EAST Road, Avondale is now Harare’s street of restaurants.
Report by Dusty Miller
Since returning from Europe, three weeks ago, I ate at three of its five vastly different eateries.
Latest was a newcomer—it opened whilst I was on leave. You can easily miss the name of it on understated signage, but a large placard spelling out: Lunch Special US$9, soon makes it plain 36, East is no longer the Harare branch of South African Matrix computers. Further investigations proved it’s the Closet Café (and Christian Bookshop.)
It’s a broiling day in late September and I dismiss any hope of sipping a brace of icily cold lagers with whatever lunch I order at a large table on the lawn protected from full sun by an enormous umbrella.
First impressions count and here they are that the table cloth needs changing. It’s not downright disgusting, crawling, or even very dirty…just quite grubby. A good Jik soak is called for.
Waiter is Sweden Mugadza. I know his face and he clearly knows who I am. A quick debrief reveals he worked at The Sheraton (Rainbow Towers?)…Squabbles (it was at Newlands…a very fine restaurant which shut 12 years ago!) Wombles (which one?…it varied between world class and diabolically dreadful under different managements) and Vanilla Moon (of recent pedigree).
Lunch special is T-bone steak (off my diet), chips and salads or a quarter of a chicken ditto, which I didn’t fancy, both US$9, as promised outside.
A fairly novel menu is interesting. While sipping a fridge-cold (but no ice, no lemon) Sprite I chose an all- day breakfast sandwich of two eggs scrambled or fried, mild Cheddar cheese, and choice of seared top sirloin, bacon or ham toasted. I ask for ham, with a pot of rooibos.
But on snooping around the architecturally quaint Colonial-era joint: Oregon pine suspended wooden floors, pressed steel ceilings, Glasgow wrought iron work (including broekie lace verandah facings) I noticed pies on display which were (foolishly) not on the menu. Steak pie chips and “salad” (well a fringe of greenery) cost the same US$4 as the sandwich; it was no problem to change the order.
I had really memorably great pies in England, Scotland, and even France so plumped for that. Unsure how they heated it: probably microwave, which can be problematic with pastry; the result was the top looked unappetisingly nuked, the whole presentation dry. But… do cut through the crust to be impressed by a warm, steamy aroma of lean tender small chunks of piping hot meat and rich, herby gravy, served on a professionally hot plate and this is seriously good baking: pastry light, moist where it should be, crisp where needed.
Big square hand-cut chips (on a day the British Press announced those willowy pre-cooked frozen ones can cause cancer! —what can’t?) were well cooked, tasty: the flavour being of good well-grown spuds, not rancid cooking oil. Salad cheered up the plate, helping cut the richness of the main dish.
Having established pies were home-baked on site, I followed this with an extremely generous slab of decadently rich, but paradoxically feather- light, chocolate cake; a large antique pot wasn’t quite empty after four or five beakers of rooibos tea.
All this was enjoyed in the tiny garden, assailed by the heady, haunting jasmine-like fragrance of a well-established yesterday, today and tomorrow bush. My bill was USD$10 but, of course, they couldn’t change US$50. Having searched various pockets, glove box and camera bag, I scraped up a tenner in mainly the most disgracefully dirty US$1s and US$2s seen this side of the Federal Reserve incinerator. So, sadly, there was no tip for Sweden or an anonymous champion pastry cook.
I hope these efforts were not “one-offs” as I gave the Closet Café (do customers go in or out of it…geddit?) a referral to bake 150 pies for a sporting event the next week!
Closet Café, 36, East Road, Avondale. (Proprietor Raymond Thomas).
Opens Monday-to-Saturday 8am-4:30pm.
A previous visit to East Road was an impromptu 11th hour decision on a freezing cold Saturday night to go to Da Eros; the weather may have had something to do with this popular Italian-Ethiopian establishment, usually seen as a licence to print money, being very quiet.
The day was hot, but night temperature plummeted; it had been warmer in Scotland. Just the night for warming minestrone, or any, soup: but sadly Da Eros has dropped them from their menu (why?).
As if I hadn’t eaten enough seafood on my peregrinations, I went for insalata de gamberi: large prawns cooked in a creamy garlic sauce on a crostini, which was scrummy. Mains were cotolleta Milanese (Italian equivalent of chicken schnitzel): truly delightful: big, moist, tender, with light, crisp batter. However, the chips were disappointing: limp, flaccid and pale and veg nothing to write home about.
Pudding special, however, was a wonderful very un-Italian, un-Ethiopian, apple and raisin crumble with ice-cream. Three courses and a couple of lagers: US$27.
Another unusually under-patronised restaurant was the normally hugely popular Great Wall. We went for Friday lunch. There were 12 in my lunch club party and I’m sure not twice that number ate there in the three hours I chaired our get-together. (Shangri-La at Highlands was also very thin on the ground the Friday lunchtime before I went on leave…what’s going on?)
At Great Wall, we now just ask proprietress May (dubbed Anna May-Wong!) for X-Number of US$15 special and the food just keeps coming in spicy, fragrant, often spitting-hot flavoursome Cantonese tranches, this time from sharks’-fin soup to banana fritters and ice-cream.
Dividing the bill up between the number of participants at the end of a wonderfully eclectic array of digestible food, in excellent bibulous company, meals, drinks, corkage and tips worked out at US$25 a head.
Other East Road eateries are The Fishmonger and Mojo’s (Brazilian-style steakhouse).