PERIODICAL get-togethers of the Harare Restaurateurs’ Association are always something to look forward to; even if there often tends to be nearly as many restaurateurs’ suppliers and wannabe restaurateurs’ suppliers present as actual chefs, cooks, sommeliers and owners.
That’s probably because individual proprietors of restaurants and the senior staff who run them are on an enjoyable busman’s holiday, patronising peers’ eateries; wine flows like cholera-free water used to do in the fair city of Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital); there are lots of fun-filled hi-jinx, japes and wheezes.
Our pukkah Christmas function was at a restaurant which doesn’t even exist!
Well as far as the licensing authorities, Zimra, the much despised Zimbabwe Tourism Authority and every other body of busybodies who want a slice of the action and to reap robustly where they haven’t sown it’s unknown.
That’s because the couple who own what is among the most proficiently run restaurants in the country treat it as mere paying part-time hobby. Those in the know support it, regularly enjoying some of the best-cooked and presented spicy Asian fusion food you’ll find this side of Johannesburg. There’s no signage, restaurant reviews or advertising, other than word of enthusiastic mouth.
It speaks volumes to me that 30 or 40 restaurateurs, who pay tax, ZTA levies, etc, wholeheartedly supported a “competitor” who, cheekily, Robin Hood-style, doesn’t!
After a gap of a few months the next function was at the amazing Amanzi operation in Highlands, where owner Andrew Mama (he played rugby for Nigeria) vigorously tried to outdo his anonymous predecessor.
Last week we were at Miller’s (no relation) Grill, Ballantyne Park.
This has not been high on my list of “must visit” restaurants: it’s miles out of my way nowadays on atrocious, badly lit, roads. I was very fond of it when it was the Wombles second Harare venue, but watched in dismay as service and quality slipped while prices soared. (Wombles began in Borrowdale and still flourishes in Parktown, Johannesburg, under original owners Duncan and Yvette Barker: via a spell in Australia.)
Miller’s Grill (proprietors Ian and Angie Miller… nothing to do with Dusty!) has a reputation for being a wee bit pricey, with service — sometimes — rather iffy, but a lot of that is undiluted hearsay as I hadn’t set foot in the gaffe for about a year before last Monday.
For the restaurateurs’ function, a la carte menus were stowed away and they opened up their solid doors with a real welcome on a Monday when they usually shut at lunch.
The country’s wine shippers are virtually generous co-hosts on these occasions, trying to influence would-be punters into placing bulk orders for labels they might otherwise have never sampled.
Long-established Harrison and Hughson handed out flutes of sparkling wine.
Vanessa Oxley, from relative newcomers Latilla Wines, can take much well-earned credit for the revival of interest in these events.
Miller’s — like many other outfits — was holding a Christmas in July event that week, so Xmas trees, Christmas crackers, party hats and favours abounded.
When organisers finally herded members and guests away from the wine sampling and well-stocked bar to beautifully decorated tables, they were soon met with what was described on the souvenir special menu as “De’Marreus: a selection of family-style starters”.
And, my goodness, weren’t these served in generous quantities? There was deep-fried Greek-style haloumi cheese and Portuguese piri-piri chicken giblets; zucchini (posh word for courgettes or baby marrows) frites; some of the nicest, plumpest, tastiest, forest-flavoured, crumbed mushrooms I’ve eaten in yonks; spinach-and-goats’-cheese spring rolls, which were wonderfully light and totally grease-free; a healthy Miller’s salad and some very more-ish freshly baked and still warm bread.
One great aspect of these get-togethers is that restaurateurs are trying valiantly to impress their peers and suppliers. At Miller’s there were perhaps half-a-dozen butchers with us, including master butcher and cattle breeder Alan York from Bulawayo/Matabeleland South.
With all that expertise around, therefore, it was a fair bet that the main course would be exemplary…and it sure was!
Looking every bit as nice as it tasted, chefs created a delightfully presented duo of apple-braised pork neck and chicken roulade, served with cinnamon-sweet potato puree, lentil ragout and an appealing colourful seasonal vegetable mélange of quite al dente broccoli, Brussels sprouts and mange-tout peas.
In place of a traditional conventional pudding, the Miller’s Grill chefs served a lip-smackingly attractive platter of hand-made friandises: the best Turkish Delight I’ve eaten outside The Levant, salted caramel cheesecake, mini-Christmas mince pies, Pannetone (Italian-style sweet Christmas bread) and white chocolate truffles and a so-called chocolate salami, which looked just like the genuine item: cured sausage, but was decadently sweet. This will be a winner in the Miller’s eateries: Miller’s Grill; Miller’s Café and the Butcher’s Kitchen, both at Borrowdale and the Maiden Public House (ex Keg and…) at Harare Sports Club.
Susan Seaton-Rogers’ blow-away sponge cake:
As requested, I e-mailed many readers with this lovely fat-free recipe for a cake which appeared fairly recently in a review of Olive coffee shop near the university.
There were perhaps three dozen late requests for it, which I hadn’t got round to sending when a disaster hit my computer on changing it over from XP Professional. I lost about 11 months’ worth of e-mails and also two separate lots of photographs of the cake!
Better late than never:
4 eggs, separated
120g caster sugar
60g corn flour
60g cake flour
5 mils baking powder
Few drops vanilla essence
Method: beat egg whites till stiff; add sugar; add egg whites and vanilla essence; fold in sifted flours and baking powder.
Pour into two greased cake tins, bake at 180c for about 20 minutes.
Susan then slathers the “sandwich” between the two layers of cakes with cream or whipped cream and sliced strawberries (any berry or pineapple can be used) and decorates the top with the same. Light as air; no fat in the cooking, but maningi cream in the filling!