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Death by chocolate!

WHEN Shirylene Conlon alerted me, at the recent Indian Festival at Meikles Hotel’s Pavilion Restaurant, to the fact that she was now back in the catering business, and had opened a new coffee shop at Mount Pleasant, my eyebrows lifted.

Opinion by Dusty Miller

First, I thought, does recession hit, unemployment soaring, businesses-going-bust by the day Harare really need any more places to eat, drink and be merry?  And secondly:  why call it Café Xpress, when there’s already a Café Espresso in nearby Avondale?

(The owner of the new Niche Bistro tells me there’s confusion: many of his customers first go to Café Nush at Avondale. More confusion coming soon, as I hear Nush Organics will be opening at Chisipite in the New Year! I, famously or infamously, drove miles through a storm from hell, when there was hardly any petrol in the country to meet a source at “The Rocks”. She meant the former Beverley Rocks at Msasa, five minutes from where I lived; I assumed she meant “The Rocks Bar” at Cranleigh Park Club, Prospect!)

The theme can go on and on…  I’d forgotten the pub at Cresta Jameson was called The Usual Place and when someone asked me to meet them there, I thought he meant my usual place (to drink) which, then, was The Copper Pot at Morris Depot.  The Jameson pub’s previous name was The Pit, but the Rat Pit flourished contemporaneously with it at the Drill Hall!

Well its Café Xpress because it uses the “X” from the Xerox logo in its signage, which makes sense as the coffee shop shares upstairs premises in the Bond Street shops with Shirylene’s husband Ross Conlon’s Printworks.

This is a new concept taking commercial printing to the high streets, suburbs and smaller towns of Zimbabwe, from which they are linked by computer to the factory in Graniteside.
And there’s little danger of folk getting Café Xpress mixed up with Café Espresso, because hardly anyone except a handful of plotting, scheming and planning Zanu PF bigwigs use the latter, whereas early on in its career Café Xpress is doing quite nicely, thank you. And so it deserves.

Sadly Shirylene and her baby were at home sick when I called at the premises which had been closed for yonks. Readers will recall this as the site of the Tobacco Barn and Hunting Lodge among names used by several restaurants over the decades.

Its most recent notable success was as The Taverna, a great Greek eatery run by a lady named Marina, and that must have shut a decade ago. Blondie’s was a disaster. It then became a night club/bar, which looked like the sort of pace I should steer clear of…so I did and since then has been empty for ages.

Well now it’s all light and gleaming white, pastels and the Xerox corporate crimson colour. There are acres of polished windows, open to a welcoming breeze on a sultry hot lunchtime. I happened to call on the day a new menu should have been introduced, but owing to Mine Hostesses’ incapacity, it had been shelved.

Obviously a coffee shop isn’t licensed to sell grog, so clearly a bitterly cold Golden Pilsener was out of the question on a broiling hot midday, which justified sinking one or two. I don’t know why I ordered  hot chocolate (possibly because I was thinking of Rhoderick, my son—it’s his favourite beverage — who I would be staying with in  Adelaide, Australia 10 days later.)

It was very pleasant: a large one in a glass beaker, creamy and (of course) chocolaty!) but could have done with being a tad hotter. I thought I’d ordered a plain cheese-and-ham sandwich on seeded bread, but that was probably down to my hearing.

I was actually served an open toasted cheese-and-herb sandwich, which was totally delicious and came with a whole Botanic Gardens like display of salads and greenery, of which the lovely fresh taste of halved diddy juicy, sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes still stick out most clearly in my memory.

The chocolate theme was continued with a ginormous slab of decadently rich chocolate-and-cream cake still warm from Shirylene’s home oven where it had been baked along with the other cake-of-the-day, an old favourite, carrot cake. Torn between the two, I nearly ordered both, but nightmarish thoughts of being unable to squeeze into my British Homes Stores sale-bought swimming shorts on the South Australian beaches rapidly dissuaded me.

On ordering a second beaker of drinking chocolate I commented that the previous one wasn’t really hot enough for my liking, so a friendly waitress  (and all three of them were very smiley and charming) suggested I tried “Hot Belgian stick chocolate.”

Without a clue what it was, a second mug of scalding hot milk was delivered with apparently a lollipop stick bobbing out of the whiteness.  Further investigations proved that this was inserted into something that vaguely resembled a solid, hard, dense, chocolate cup cake. After much jerking up and down and swivelling around it totally melts into the still very hot milk and becomes, hey presto, the nicest cup of drinking chocolate you’ll probably ever sip this side of Brussels…or Vienna. At US$3, it was a buck dearer than the conventional chocolate drink…and probably worth it.

My bottom line was US$14, for two drinks, the toasted sarnie and a giant slab of choccie-cake which probably took three months off my life!


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