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Fishmonger: under new management!

WHILE I saw nothing seriously wrong with Fishmonger, in East Road, Avondale, as operated for years by the amiably piratical Algerian-born Frenchman “JP” (no-one knew what the initials stood for — possibly Jean-Pierre?) it has soared in popularity since veteran caterer Zelda Lubbe took over as manager  recently.

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I hope it’s not ungallant to describe a lady celebrity chef as “vintage”, but Zelda learned her trade as  a lightie at her mother’s knees and “mom” was the formidably professional chatelaine Corrie Lubbe, who ran the Red Fox at Greendale when  at the height of its culinary achievements, with a then much-loved  Olde English style restaurant. It could take three weeks to get a table there or in the shady courtyard on a weekend and overseas visitors loved the cosy rooms.(Does anyone eat or stay there these days?)

Zelda also part-owned and ran the Flat Dog Diner, when it was in its first ascendency and food, drink and company were splendid. After years in the doldrums I hear the FDD (formerly Kalahari Canoe Club) has made something of a comeback recently.

In this job I hear lots of things and one was that Zelda and much of the family were back in Harare from Cape Town after many years and Fishmonger had benefitted from her hands-on approach to cooking and service.

Too true! The place looks a hundred times better than it did after lots of elbow grease, a coat or two of fresh paint, lots of TLC and a smartened up garden. That’s where I ate an impromptu lunch with friends who insisted I join them, having left the office when a “window” unexpectedly presented itself for a very swift solo lunch, mainly in order to compile a review.

Two of my chums were mixing and matching starter courses of grilled calamari (US$5) and garlic prawns in a moreish gloopy lemon butter sauce (US$7) when I arrived and, at their insistence, grabbed a fork and helped them out. They drank Nederburg Rosé: a lovely light ladies’ wine for a hot summer’s day; my usual chilled Pilsener was served by one of JP’s former staff in the twinkling of an eye.

Two more guests eventually joined us, but we ordered no additional appetisers.

I’m glad I didn’t, as portions are very generous. The two chaps ordered sierra fish steaks (US$14) off the daily special blackboard menu.

That was a new one on me: it was a meaty, sinewy, fish very rich when I sampled a bite-sized nibble. It takes some researching on Google and the best I can find is that you can substitute red snapper or pompano for it in dishes which call for sierra.

I ate pompano in—believe it or not—Ali Baba’s fish restaurant in Aqaba, Jordan. Caught two hours earlier it was mouth-watering. The distaff side had sole meuniere, one of the classics of fish cookery, it SHOULD be fried in butter, lemon and parsley, but being ladies with lithe figures to look after, they ordered it just flash-grilled after a basting of olive oil (US$16 was the cost for two nice fillets with skinny paprika-coated chips and vegetables.)

For US$1 more (US$17) I had the most wonderful medium-strength Thai-style red prawn curry with a dash of Mozambican coconut milk: the gently spiced sauce being light enough so that I (and some of my dining companions who dived in) could identify various herbs used in its preparation by taste.

The sauce coated what seemed an enormous serving of peeled plump prawns, with one unshelled monster plonked tastefully atop the dish, which came with an individual bowl of fluffy, spicy rice, crispy poppadum and pleasant sambals.

It seemed the other four had all eaten at Fishmonger, separately, several times in the previous week and I was told piri-piri chicken and chips at US$10 were exemplary.  They certainly were when Zelda cooked them by the score on a primitive charcoal set up (little better than a rudimentary field kitchen) at Flat Dog years ago.

But, then, I don’t go to fish restaurants to graze huku!

Other starters included mussels steamed in a creamy garlic sauce and finished with parsley at US$8 or three Portuguese sardines served with peppers the traditional way at the same price and deep-fried haloumi cheese, US$6.

Salads are from US$3 for a small Greek or blue-cheese to US$8 for seafood. Pastas are US$8 (including a “seashore” recipe involving mushrooms flambéed in vodka) to US$10 for one featuring salmon.
The restaurant’s trademark dish of fish (hake) and chips is US$9 or US$13 for a Homer Simpson-sized helping.

Puddings are US$4-US$5 and I enjoyed a brace of cinnamon pancakes with vanilla ice-cream, which could have done with juicy wedges of lemon on the side, rather than wispy lemon slices of the sort used in G&Ts.

The only criticism I heard was from one of my dining pals who obviously shares my own prejudice against slender “packet” ready-made, par-cooked, frozen chips. He, like me, would have preferred big square hand-cut jobs, at least twice fried for crispness on the outside and floury interiors.

Fishmonger is at 50, East Road, Avondale and opens from early lunch, straight through until fairly late supper Monday to Saturday; they close after a civilised Continental-style lengthy late lunch on Sundays.

Tel 302285.

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