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Good value at The Palms

I complained US$25 was –– by international standards –– almost scandalously dear; no one could eat US$25 worth of bacon-and-eggs, but Bronte fans pointed out that at The Palms Restaurant, full English breakfast was “only US$16”.  (That’s still US$1 dearer than the best hotel breakfast buffet I’ve ever eaten: in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.)

I couldn’t try breakfast (US$8 for continental), but on Monday went there for lunch, which also costs US$16, as does a buffet supper.

Actually, I cheated ordering soup of the day: cream of pea off the a la carte menu (US$3), then curry from the buffet (due to its tantalising aroma when I photographed it); returning to the help-yourself for pudding.

Arriving just before lunch began, I wandered around the lovely Cape Dutch-style gabled hotel, set in acres of mature, manicured garden.

The verdant area was pleasantly warm, basking in dappled sunshine on what I regard as the first day of winter here (the day after May’s full moon.) Butterflies fluttered by; birdsong and blooms welcomed lunch parties.

Pea soup was fine (one of my favourites) but I prefer it teamed with traditional ham. Just one smoked ham hock shredded in the largest saucepan available makes all the difference to the soup’s flavour and texture. Many international visitors stay at The Bronte and some will be vegetarians, so I suppose omitting a smidgen of dead pig, makes the dish suitable for them?

It came with sliced white bread and butter, which I thought unusual, especially as a neighbouring table received nice looking bread rolls with starters. Other appetisers included tarragon mushrooms in puff pastry, deep-fried haloumi or avocado and prawn towers at US$5; fresh fruit skewers (US$3); beef satay or seafood crepe at US$7.

Widely experienced Steve Hyde (48) is Bronte exec chef and his unmistakable touch in presentation and flavourings stands out. Steve, born Kadoma, raised Mutare, was for many years head of London’s Westminster Kingsgate College of Hotel Management and Catering, returning home about 18 months ago to take up this post.

Among his star pupils were Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. Steve focuses much attention on the hotel’s flagship fine dining (thus relatively dearer) eatery, Emmanuel’s. But I saw him in The Palms, where he said he’d been busy, as the hotel catered for the Castle Tankard at Borrowdale Racecourse, serving meals for 500 people.

The buffet offered a tempting array of rather different help-yourself salads; on a la carte they cost between US$3 and US$6 depending on composition and size of portion.

A temptingly aromatic curry on the buffet proved as tasty as it smelt and –– unusually for similar Zimbabwean spreads –– beef was melt-in-the-mouth tender: good quality steak cut into generous chunks and without a trace of fat, gristle or bone.

It came with a mound of fragrant basmati rice, sambals, ornately shaped poppadum, piquant home-made chutney and vegetables of the day…guess which? Yep:  creamed spinach and butternut!

You’ll never (thank goodness) get a real  vindaloo-style curry on hotel buffets this side of Mumbai, but The Palms’ dish had a pleasantly medium-hot flavour on the palate, with intense layers of depth, and an appealing, coriander-rich, gentle afterburn.

Menu mains included Mozambique king prawns at US$22 for four or US$27 for six; baked kingklip fillet US$16; Kariba bream US$12, fish (hake) and chips US$13 and surf and turf: local well hung fillet steak and butterflied prawn tails: US$18.

My neighbour ordered a lovely-looking flambéed pepper fillet steak and chips (no veg…naughty boy) at US$14. Sadly it wasn’t dramatically flambéed at the table: part of the theatre of eating out. Fillet mignon California is US$13; chicken Kiev (also on the buffet) US$11; pork schnitzel US$10 and spag carbonara US$8. Grilled steaks or chops were US$10-US$14.

A friendly black-and-white kitten mewed appealingly for food from my plate, but I didn’t think she’d like curry. She then jumped on a spare chair on the shady stoep and watched me eat curiously. A heart-stopping shriek some time later was caused by kitty leaping out of an “empty” JC Le Roux box a waitress carried!

Menu puddings are US$3-US$6 and it was the lower figure I was charged for helping myself to a whipped-cream-filled brittle gingery brandy-snap, splash of fruit salad and apple strudel with fresh cream.

You find few places offering Zimbabwean wines these days, mainly because most of our farms growing grapes were “liberated” and well-established vines grubbed up to be replaced by spindly mealies. But Palms has local whites at US$8-US$14 a bottle and Mukuyu Bin 16, US$2 a glass. Zimbabwean reds are US$8 a bottle, also US$2 a glass for Mukuyu Cabernet-Merlot (I can hardly recall what these tasted like!)

Cape reds are US$16-US$21 a bottle with Chateau Libertas at US$3 a glass; imported whites are US$11-US$18 a bottle with Du Toitskloof Sauv-Blanc US$3 a glass; Nederburg Rosé is US$14 a bottle.

Sadly the hotel didn’t stock my favourite lager: the best selling Golden Pilsener and the first imported Castle Light ordered as a substitute was US$3 a bottle and not terribly well chilled. Two more were at an agreeably acceptable temperature.

Bottom line: soup, curry, assorted puddings, three imported lagers and a cup of undistinguished coffee: US$25.

Dusty Miller rating: I never award more than four-stars for a buffet or carvery. The Palms merits 3,5 stars early May 2012.

Palms at The Bronte Hotel, Baines Avenue opens breakfast, lunch and supper daily. Tel 7966315. No smoking indoors. Child/handicapped friendly.


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