Eating Out with Dusty Miller: Mothers’ Day at Meikles

Tired, after commercial director Tam Mpofu (standing in for Meikles Hospitality’s new managing director Karl Snater) spoke on the major facelift going ahead at the almost century-old hotel and trooping up and down dusty stairs (North Wing lifts are being replaced) to peer at breathtakingly re-designed and lavishly re-furnished suites and rooms, we hacks were glad to be ushered into the Livingstone Room for a much anticipated lunch.

Currently the Livingstone is a private function room — an ante-room off La Fontaine –– but in the new scheme of things it will become an up-market residents’ breakfast room.

I was especially delighted to get myself outside a blissfully chilled article of refreshment of a moderately alcoholic nature (a Golden Pilsener) while perusing a mouthwatering sounding menu.

We began with an amuse-bouche (something to tickle the palate), which proved to be a lovely golden brown Brie croquette with mushroom. A culinary tradition is that amuse-bouches are not described on the menu. In fact, they’re frequently not mentioned on the carte du jour at all, being served as a welcome surprise… a sort of gourmet bonus.

I wasn’t too sure who many of the members of the Fourth Estate were around my table (one of three) but it soon became obvious that many would have been far happier grazing sadza, bones and rape or chicken and chips than maestro chef Rory Lumsden’s rendition of nouvelle cuisine.

Forgive me it if it sounds snobbish, but something about swine and pearls sprang to mind!

First starter course proper was a chicken liver parfait with chutney and toasted brioche, which I thought just wonderful…but some of my colleagues poked at suspiciously.

I am not supposed to eat much offal (I’m “offally” sorry to tell you), but last week I enjoyed oxtail three times. At home on Monday (I eat there occasionally!) with rice and mixed veg; at the City Bowling Club with fellow members of the Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society’s Comfort Food Group on Thursday lunch (with mashed spuds and peas); and at Meikles on Friday as another appetiser course: oxtail ravioli with white onion puree.

It was a dish to die for and one I would have relished had it been approximately double the helping size as a substantial and substantive main course.

Tomato consommé with roasted prawn, I would have thought would have earned universal praise, by the sound of it. But the menu hadn’t said the consommé was cold (like a gazpacho or vichyssoise), which most of the hacks really didn’t smaak. Some even shuddered! Consommé can, of course, be served hot or cold.

Even if they didn’t smaak it, they thought there should be more of it. It really was only a tiny puddle surrounding a big, plump, pink, prawn.
One of the chief moaners said that prawns were against his totem. Unlikely!

As ideas were asked for, I thought the soup should have been served hot…there should have been much more of it…and the scrumptious crustacean should have had its tail removed. Peeled prawns are much easier to eat in soups, curries, fish stews, etc, if they’ve been peeled before cooking. It’s very messy work doing it afterwards!

Main courses were either “lamb: pan-fried cannon, braised shoulder and aubergine puree”: a description which foxed me. I’ve no idea (and neither do Dr Google or Professor Yahoo) what a “cannon” of lamb is and if it’s pan-fried how can it be braised? Shoulder, like all relatively cheap cuts, does, ideally, need very slow braising to ensure tenderness.

Anyway, it looked and smelt superb. Had I ordered it, I would have regretted the lack of traditional mint sauce or jelly, though. The chicken-and-chips brigade seemed to enjoy their nyama.

I went for the warm “comfit” (sic) salmon with creamed spinach and “boulongere” (sic) potatoes. The menu compiler meant “confit”: in the case of salmon cooked in warm oil to retain its flavour and moistness and “boulangere” spuds (oven-baked with rosemary: lighter and healthier than potatoes Dauphinoise.)

This was — again — a quite wonderful dish in which all the flavours and textures of well-seasoned and herbed totally disparate ingredients came together highly successfully.

Also a huge success was the pudding of chocolate tart with passion fruit crème Anglais: light, digestible and full of initially hidden depths of taste.

My colleague from NewsDay accepted a cup of coffee, I saw no one else order the tea, coffee and petite-fours to end seven fabulous courses. Although each one was apparently far too dinky for the macho meat-and-potato brigade, I found the meal comfortably filling, without ending uncomfortably replete.

It was a truly memorable meal. Whether it was US$50 memorable remains to be seen. The man whose ancestors would be offended if he ate prawns grunted he’d rather take his mother to Meikles’ Pavilion buffet-carvery restaurant, where a Mothers’ Day special will cost US$30.

I’d love to take my mother, my children’s Ouma Jean, anywhere for lunch; sadly, she went to Jesus eight years ago.
Look after mothers, while you have them.

dustym@zimind.co.zw