I AM really sure Victoria 22’s soup is worth every red cent of its US$16 price tag and one of these days I’ll sample the typical, authentic French bouillabaisse to confirm it!
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
Originally from the Marseilles area of the south of France, Victoria 22’s version boasts whole prawns, fish fillet and mussels, simmered in a rich fish stock with a hint of tomato and cream and a side helping of aioli (Provençal garlic mayonnaise.)
My last few visits to Victoria 22, have, however, coincided with the delivery of fresh, live, oysters flown in from Loch Duart, Scotland often twice weekly and I can’t resist them, anywhere in the world.
Last Friday there were, sadly, no oysters but a lovely Scottish smoked salmon starter dish, mouthwateringly described by waiter, Fungai, as served with an avocado salad, with herb dressing and honey-and-dill sauce at US$17 was one of the daily specials which stopped me in my tracks from investigating the rest of the printed starter courses.
Victoria 22, in Newlands, is arguably Zimbabwe’s finest restaurant. You must book in advance and the no-nonsense security gate will remain firmly locked until the askari establishes who’s in the car at the drive.
Having wandered round the fresh, fragrant, verdant gardens, greeted mine host, German-born, Swiss-trained Mark Wollmann, and perched at the well-stocked cocktail bar, listening to what sounded like my favourite playlist, starter courses certainly sounded tempting.
Capesante gratinate was a (single?) oven-baked scallop on a bed of herb-mashed potatoes and lemon garlic butter, also costing US$16; calamari alla griglia, featured squid rings grilled with lemon, chili and garlic, simmered in a sweet-and-sour sauce and served with red peppers and turmeric rice and was a dollar cheaper.
Fegatini alla Veneziana were prosaic chicken livers but seared with garlic and chili and flambéed in port wine and brandy and served on fresh apple with caramelised onions and crispy bacon (US$13). Carpaccio of raw beef was also US$13 and haloumi fritters US$11.
My special salmon starter was a very generous portion, served with avocado as creamy as butter, fresh, crisp salad and grand home-baked artisanal breads. Other special appetisers were ostrich carpaccio with mustard vinaigrette and chicken kebabs grilled in a tarragon mustard sauce. Four substantial salads are offered, priced between US$12 and US$16; pastas are US$20-US$22 and mains from the menu US$23-US$26.
The restaurant is looking at its up-market, blue-chip, white-collar best with, furnishings, paintings, mirrors, antiques and artifacts, china, crystal, silverware, table linen and drapes must be seen to be believed.
Mark’s wife, the lovely Manuela, was sadly not around as she was even then flying back from her native Italy where she’d attended her mother’s 80th birthday celebrations. She was in the Milan fashion trade before the couple opened similar eateries to the ultra-elegant Victoria 22 on the Kenya coast.
And my special main course of a mild-to-medium prawn-and-hake curry took me straight back to the unashamedly Colonial Mombasa Club: East African food in essence but with sophisticated Thai undertones as the fabulous feast of fantastic flavours and fragrances were enhanced by coconut milk. It came with fluffy basmati rice dyed the colour of saffron by turmeric, with roast vegetables, a “Durban salad” of chopped tomato-and-onion, chutney, poppadums (well, one, I asked for a second as they were so superb) and separate fresh chili “depth charges.”
This dish was US$24, which is certainly not outrageous when the value of the imported contents are taken into consideration, plus the plush surroundings, acres of crisp linen, gleaming silver, sparkling crystal and bone china. Add highly professional service, atmosphere, ambience and the exclusivity of the address and setting and it becomes very reasonable for that very special event.
Three blonde ladies: grand-ma, mom and teenaged daughter in gym-slip, sat fairly close to me on the sunny verandah celebrating some special event, which—I suspected — may have been Mothers’ Day two days in advance: probably because Vic 22 doesn’t open on the Sabbath and possibly to avoid the hectic annual bun fight which is every other restaurant in the country which does trade on Mothers’ Day.
Whatever, they tucked into salads and enormous prawns, the adults drank JC Le Roux pink bubbly and they were quite blissfully happy!
Other main special were Scottish salmon steaks, oven-baked with either a creamed mustard sauce or fresh herbs, ginger and chili or T-bone steak cooked as you like it with a choice of sauces.
Menu mains included gamberi al brandy: butterflied king prawns with brandy cream sauce or lemon garlic butter; nasello gratinato: hake fillet with Mediterranean flavours, capers, sun-dried tomatoes, home-made pesto, gratinated with Parmesan cheese; beef fillet medallions; pork fillet or duck breasts.
I love Victoria 22’s beautifully kept and presented cheese platters, but none were listed last Friday. My Macedonia di frutta must have contained at least half-a-dozen different zingy fresh fruits, topped with rich vanilla ice-cream and drizzled with a tangy passion fruit sauce.
It cost US$8 as did the options of tiramisu, lemon tart or the very tempting sounding gelato al Torroncino (decadent home-made nougat, chocolate chip ice-cream served with a warm brand-cherry sauce.) Cappuccino came with petite-fours, “small chocolate treats”.
Victoria 22: 22, Victoria Drive, Newlands, open lunch Monday to Friday, supper Monday to Saturday. Fully licensed; great cocktail bar. Pleasant background music. Reasonably handicapped and child friendly. Smoking/no smoking areas. Safe, guarded, parking.Tel 776429/0772 200 183/ 0772 208 301.
Five-stars, in every sense of the phrase as at May 2013.