fellow diners munched under an umbrella at a rustic teak table and benches.
Slanting rain soon sent them scuttling indoors and five minutes later the cyclonic precipitation was near horizontal. I had to swiftly sweep up camera bag, notebook, pen and an autobiography I’m reviewing, and also rush indoors.
I liked the al fresco garden eating area, but, candidly, a rather dim, dreary inside restaurant didn’t do it for me. Flickering Zesa chandeliers and hollow background sounds didn’t help and, try as I might, I couldn’t help overhearing a very private conversation taking place behind a wall. It was also quite chilly.
All work in progress I was assured by chef-manager Daniel Fulton (25). He has a pony-tail, like many of his contemporaries overseas, but still rare locally.
He trained at the Mandel Centre here in Harare, 10 years ago, worked at Fat Mama’s (of fond memory), did a three-year advanced chefs’ course in East London and cooked at Chamonix in Franschhoek. He was head chef at Café Delmar in Ponto D’Ouro, Mozambique. Impressive track record.
A waiter said crumbed mushrooms (US$5) were “off”; none were in stock. For heaven’s sake why not? It’s rained cats, dogs, hamsters and pangolins for weeks. The veldt’s calf-deep in field fungi. Commercially grown ones are available at supermarkets 400m and 300m respectively away from the restaurant!
“OK, no train-smash. I’ll try piri-piri chicken livers.”
I didn’t know this was the trademark starter: a 100g portion, in yummy dunking sauce, with nice bread and a tinfoil pat of butter was US$5; a 200g helping comprises a light meal at US$10. I could eat them every day of my life, but the plain white soup bowl they were served in was a wee bit school dinner-ish.
Finishing the appetiser before even scanning the rest of the menu, I wasn’t hungry enough for conventional main course and focused on light dishes.
Saltimbocca is an old favourite. It means “jumps in the mouth” in Italian and that’s just what it should do. Traditionally made with scarce veal, Peppers use chicken breasts with a sage topping and white wine and parsley sauce at US$15.
A US$8 omelette was filled with cheese, olives, spinach and red peppers with herb dressing and crispy greens.
But, povo that I am, I chose Kariba bream: grilled, or deep fried in beer batter (my choice), with good golden chips or salad and lemon-dill mayonnaise at US$10. A minor complaint was I detected a slight hint of “muddiness” in it. Years ago our bream was all so dreadfully muddy it was almost inedible, but commercial sustainable fish farming has mainly done away with that. Overall, I think our tilapia (bream) is better eating than imported hake from the ocean (but it’s dearer!)
Attractive sounding mains included stir-fried minted lamb with pasta (the nearest I found to Middle Eastern dishes trumpeted on signage outside!) at US$15; 300g beef fillet on potato rösti at US$18 or 300g rump at US$15.
Salmon or citrus prawns had the dreaded “SQ” (subject to quotation) after their description. Sorry, guys, Gono-ism is over — for now at least –– you can show prices; inputs won’t triple in cost in the next 15 minutes!
Chicken “ballantine” (surely ballotine?) was US$16, but needs mushrooms which (the waiter said) were “off”.
I first thought desserts were dear at US$4-US$6, but a generous slab of that lovely Afrikaner favourite, Malva Pudding with ice-cream, was worth every cent of six-bucks.
Peppers owners are effervescent Leanne Lombard and Carlos Ferreira. In between dealing with punters booking weddings in the large gardens, Leanne said she used to own Café Caprice at Pomona (which, for my sins I never visited: it’s now Sopranos II) and Carlos is an accomplished restaurant and night club interior designer. (I must wonder why they are just now thinking of soft furnishings and pot plants as acoustical insulation and to brighten up the indoors?)
I’m sure it will be a success. The menu features old Zimbo favourites and some refreshingly different items. They are obviously very popular for weddings and major outdoor events; a scrumptious-sounding St Valentine thrash was fully booked.
Perhaps a dozen ate there Wednesday lunch. If the rains had begun earlier, I wouldn’t have been one of them!
I had a brace of Golden Pilseners at US$2 a can. There’s a good range of reasonably priced wines and well-stocked cocktail bar. Corkage is US$3.
Dusty Miller rating: three-and-a-half stars plus.
Peppers, 147, The Chase, Mount Pleasant (Groombridge?) Tel 0772 276 319. Fully licensed, open Tuesday-to-Sunday noon-3pm; 6pm-9pm (last orders). Children welcome, fairly handicapped friendly.