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Spoilt for choice at Mono’s

I’m pleased the re-named Mono’s Restaurant at — where else? —Crowne-Plaza Monomatapa isn’t simply a totally dumbed-down, arguably more politically correct, version of its predecessor, the up-market, fine dining eatery Le Francais.

Eating Out with Dusty Miller

Eating at Mono’s is still very “fine” — in terms of wonderfully professional service, presentation of exciting, interesting — often different — dishes and the quality of the restaurant’s starched linens, gleaming heavy silver, sparkling crystal and exquisite china.

But nowadays, dishes are described solely in English and I think overall pricing of courses is currently as competitive as it probably ever was during Le Francais’s incarnation at the hotel or its previous life as a bijoux bistro at Avondale.

I ate with general manager Ivan Kasozi, whom I’ve known since his days as a high-flying gm with rival chain RTG at Victoria Falls, after a pre-prandial aperitif or three (in my case) in the attached well stocked, diners and guests only, cocktail bar.

The restaurant was busier than I’ve seen it at lunch in recent years, mainly corporates and couples who may-or may not-have been actually married to each other!

Our table overlooked a sun-blessed garden where tables were laid out—complete with ashtrays or those unable to kick nicotine addiction. Fortunately they were empty, as simple physics dictates that smoke would drift back indoors to our table!

Menus are well thought out, fairly compact but offering much choice, sensibly designed, typographically, using a large clear legible fount, which more than adequately describes treats in store.

I don’t think anyone can complain at being charged US$7 for starters in a restaurant of this calibre, especially when choices include: beef carpaccio thin slices of (raw unstated) beef fillet with peppercorn crust with marinated mushrooms, fresh rocket and Parmesan shavings; or pan-fried tilapia (Kariba bream) with Mediterranean vegetable vinaigrette; or Mozambican (can’t we breed them here?) snails pan-fried with mushrooms and garlic then deep-fried in a filo pastry parcel.

Or totally satisfactory, more-ishly delicious crumbed mushrooms, filled with garlic butter, cream cheese and fresh herbs, deep-fried and served with tartare sauce I opted for. Every drop of the gooey, rich, foresty-flavoured fungus rich sauce was mopped up with great bread.

Ivan’s allegedly on a diet and selected one of the US$6 or US$7 salads many lovely, lithe ladies who lunch languidly would probably have as mains: avocado and crispy bacon with garlic croutons; chicken liver-themed woodland salad, spiced, marinated and served with croutons, mature Cheddar and raspberry dressing.

Ivan had classic chicken Caesar salad, using a bird cooked Cajun style.

Mono’s trademark soups include a crusted puff pastry top, sealing in heat and wonderful scent of the rich, steamy, broth; the pastry goes well when broken and stirred into the liquid.  The day I went it was Mexican-style slow-roasted tomato soup or a cream of forest mushrooms soup I chose, despite having had deep-fried mushrooms as a starter proper. Both cost US$5.

Ivan skipped soup, tucking straight away into two big, juicy, meaty, perfectly grilled pork chops basted with chakalaka (a fiery South African vegetable relish), served with caramelised apples (US$17). Dearest grill is aged beef fillet with mushrooms, blue cheese, topped with herb and mustard crust; or game steak of the day with roast bell peppers: both US$18.

Other steaks are porterhouse with herb butter or tender rib-eye on the bone with garlic butter (each US$17.)

Espedata (Portuguese skewered beef and chicken with thyme scented roast vegetables) was US$17; char-grilled Cajun-spiced leg and breast of chicken with Portuguese salad or Chinese-style chicken or beef stir-fry with “vegetables and bok choy” (isn’t bok choy a veg?…of course it is; also known as pak choi, it’s flavoursome Chinese cabbage!) with coconut rice or noodles are both US$16.

All mains come with a free sauce, seasonal veg and “starch” which included gorgeous triple-cooked, big, square golden crispy chips, parsley — or baked-potatoes, spring onion-mash or fried rice.

Epicurean masterpiece
I had the creamy, rich spring-onion mash (scallions diced finely, boiled, then folded into the cooking spuds) with Kariba bream fillets “Waleska” (mushrooms and prawns in a cream sauce)…which was an unforgettable epicurean masterpiece at US$17.

Other fish and seafood dishes are pan-fried black tiger prawns (in or out of shell), piri-piri or with garlic and parsley butter and basmati rice at US$25; pan-seared salmon on wilted spinach, US$20; here’s one for tourists (what tourists?): grilled crocodile steak with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and herbed butter (US$18) or Nyanga trout at US$17.

There’s a substantial list of vegetarian main courses at US$12. Most puddings are US$5; from that section I enjoyed home-baked apple-and-pear tart with sophisticated mint ice-cream; Black Forest cake is US$6 and a platter of local and imported cheeses US$7.

For US$6 the maître d’hôtel will dramatically flambé crepes Suzettes at the table. Flambéing is part of the theatre of dining out; mains cooked that way include pepper steaks, steak Diane or chicken Jelezy at US$18-US$20.

From a comprehensive wine list, all Cape whites or reds are US$7 a glass or US$25 a bottle; premium labels US$8/US$30. Celebrating? Moet & Chandon champagne is US$180!

All these prices — even the bubbly in such a joint—I feel are excellent value for money, all taken into account. Which makes it harder to understand how the  — granted wonderfully opulent — breakfast buffet at the Brasserie costs US$26 for non-residents.

That’s essentially bacon and eggs and maybe sausage with fruit, fruit juice, cereals, toast and something to spread on it. As far as I know that meal is US$6 heavier than Mono’s main competitors in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital) and a tenner dearer than the most expensive brekker I ever bought in my life (a veritable cornucopia in Florida.)

When I recently whinged in print that The Bronte had unreasonably hiked breakfast from US$16 to US$20, their response was…to drop it to US$12! Keep your fingers crossed!

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