WHAT a thoroughly pleasant place to eat is Antique Rose, the chintzy, cottagey, coffee shop within the Golden Stairs Nursery complex off Second Street Extension roughly where Ashbrittle meets Marlborough and Mount Pleasant, in Harare’s leafy northern suburbs.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
Readers may recall its predecessor, the award-winning Urban Bliss, and Antique Rose should by rights be high in the honours when Zimbabwe’s often disputed catering awards and accolades are decided.
Antique Rose is run by a very modern rose. Stacey Attwell, who was at Lomagundi College and, judging by her youthful, Victorian-heroine looks, not all that long ago!
At first sight Antique Road appears to be a wee bit pricey for a coffee shop but, goodness me, those prices reflect real quality food, precisely judged cooking, professional service, extremely pleasant, peaceful surroundings and overall excellent value for money.
As everything’s freshly cooked, it’s not the place to go if you’ve only 10 minutes for a gulped lunch. Nor is it the outlet for the burger and chips greasefest brigade.
The ever changing blackboard menu is excitingly different from run-of-the-mill Zimbo eateries with, for instance, beef and mushroom fillet, oxtail couscous and rabbit stew couscous leaping from the chalk dust to scream Eat Me! All those dishes were US$15.
And, indeed, I would have ordered the stewed bunny but for the fact they’d just served the last bowlful. Another cuddly floppy-ear or two, no doubt jointed, seasoned, surrounded by onions, carrots and spuds, was bubbling and squeaking on the stove top, but wouldn’t be ready any time soon.
Two priciest items are lamb curry…to which I gave long and deep thought, and sole fillets, which I remembered from a previous visit to the nursery coffee shop as being superb.
It was possibly the nicest piece of marine fish I’ve eaten in land-locked Zimbabwe in yonks and cost US$20, for two splendid fillets of delicious grilled sole, the delicate flesh of which was white and pearly. It sliced off the bone in two easy movements.
Potatoes were splendidly tasty: quartered, par-boiled then lightly fried and tossed in rosemary and assorted herbs.
And there was a salad to leave home for including gorgeous tomatoes, onion, capsicum, ricotta cheese, a ripe fig and sunflower, poppy and mustard seeds, raw and roast garlic cloves amid rocket and mixed leaves.
Other mains were US$12: eggplant parmigiana haloumi and fig salad, chicken and mushroom pot pie, spinach and ricotta ravioli, spinach feta quiche, Mediterranean tart and stuffed mushrooms were typical.
Where did you learn to cook like this?”
I asked Stacey on a previous visit, after learning she baked her own light-as-air cakes (a huge creamy, strawberry-rich slice of Victoria sponge served at the next table was too tempting, I ordered it at US$6), gateaux, breads, biscuits, pastries, pies and much more.
“In my mother’s kitchen,” she said. “My folks were always entertaining on a fairly grand scale on the farm and I watched and helped for as long as I can remember,” she said. “Oh, and I’m an avid viewer of TV cookery programmes.”
She has no formal training in the hospitality sector. Unfamiliar, then, with the term “QBE” (qualified by experience) she seemed pleased with it.
“The farm” was in Raffingora where dad, Chase Attwell (the rally driver and motor sports star) grew sun-hemp and tobacco and raised cattle. Sadly it didn’t survive the lunatic land reform “programme”.
Chase rebuilt the coffee shop, giving it a roof providing welcome shade and Stacey opened for business in September 2010.
My colourful pudding proved to be angel cake, light as a kiss, two layers of sponge separated by fresh cream, fresh strawberries and blueberries, the top decorated with the same and drizzled with strawberry sauce. Other sweets included blueberry and almond or pecan pie, apple and date strudel, cinnamon and almond cake, orange chiffon cake, and chocolate and coffee brownies: all US$6.)
There’s an on-site antique shop, she again runs. (The original stock was all bought out by the Chinese!) The up-market, coffee shop almost bursts under the “rose” theme.
Table cloths and overlays are rose-patterned; the (farm) family-sized tea-set was one of Maxwell Williams’ Rose Blooms design; side and serving plates a popular Coalport China set featuring sprays of roses and other garden flowers.
The outlet is airy and surrounded by mature indigenous and exotic trees. An attractive garden pool lay within a few feet of my table and often attracts unwelcome visits from hamerkops after a fishy lunch. Exotic cage birds both inside and outside their cages, twitter and toowoo attracting more welcome indigenous birds and butterflies flutter by.
Music, on a good quality sound system, is catholic and listenable to at an agreeable volume level. I especially liked Scott Joplin numbers and—of course—Frank Sinatra.
The outlet is not licensed to swerve alcohol and I’ve seen no one BYOB-ing, although I’m sure there would be no problem. With my mains I had a glass of filtered borehole water served from an hour-glass shaped carafe in which lemon slices and mint sprigs floated; with pudding a pot of Rooibos tea with lemon slices and organic honey.
Bottom line: imported fish mains, pudding, tea: US$28, but you could probably do yourselves proud for US$20.
Antique Rose, Golden Stairs Nursery. Opens Tuesday-to-Friday 9am-3pm; Saturday 9:3am-1230pm. Tel 0712 217 057. Smoking/non-smoking, child and reasonably handicapped friendly. Unlicensed. Background music. Safe parking within the nursery grounds.