Eating Out with Dusty Miller: March to the mountains…

Not so if you’re on a March to the Mountains weekend run by Meikles Hotel’s Grapevine wine-tasting club, held at Inns of Zimbabwe’s Pine Tree Inn and Inn on Rupurara in Juliasdale.

 

The itinerary was, to say the least, a little hectic!

Well, candidly, items on the events programme were laid-out sardines style and you’d to be young at heart…if not in body….to fulfill the fun-filled tour.
We got to Pine Tree at dusk on Friday to be welcomed by that iconic sound of Zimbabwe… the hum of the boutique hotel’s generator as Zesa had, again, plunged apparently most, if not all Manicaland, into stygian darkness.

Four of us stayed at Pine Tree as IoZ’s flagship hotel, Rupurara, where most events were to be held, was full. Forgetting we were due to RV there (20-minute’s drive away) at 6:30pm, I plunged into a hot soapy tub (having abandoned hope of safely shaving by the light of a guttering candle stub about a metre away from the mirror.) That long relaxing soak lasted approximately 45 seconds before a bellow announced the 4WD was leaving very soon!

Welcoming drinks were on Rupurara’s stoep, which, by day, commands a staggering view over game-rich well-watered estate, shadowed by dramatic granite kopjes. Big 5 wines hosted the curtain raiser and for my sins, I forgot to jot down the label of the pleasant Cape bubbly they served, but grabbed a second flute of chilled nectar before entering the jam-packed dining room for a French-theme supper.

Starter was coquilles Saint-Jacques, a local variation on a classic French dish which incorporates scallops, mushrooms, white wine, Gruyere and Parmesan cheese. If it got the thumbs up, French onion soup — using a staggering amount of Gallic garlic — proved outstandingly popular, certainly at my table, strong in oenophile UK and US diplomats.

Table theme was, of course, blue, red and white; we had Simonsig Chardonnay (US$15) and Diemersfontein Carp Diem Chenin Blanc (US$25) with opening courses.

Mains were boef Bourguignon or roasted lemon rosemary chicken or the Rupurara-bred trout in toasted pecan nut butter sauce most of us chose, with baked Nyanga potatoes, pilaf rice, ratatouille and Vichy carrots. After relishing the meaty-pink fleshed fish, I suggested we visit the trout hatchery on the estate as our activity next day. This is always interesting, as is the drive there through tortured balancing rocks, being peered at by inquisitive giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, eland, tssessebe and other prolific plainsgame.

For main course and one of many wonderful cheeseboards The Cheeseman provided, wines were Delheim Cabernet-Sauvignon and Glen Carlou Pinot-Noir atUS$18 and US15 each.

At pudding stage, chocolate mousse was seriously over-subscribed, but lemon crepe filled with sliced strawberries was a popular substitute.

I thought we were to have a reasonably early night back at Pine Tree, but an eve-of-St Patrick’s Day thrash was just breaking up and we were pressurised into joining by new general manager Guy Cary, a former Peterhouse master who ran Outward Bound at Chimanimani for many years. His fingers were green from food dye used to harmlessly turn ordinary lagers and beers into emerald green grogs for the Big Day!

Breakfast at Pine Tree was in the lush, verdant garden and featured — for aficionados — kipper fillets, in addition to the usual bacon, eggs, sausages, cereals, toast, preserves and lashings of tea, coffee and fruit juice.

Inns of Zimbabwe offer peace, quiet and tranquility, good food, fine cellars and, often, interesting company. What they don’t have is TV, radio, telephones, newspapers and (usually) there’s no cellphone signal! Yuppies and Buppies are sometimes bleak!

After the trout farm tour (one or two hearties climbed craggy Mount Rupurara just after dawn!) there was a short respite — tea by the bream pool — before an “Adam and Eve” picnic lunch. No fig-leaves or otherwise naked flesh, but main drinks with a delightful buffet spread — again starring loads of Cheeseman products — was Eve wines, highly drinkable relatively low-alcohol canned wine from South Africa. Each tin contains two standard wine glassfuls.

We returned to Pine Tree for a short spot of Egyptian PT and change into green clobber before thunder-and-lightning threatened sundowners in the game park, then back to the now green-themed bijoux dining room for St Patrick’s Day supper.

Starting with an amazingly punchy spinach roulade and chunky home-made piquant tomato sauce, we proceeded to a Dublin-style cream of leek and potato soup.

Latilla Wines looked after the drinks department.  Free welcoming wine was Overgaauw Sylvaner, a Riesling-style, retailing at US$8 a bottle. Subject to your taste in wine and choice of main course: Irish roast pork with potato stuffing; shamrock chicken casserole with dumplings or baked fish (superb  lemony hake) with duchesse potatoes, fried rice and seasonal vegetables there was Overgaauw Chardonnay 2010 at US$10; Avontuur Vintner’s Blend, also US$10 or Blaaukippen Landau Red 2006 at US$8.

I tried both desserts, neither specifically Irish, but magical: bread pud with caramel whisky sauce was my choice, but it was a pleasure to snaffle an odd spoonful of sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce.

I don’t recall getting stuck into the third magnificent groaning cheeseboard of the event at the end of this meal and we managed to turn in relatively early (well pre-midnight!)

After more heavenly kippers for Sunday morning breakfast it was a sad farewell to the Eastern Districts and its weekend culinary obstacle course for most, but I headed up country to check out under (decidedly) new management Rhodes-Nyanga Hotel, which you can read about in The Standard on Sunday.

Inn on Rupurara: B&B and one activity from US$109 per person per night sharing; US$136 single. Pine Tree B&B from US$56 p/p/n; US$84 single. www.innsofzimbabwe.co.zw

dustym@zimind.co.zw

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