Chelping and yelping at Borrowdale

There was some “chelping” at two recent Borrowdale lunches of an organisation of which I am apparently president-for-life.

Eating Out with Dusty Miller

When I mentioned this at a third function, there was a sea of blank faces around the table as no one present had heard of the verb to chelp.

It means, to moan, complain, whinge, whine, speak out of turn, answer back or to be cheeky to one’s betters, or so Professor Google and Dr Yahoo inform me.

I grew up with the term in the North of England, understanding it to mean belly-aching annoyingly, but with some justification.

Main moan when I arrived at the Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society St Patrick’s lunch at, O’Hagan’s at Borrowdale, from the REPS St Patrick’s quiz, was that the faux-Irish pub-restaurant had no Guinness in stock and some chaps had rather looked forward to a real pint or two of “Liffey Water”.

There was no sign of the two sisters who own the place but the day manager apologised profusely, assuring me there were no stocks of the famous Dublin-brewed stout available in Zimbabwe.

“Oh, really?” I nodded sagely. “I guarantee you Penny-Wise Bottle Store, Eastlea has cartons of it at US$3,50 a “long-tom” (440ml) can. So why not be a good chap and send for some, quickly?”

Personally, I can’t stand the stuff…far too bitter, heavy and filling for me; but the customer is always right and at least three punters in my party wanted “a gargle of Guinness” which, to be fair, arrived within 45 minutes of more or less demanding fingers be speedily pulled. (Better if it had arrived 45 minutes before us!)

Service at O’Hagan’s was painfully slow. That’s not something which usually vexes me.

Chat was interesting with much humour except when my date, a lady podiatrist; the husband of the president of the International Food & Wine association sitting opposite us; Dave Emberton, who oddly enough works for DSTv and ZTV and Count “Lucky” Eddie Karnicki, disappeared outdoors periodically for mutual nicotine fixes. (Big Tick for O’Hagan’s no smoking policy in the bar and dining areas.)

It was punishingly hot, and ceiling fans, open windows and doors just couldn’t cope with the sultry heat.

The singer/guitarist was truly dire; far too loud (we had to twice insist he cranked the row down a bit, so we could have a civilised talk) and didn’t know a single note of any Irish tune, song, ballad, rebel song or Loyalist anthem ever composed.

A “special” three course theme set lunch with choices at US$30 could be ordered in most cases considerably cheaper, separately, off the a la carte menu.

Colonel John McGlinshey’s family all thoroughly enjoyed their mainly seafood starters and main courses, which probably cost considerably more than 30 bucks a head. My partner raved about her chicken schnitzel. My own shepherd’s (or cottage?) pie was insipid to the point of tastelessness.

The place was busy but nothing like as full as it was when we last visited for “St Paddy’s” a couple of years earlier. Many punters wore the green (or orange!) When I was called away to an emergency at almost 4, there was still no sign of the partner-sisters.

(Surely not ideal on such an important day in their trading calendar?)
Oh, and Guinness gluggers were in severe shock on receiving bills.

O’Hagan’s charged US$8 a can for a product retailing at US$3,50!

There was also no hands-on management at 360 Degrees, also in Borrowdale, for the routine March lunch a few days later.

There was little wrong with my own poached prawn salad; fish-chips-and-minted peas or a sticky date pudding, reminiscent of schooldays, but much inconsistency was reported in a daily special of grilled sirloin steak.

Richard New, opposite me, simply sent his course straight back, saying it was unforgivably stone cold. (The newish chef: locally born, trained in Belgium and the UK, later confirmed it had probably been held up at the pass too long) a replacement dish was chewy but, acceptable.

“Chewy” was the word used by four other members close by, while at the end of the table a father reckoned it was the nicest steak he’d eaten in yonks, whereas a son, visiting from England thought the nyama “deplorable”.

This lack of consistency—common in many, if not most, Zimbabwean eateries — shouldn’t occur in an upmarket operation like 360 Degrees, which boasts all of its allegedly prime beef is grass-fed, selected by ace butchers, properly, professionally, slaughtered and dry-hung for 28 days.

Among other complaints were “soggy and heavy” tempura prawns served disappointingly cold. (The batter should be light and crisp the dish piping hot) and skimpy salad garnishes.

Whereas my own fish was accompanied by acceptable quality chips, perhaps the main moan on this occasion was about this starch. Chips were limp, flaccid, under-cooked, over-cooked and…most frequently…not hot enough, I heard several times.

Now this, to me, seems odd, with a chef purportedly Belgian-trained, where frites are a national passion and among the best in the world, served alone, with mayonnaise, as fish-and-chips and best of all, chips with moules marinieres (boiled, steamed mussels) with great crusty French bread and ice-cold beer or a chilled Chardonnay.

My personal disappointment was that they no longer serve the excellent Peruvian ceviche, using Scotch salmon, which was my favourite starter at 360 Degrees. Surely the outgoing South African chef taught cooks under him how to prepare it?

There were problems, but nothing a bit of personal PR and bridge-mending wouldn’t have sorted out.

As a society, we didn’t get that, but a last minute decision to waive corkage fees helped ameliorate the situation and several lunch club members sat outdoors sipping post-prandials, next to a spectacular artificial waterfall, until near supper time…which speaks volumes for their final, overall, view of the restaurant.

dustym@zimind.co.zw