VISITING Adrienne’s, the Belgravia restaurant housed in an attractive conservatory or greenhouse-like structure, is often just like taking a trip down memory lane for me.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
It was a favourite venue for en famille meals and I often think—and indeed say—that when my discerning daughter, Adele, chose the friendly eatery for her 21st birthday and engagement parties when, within reason, she could have opted for most outlets in the country, that decision spoke volumes.
The ever amiable Nick Mandeya beamed a friendly greeting and gave a firm handshake as I arrived unannounced last Tuesday for an impromptu lunch and although he — like almost every other restaurateur in the country currently — bemoaned a definite downturn in business, the place was pleasantly full-ish.
It’s always a good sign when competitors patronise your outlet on their rare days off and Adrienne’s had attracted a couple of established restaurateurs and, separately, a table of tourism professionals.
Since my last visit which — very unusually — must have been as long ago as nine months—Adrienne’s old bar has been turned into a bijoux connoisseurs’ wine and spirits off-licence bottle store, featuring blue-chip labels from across the globe on offer and a new cocktail bar has been built in one corner of the main dining area.
Adrienne’s has lost a good slab of its serving area, but I rather liked the new lay-out.
It was a brilliant, very warm, cloudless Highveld afternoon just a very few days before our brief autumn turned into winter and the greenery surrounding the restaurant (and pot plants flourishing within) made a pleasant picture.
Adrienne’s has always tended to specialise in starter courses, which was no doubt one of the main attractions for Adele and her willowy, weight-conscious friends. That was obviously a few years ago, but the trend continues.
I never discovered what the soup-of-the day was at a very sensible price of US$3, but I can wholeheartedly recommend the minestrone when it’s on.
Nick’s sleeping partner is that Italian eminence-grise of the Central African hospitality scene, Atilio Vigoriti, who came from Malawi and the partners established L’Escargot at the Courteney Hotel. In its heyday it could take you three weeks to secure a table at that unpretentious restaurant, which really was a fine dining establishment in every sense of that phrase.
Other starters listed were, at US$5, grilled haloumi cheese, calypso fish cakes (they have the Miller seal of approval), creamy chicken liver pancakes, chicken giblets a la mode (another winner) or the sautéed mushrooms with herbs I chose.
We all like deep-fried mushrooms, but, once-in-a-while, spurn the deep-fat fryer. Adrienne’s presentation is unfussy: lots and lots of young, tender, flavoursome, forest-fresh, fungi sliced button mushrooms, sautéed in a white wine jus and liberally herbed. With a couple of sliced of buttered Melba toast, that’s just the ticket!
Other appetisers are a duo of beef samoosas and vegetable spring rolls or — back to the deep-fryer! — crumbed mushrooms and cheese melts both at US$6, smoked Norwegian salmon mousse costing US$7 or – a trademark speciality dish — gypsy spits: mushrooms wrapped in lean smoky bacon at US$7.
Salads come in generous “small” or large helpings from US$2 for a small French salad to US$6 for a large Greek and US$7 for large chicken salad.
A great follower of my columns, Nick knew I was involved in ongoing research into the relative qualities, quantities and value-for-money of prawn curries served across Harare and insisted I try his as a fishy main course.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Ordered mild-to-medium (you can’t have an incandescently hot curry and retain the flavour of fish or seafood) it came with a stack of medium-sized peeled, plump, pink, prawns and colourful sambals including a piquant, fruity, chutney, sliced banana and a “Durban salad” of chopped onion, tomato and cucumber.
The only slight improvement I could suggest would be to serve a good long-grained rice (preferably Basmati) with this dish, rather than the short-grained stuff which makes excellent rice-pudding as a dessert, and a chapatti, poppadum or naan would have been extremely agreeable.
The prawn curry was US$18, which is about mid-way pricewise between the cheapest and dearest dishes of this description I’ve tried in Ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun city) since about Christmas and Adrienne’s version comes in the top four or five on flavour and value.
Other fish and seafood dishes peak at US$22 for grilled whole sole, with Mozambican grilled prawns coming in at US$20. All others options are US$15: Kariba bream, grilled calamari rings, that old favourite, fish ‘n’ chips, poached yellowtail fillet meuniere or grilled whole Eastern Highlands trout.
Main courses for the not so hungry include pasta, filled baked potatoes, vegetarian dishes and hamburger and chips at US$5 – US$8.
Steaks (350g fillet or 500g T-bones, rumps and sirloin) are US$19-US$20 with free sauce and poultry dishes (including a half “Beira” piri-piri chicken and chips) US$11-US$13.
Looking at the dishes being served all around, it seemed that the most popular choice for both men and women that day was either braised oxtail semanyika or Nick’s lamb shank, served with either creamy mashed potatoes or sadza at US$19 or US$22 respectively.
Other substantial mains I can recommend are grilled lamb chops rosemary or ostrich fillet (very low in cholesterol, THE Yuppies dish in London) with leek and mustard sauce, both costing US$20.
Apart from ice-cream and chocolate sauce (US$3) puddings are US$4 and the crème caramel had a wonderful taste and tang.
Sadly I didn’t have time for a cappuccino (US$2) or pot of tea (US$1); bottom line for starter, prawn curry, pudding and two Golden Pilsener Lagers was US$31.
Adrienne’s, Belgravia Shopping Centre, off 2nd Street Extension. Tel 335602. Opens lunch to late supper daily (extended hours when there’s a popular show on at Reps). Reasonably child and handicapped friendly. Pleasant background music. Well-stocked cocktail bar. No corkage. Smoking/no smoking. Eating outdoors or inside.