HAVING spent the best part of five weeks with my lovely, if sometimes mischievous, grand-children in England and France, I should put myself on the naughty step for forgetting to write a review of the last restaurant in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!) I visited before jetting out via Zambia and Ethiopia.
Report by Dusty Miller
Can’t think how I overlooked it, as I was under pressure to leave articles “in the pipeline” to appear over a near six week absence: perhaps because I ate at Coimbra, the immensely popular Portuguese restaurant in The Avenues on a Sunday night before I had to check in at the airport just 36 hours later and had lots of other stuff to deal with?
And that, candidly, is the kernel of this story…that restaurants can be pumping, packed and profitable on a Sunday evening when many competitors close, often quoting an alleged lack of trade.
(OK, I know several shut for religious or family reasons…or possibly because they’ve made enough loot trading Monday to Saturday?)
I’d been in a couple of sports clubs and watched the London Olympics until my eyes ached…all minor interest sports (to me): archery, gymnastics, women’s cycling, women’s hockey. At that stage I knew my children had scarce tickets to the women’s diving the next Friday. I still had fingers crossed that miraculously they’d find a spare one for me.
That wasn’t to be. I set off towards East London with them, but jumped out at Thornhill Park-and-Ride bus station in the middle of nowhere, south of Oxford, taking a coach to London Victoria to sort out a problem.
Having lots of time to kill I spent several hours in and out of a nice pub: St George’s Tavern, near the coach station, where I ate wonderful gammon steak, egg and chips. (And watched women’s diving on an enormous flat-screen TV set!)
Over the years, whenever I’ve done a critique on Coimbra, I felt obliged to very quickly write about its main competitor, which was Cascais, a few hundred metres away, on Samora Machel Avenue, with its own dedicated myriad fans, (or vice-versa) in the interests of fairness.
Cascais is now Paula’s Place and moved perhaps four kilometres out of town where it thrives.
Sometimes I looked at both Lusitanian eateries in the same article, staging an imaginary cook-off between respective chefs. Often I decided Cascais’ piri-piri chicken was the best in the country, but Coimbra usually cooked better chips.
Paula’s Place shifted from the gloomy (at night) CBD, with broken streets and pavements, no street lights, perpetually out-of-order traffic robots, missing white lines, pot-holes, pan-handlers, pimps, prostitutes, muggers, druggies and “drivers” who should never be allowed behind a wheel this side of hell.
But I digress. As usual! Immediately before my working holiday I re-visited Coimbra. It has lost no popularity and I’ve been eating there since it was a rather picaresque (not picturesque!) shebeen, nicknamed “Yellow Doors” where patrons, drinking illegally, were advised to keep a local $20 note handy in case the cops raided!
Parking, was 50 metres from the door. I was given the last seat in the main semi-alfresco dining area on an absolutely freezing night when all good couch potatoes and sports lovers should have been glued to the Olympiad. That table, near a breeze block wall, was perishing. Punters left before I’d been served and I managed to grab their place under a gas-heater. Sod’s Law it was unpleasantly hot!
The caldho (Portuguese green) verde soup was as good as it always is. With it I had nice freshly baked continental-style loose crumbed bread with butter in those annoying sachets, hard to open when you need Strength 3 readers. Soup is now US$3,50: up half-a-buck on my previous visit
For some reason I didn’t fancy the trademark/flagship house dish of piri-piri chicken and chips (US$12) but changed to perfectly flash-cooked non-chewy calamari rings with big half, white and waxy, spuds boiled just right. (Portuguese potatoes often taste as if they needed another 30 seconds in boiling water.) This dish costs US$17.
Wonderful southern African comfort food on the eve of a month and a half away.
Coimbra opens lunch and supper Tuesday to Sunday.
While I was out of the country, Taverna Athena, at Kensington, unfortunately went into liquidation.
Chef/proprietor Stavros Agnastopolous told me months ago that the rent was due to be increased to what he described as a totally unsustainable figure.
I‘ll sadly miss “Stav’s Tav”— especially in the next fortnight while I’m housesitting a property within walking distance. They used to be behind the Holiday Inn, but moved after the former business premises were held up at gun-point, the till cleaned out and customers robbed of cash, credit cards, watches and jewellery.
The bandit boss had obviously watched too many Steven Segal movies. He blasted an automatic pistol at the tyres of a punter’s…Prado…or Pajero I seem to recall; but the slug spanged off and ricocheted back the way it came, hitting him square between the eyes, killing him instantly. (Good guys 1, Baddies 0!)
Also during my leave, Clive Jones died tragically young at 52, of the cancer he’d been fighting manfully for some time.
I’ve known Clive since soon after he left Peterhouse School. After compulsory national service in the Rhodesian Armoured Car Regiment, he joined the family textile firm, subsequently moving on to work in the motor industry.
But food and cooking were his first love and after some semi-professional but highly respected outside catering contracts, he went into “the trade” full time, running — with his wife and family — Hellenics Club, in Eastlea, then The Office and Spook House at Msasa. They briefly moved to the Portuguese Club and only a week or so before his death opened Joneses Joint at Amby: still run by his widow and one of their twin daughters, who’s a graduate of the American Hotel School.