Lateral thinking at Paula’s Place

YOUNGSTERS entering journalism these days are constantly advised to “think outside the box” and adopt “lateral thinking”.

Report by Dusty Miller

Fifty years ago, when I started in the Fourth Estate—in British West Yorkshire — we were urged to use common bloody sense. I’m sure all three philosophies are almost identical.

Incidentally, soon after independence, I did a course on Publishing in Africa at the University of Zimbabwe; one component was critical path analysis. When the marks came in, I was accused of “Having done the programme before.”

I denied this, protesting that a month earlier, I’d not even heard of CPA.

“Well how do you explain such incredibly high marks?” the American Third World Groupie lecturer demanded.

“Possibly because what you academics call critical path analyses, we blunt, stubborn Yorkshiremen learn at our mothers’ knees as common bloody sense!”

Thinking outside the box involves making instant—but well thought out—decisions. Our monthly luncheon of Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society was down for the up to now very good, at one stage world class, L’Escargot at Courteney Hotel.

Popular with our members are/were their French onion soup, flambéed pepper fillet steak and crepes Suzettes.

AS I drove past the hotel a couple of days before the function, a rather amateurish white-on-green sign outside announced —and listed various items of—Indian food.

Now I like a good tasty, spicy (rather than mindlessly hot) curry-and-rice as much as most folk but certain GGF&WAS members don’t.  I braked and dashed into the hotel to discover if Indian was now the ONLY food served at L’Escargot…something I doubted, given the popularity of the standard French-themed menu which has stood them in good stead for maybe 40 years. (Thirty years ago it could take three weeks to get a table there!)

First impressions count. I wasn’t at all impressed with the receptionist…a young girl whose mind was almost certainly on film and pop stars and make up, rather than her job. I asked to see the F&B Manager; she didn’t know what one was!

“Food and Beverages manager,” I gently explained.

“Oh, yes, sorry!”

At least five telephone calls were made without any response (at about 9:30am!) and I gave up.

“I’ve just seen your Indian menu outside the French restaurant: Are you ONLY cooking Indian food now?”

She said that was the case.  Somehow I didn’t really believe her; I meant to return and eat there to investigate…something I haven’t had time to do a week later.

But e-mails and SMSs were red hot. “Scrub L’Escargot.  Meet Paula’s Place Friday, twelve-thirsty. Explain later. Dusty.”

Now 10-20 hungry, thirsty punters (sometimes 30) is business no Zimbabwe restaurant can afford to lose these days. If L’Escargot IS still cooking its former trademark dishes, they can blame their gormless receptionist for costing them that sort of trade!

Paula’s Place, at the junction of Samora Machel and Glenara Avenues, roughly where Eastlea meets Greendale and Highlands, pumped. The day was viciously hot but Paula’s high ceiling, airy breezeblock walls, hardworking ceiling fans and the sort of high level mist diffusers you find in top range fruit and veg emporiums kept the place agreeably cool.

I could have murdered for a long, tall ice-cold Pilsener, but thoughts of an afternoon drive to the fleshpots of Gweru in that sultry heat meant it was two Sprites with ice and lemon.

And because I had to leave Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital) for the blue-collar (or no collar!) Midlands by 2pm, I had two starters instead of full lunch.

Paula’s prawn cocktails (menu says shrimp ditto) at US$6 are the real 1960-ish retro McCoy! Lots of small pink plump crustaceans on a minimalist bed of iceberg lettuce with a generous dollop of pungent marie-rose sauce.

Then caldho verde soup: the traditional Portuguese green soup, which in Portugal is made with kale, but can feature almost any green leafy vegetable or combinations thereof. Paula’s, I feel sure, used cabbage (maybe dark green crinkly-leaved Savoy) and possibly spinach or chard. The soup, itself, is usually bland…almost insipid, but is perked up by a slice of spicy, hot chorizo sausage, bulked out by lovely soft-crumbed crusty Continental bread. This dish costs US$3.

At that stage, I left the building. Paula wanted to show me what she was doing with the home next door which she has recently bought, but I didn’t have time. I was racing to gritty, grubby Gweru under false pretenses of covering a story at Antelope Park. (Reality was I was to get an award for travel writing from the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe!…I was humbled, deeply touched!)

On Wednesday I returned to Paula’s for main course and sweet!
What can I say about a half piri-piri chicken and Portuguese whole boiled potatoes? Nothing! Other than there wasn’t a scrap of either left, except a few chewed clean bones?

The huku was delicious; plump, moist and tender beneath a crisp skin. Spuds big, white and floury…full of flavour. The eatery’s trademark dish served with chips or boiled potatoes or savoury rice costs US$12. With it I had the two icily cold Pilseners I’d had to forego on Friday!

All puddings are US$5 and from a short list — all hand-made by the eponymous Paula — I had a scrumptious slice of rich chocolate cake topped with sliced nuts I didn’t recognise and washed down with frothy cappuccino and a complimentary Portuguese “firewater” liqueur. (Allegedly to aid digestion!)

(Incidentally I stayed at Antelope Park, which proved breathtaking. I’ll return soon. Got there at almost last light Friday and was away by 9am Saturday but between dawn and a magnificent bush breakfast I managed to shoot around 400 pictures, mainly of birds by the river outside my lodge, but also elephant, lion, buck and a chocolate box St Bernard puppy with appealing eyes!)

dustym@zimind.co.zw