Chefs’ ‘busman’s holiday’ at Amanzi

Certainly it’s a bit pricier than many more quotidian Harare competitors: but not outrageously, jaw-droppingly so.

I’ve visited the stunning garden-surrounded fusion food restaurant maybe a dozen and a half times in the last dozen years, usually in very special company; last year, larger-than-life Lori Enders, an Arizonan, with the US Embassy, held a sparkling Gone With the Wind-themed fancy dress 50th birthday thrash there on a Sunday. (From 3pm-carriages 11pm, the invite said. I left at 8!)

We’ll miss Lori: leaving Zim, soon, for her next pan-African assignment for the State Department: she’s introduced many to the authentic  table- groaning delights of Land-of-the-Free Thanksgiving Dinners at her lovely Groombridge home, where she also hosted a 2011 “waifs-and-strays” Xmas lunch, attended by many folk neither strays nor waifs.

A party animal of note, she would have enjoyed the Restaurateurs’ Association lunch at Amanzi on Monday. A quarterly event, invitations are restricted to those good folk running Harare restaurants; those supplying them with sundry goodies: food, drink, catering equipment, linen, glasses, crockery, cutlery, etc; and the odd hack who reviews restaurants for a living!

Amazing Amanzi (“water” in Ndebele) was at its sunny, sylvan, sculptured, sprawling, splendid best. Its name relates to a twinkling, tinkling waterfall feeding deep, peaceful, lily-fringed koi-carp pools. Butterflies flutter by and a wide range of colourful Central African birdlife flits in and out of magnificent indigenous and exotic trees.

Two enormous tables were laid at the edge of the lawn, which I assumed were for the restaurateurs (note: rest-oh-rate-ers: not restRAUNTeurs!) They were actually for a travel and tourism project at Peterhouse School. Lucky pupils. We were dragged around museums and art galleries!

We lunched on a shady stoep at Amanzi, which must have been the impressive, early-Colonial-style home of someone who really mattered pre-independence.

Present owners are the Mama family, headed by Andrew Mama, who played Rugby for Nigeria. They also have very up-market Amanzi (formerly Barker’s) Lodge.

I’ve previously eaten from Amanzi’s scrumptious a la carte menu, but on Monday (very hot in full sun, pleasant in dappled sunlight, totally freezing in the shade!) we tackled the tapas menu, about which I’d heard much.

Tapas are originally small individual plates (often saucers) of tasty grub which were served free in bodegas and bars when I first visited Spain ages ago. They probably are still gratis (to encourage punters to hang on, drinking more sangria, wine, sherry, Spanish brandy or wonderful San Miguel lager beer) at some places, but — I suspect — not many!

Our tapas kept coming…and coming in waves on platters ideally serving three or four folk at a time. They arrived so swiftly, I had to decide between photographing and eating them. The latter won by about the fourth wave.

We began with crudités, then two different patés: one as smooth as silk, a second more course, robust, peasant-like.

Then  Japanese-style sushi, something I’ve always been wary of at least 1 000km from the ocean, but I attacked various colourful nigiri rolls, prawns, smoked salmon, caviars with gusto…having been warned to hokoyo deceptively innocent looking, fiendishly fiery, wasabi!

Crispy, crunchy, quite delicious baby octopus was served artistically in lettuce leaves and calamari was cooked beautifully: not a trace of its dreaded rubbery-ness.

Andrew’s chefs deserve huge ticks. They sent out world-class food to roughly 30 people in “the trade” and likely to be ultra finicky, even on a fun-filled day; perhaps 50 in the Peterhouse party (who all wanted “beef or chicken”: were they at the right venue?) and several “ordinary” punters eating in klompjies either indoors — amid stunning works of art and mirrors — or on another balcony.

I had clams jotted in my notebook, served with a moreish sweet chili dipping sauce, but those crustaceans don’t appear on a menu e-mailed in advance, nor is there a photograph of them. So maybe we didn’t have clams? (Or did they come after I decided eating had a higher priority than snapping?)

We did have prawns, other than with sushi, in at least three presentations, nicest-tasting of which was in black-bean sauce.

We had pork spare ribs in a spicy, but very mucky, finger-licking, BBQ sauce. They were also not on the menu, but a couple of reps from Colcom were with us. (Including young Rory Levey, son of my old china the late printer Tony “Lucky” Levey, who won Rh$102 500 — when it would have bought four houses in Highlands — two weeks after arriving in the country to work for the Herald of Total Truth with a Rh$1 ticket!)

There were spicy skewers — listed — and, separately, satay: which are south-east Asian “skewers”. Snails on mushrooms in garlic were enjoyed by those who relish grazing garden pests. I snapped them but grey-ish black gastropods, on greyish black fungi, in a grey-ish black sauce don’t equal memorably good culinary photography!

I’m not a great fan of cheesecake (in the food sense!), but Andrew served a remarkable light-as-air grand chocolatey cheesecake, adorned with cream-filled strawberries, unusual hot lemon meringue pie in ramekins and strawberry crème brulee, which my neighbours wolfed, I never got a look in: but I was full with a capital “F”… sadly work called and I’d eaten it there before.

Vanessa Oxley, who has quite recently returned to the country of her birth from a career in publishing in the UK, is at least partly responsible for the phoenix-like resuscitation of restaurateurs’ lunches. She runs Latilla Wines who hosted the function with Harrison & Hughson, long established wine importers. We sampled several of their inestimable labels from the Cape.

Lunch, including free wine and a post-prandial aperitif or two was US$25 a head.

Amanzi, Enterprise Rd (opposite Nazareth House) Tel 497768.

Dusty Miller rating 5-stars May 2012.

dustym@zimind.co.zw

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