It was a serendipitous visit. I’d had a call telling me power was off: four hours into a scheduled cut, but no one revealed it only lasted three hours. Do Zesa know what they’re doing? Straddling the previous weekend we were without electricity for a solid 66 hours, 12 minutes.
When it was finally reinstated, soon after neighbours threw out quantities of turned food from deep-freezes, we heard the problem was a major fault which “no one reported”.
Really? At least six of my neighbours rang faults (one five times); I sent eight texts, four of which were acknowledged, putting us in the land of promise the situation would be sorted out “just now”. I was confidently told to continue with a photo-shoot, needing lighting, 58 hours before we were switched on; 24 hours later I had a call ASKING me if we’d been re-connected!
Driving a borrowed car (as mine was totalled by an uninsured callow youth who nearly slotted me 10 days earlier) on unlit pot-holed roads without white lines on a freezing mid-winter night, I was perhaps not in the best frame of mind to review a restaurant….but duty called.
As soon as I walked into L’Ô de Vie, depression lifted. It’s where Bejazzled, Blue Banana/Baobab Grill and Mozzarella’s were, but none of those did spectacularly well, despite trying hard.
There was a warm welcome from Adriano at the till: a young man of Italian descent who occasionally helped out at Mama Mia’s (later AppleGees) next door and was given a pleasant table in a reasonably warm position. The place was more full than I’ve seen it in years, with a well-groomed and-dressed crowd (except me…I’d come from a sports club!) I heard French spoken at two of the three nearest tables, which was reassuring.
You can probably spend a fortune at L’Ô de Vie, but it’s sure cheaper than a trip to Belgium, France or Reunion for genuine French-style cuisine!
I certainly splurged on a starter. Choices included fois gras (NOT paté de fois gras, but the genuine duck liver article) a daily special on a blackboard I initially didn’t spot at US$20, flamed chicken livers in creamy sauce with mushrooms and white grapes (US$10); scallops ( I love the texture), fennel (I adore the liquorish-y flavour and Pernod — also liquorish-aniseed taste) at US$15; tomato crevettes: a Belgian classic dish of raw, ripe tomatoes stuffed with plump North Sea grey shrimps and home-made mayo) at US$15.
For US$10 there was the sort of vegetarian caramelised onion and beetroot tart now de rigueur on European menus. But I had probably the dearest soup of my life: US$15, when I’m always moaning you can make a bath full of most broths for a tenner!
It could have been a meal on its own for a less hungry punter: North Sea fish soup almost solid stand-a-spoon-up-in, intensely, deeply flavoured and rich, jam-packed with chunks of cod, sole and grey shrimp. It arrived steaming in a deep, attractive square white bowl with scrumptious white and brown breads.
It’s hackneyed to say it tasted of the sea, but it did! (Notwithstanding the diesel slicks, dead people and octopus poo found therein nowadays!)
Oh, I nearly forgot: a gratis amuse-bouche arrived, about which I can clearly recall jotting scraps of description, but as I can’t find it in either of the note books carried, you must make do with a picture (if we have space) and the fact it was rilletes of rabbit (soon to be my main course) on thick toast squares, topped with cranberry jelly and sliced green olives, wonderful tiny sharp black olives and sliced strawberries.
“Waitrons” are elegantly dressed in black shirts, trousers and matching ankle-length aprons and the keen, ultra-polite youngster (“At your service, sir”) who served me (Jarvis, was it?) even had matching jet black hair! Tres chic!
Most mains are in the high teens: duck fillet in a citrus sauce (US$18) and filet mignon: fillet steak marinated in red wine, served in a fruity red wine-based sauce at US$17; chicken waterzooi: huku breasts in a creamy sauce also US$17.
Seared salmon fillet served with a leek velouté was US$25: about what most up-market restaurants here charge for similar presentations.
In a dim and distant youth I shot rabbits for the pot and for sale — 3s 6d each — (and grey squirrels for 2s 6d bounty on their tails, although I twice ate them spit-roasted on a campfire: not dissimilar to free-range chicken or rabbit, itself)
So for old times’ sake, I had Belgian rabbit stew: haunch and leg of a plump, pampered meaty bunny, cooked in beer with dry prunes. The rich wonderfully satisfying sauce had mushrooms and carrots folded in and came with halved parsley boiled potatoes.
I made the point to chef-proprietor Xavier L’Allemand-Steemans (Burundi-born, he used to cook at Art Café, Pamuzinda and the local French embassy, unusually he’s vegetarian!)and chef side-kick, Tapiwa Moyo — whom I met when she won the 2011 RTG cooking competition in Bulawayo — that some additional greenery on the plate: nice peas, Savoy cabbage or Brussels sprouts (how appropriate?) wouldn’t go amiss.
To end, I had their quite delightful take on crepes Suzette: flamed pancake is stuffed with and decorated by pear slices (US$8).
There’s an extensive wine list, from US$15 a bottle: US$4 a glass, peaking at US$140 for French champagne. My usual Golden Pilseners were US$2.
Menu changes monthly: frogs’ legs and Belgian mussels are due in. Prices are lower at lunch (open Tuesday to Sunday: supper Tuesday-to-Saturday). Not over handicap friendly; not the sort of place I’d take kids. Pleasant background music. Smoking seemed almost compulsory: I was the only one with no Gitane in mouth!
Big tick: three gorgeous blonde German and Swiss-German back-packing honeys arrived at 9:40pm, when almost every kitchen in the country would be closed. They got a gushing Gallic greeting and had begun a good dinner when I left.
Dusty Miller rating: 4,5 stars early June 2012.
LÔ de Vie, Newlands 252269/252275.