Tender, tasty, tucker from the tandoor!

YET another (unscheduled) power cut at home sent me, again in hurried search of sustenance for the inner man!

Report by Dusty Miller

Sod’s law! I’d almost been bragging to a pal who lives on a neighbouring Zesa circuit that we’d hardly had any power outages/outrages for more than three weeks.

That was at about 8pm on Thursday, enjoying a couple of after-work, post deadline sundowners and talking bulldust!

I got home at 9:17pm to be told by the askari that Zesa had pulled the plug at precisely 9pm. That sounded  like a scheduled cut to me: where could I drive to and be seated before the bewitching hour of 9:30pm, when most Zimbabwean restaurants claim to take last orders!  (Don’t trust them…if they’re very quiet they’ve sometimes locked up and left an hour earlier these days!)

Well the Sitar sprang to mind and curry appealed as it was one of two unseasonably bitterly cold nights we had at the beginning of November. I did a U-turn and within seconds was well on my way to Sitar and a warming “Ruby Murray” (rather dated rhyming slang for curry, giving away my age!)

The new Sitar Restaurant is about 700 metres away from the old (formerly much loved) one at Newlands. The original Indian restaurant flourished for 30 years in what is now, sadly, an increasingly shabby looking, by-passed for whatever reason, Newlands Shopping Centre.  I arrived at 9:27. Friends were leaving as I entered, three tables were occupied: I grabbed a fourth. Before a pre-prandial aperitif was delivered to me, all three parties had bombshelled. (Truly, Ha-ha-ha-rare [Africa’s fun capital] is not exactly Manhattan!)

Meeting, greeting
Young, ever-smiling lady chefette, Dhina Megan (Zimbabwean of Indian descent; yet another successful former Meikles Hotel/Professor Mike Farrell trainee) was initially meeting, greeting, seating and cooking with the owner’s son Kyle Patel.  Chef-proprietor Kiran Patel manned the “Jewish piano” (the till!).

The restaurant was pleasantly warm and discreetly lit with middle of the road standards (non-plinky-plonky sub-continental) Occidental music played at an agreeable level. A large, crispy pappadum (free) was soon delivered along with a fragrantly colourful array of dips, including hauntingly flavoursome coriander chutney. Which is the king (or queen!) of culinary herbs: coriander or mint?

Starters are from US$1 to US$4; rice US$2/US$2,50; breads US$1,50 to US$2 and vegetable dishes (many Indians are vegetarians or vegans) US$8-US$15. Chicken dishes are all US$11 or US$12, except chicken biryani, (which includes saffron-flavoured rice) at US$13; fish and seafood US$12 (fish masala) to US$22 for piri-piri prawns.

Curry fans argue long and bitterly over the origins of chicken tikka marsala. Purists claiming it is a centuries old north Indian dish, but a wide body of knowledgeable opinion asserts it was first created in a traditional curry house in Glasgow, Scotland.

Birmingham and Newcastle are also named as its putative birthplace.
Whatever! A recent survey found it was currently the UK’s most popular dish, having ousted roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, as well as fish and chips and I rather like it.

I thoroughly enjoyed Dhina/Kyle’s version: generous rough-cut chunks of tender chicken marinated in spices — of which coriander has the most recognisable flavour and aroma — and yoghurt, baked in a red-hot clay tandoor oven and served with a deliciously rich masala (mixed spice) sauce.

Basmati rice
The poultry dish came with a roti (unleavened bread from the sub-continent) and sabzi ka pilao: big, fluffy, grains of white basmati rice into which various vegetables are folded. It’s colourful, looks nice and presumably does you good!

There were also “depth charges” of various condiments, pickles and spices, a sample of most of which were mixed into my rice-and-poultry platter, giving an interesting depth of attractive and pleasant tasting contrasting flavours, textures and colours.

At this stage three latecomers arrived and, although I sensed the kitchen staff wanted to close and the cooks get along home, Kiran gave them a welcome and shrugged that their choice was very limited. They were happy with that, sat down and were soon tucking with relish!

Indian puddings, although delightful, can be tooth-achingly sweet. I usually go for a “western” style sharp, tangy, fresh fruit salad and vanilla ice-cream at US$5, but on this occasion ordered kulfi, a cardamom flavoured Indian dessert — the equivalent of Western ice-cream—but much richer and denser.

I was pleased that Sitar had squeezed me in probably seconds before or after their usual closing time, but spread out the meal talking hospitality industry gossip with the Patels and Dhina to allow Zesa to get their act together.

As I locked up my cottage at 10:50, the lights came on…for five minutes. At midnight, they flickered and spluttered and disappeared again after maybe 15 seconds. They were (I am told) off until 1:15 the following lunchtime. Please, no one ask me again how we’re managing for power cuts!

Chicken tikka marsala: US$12, sabzi ka pilao rice US$2,50, roti US$1,50, pudding US$6. Bottom line: US$$22 which means Kiran forgot to charge for the Pilsener Lager (or was it two?) I enjoyed with the spicy (not fiery hot) food.

Sitar, 2, Cecil Rhodes Drive, Newlands. Tel 746215/746368. Closed  Tuesdays, otherwise lunch and supper daily.
dustym@zimind.co.zw