MY goodness, how quickly things change on the dining out scene in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital).
Eating Out Dusty Miller
When I first visited The Circle, Borrowdale Village in November last year it was work in progress.
Only the downstairs was open, a strictly Halaal coffee shop with no pork or booze available and smoking verboten.
At that time Anna-Lise Ross, her husband and a talented team of designers were putting finishing touches to an upstairs restaurant and bar which would serve mainstream meals including roast, grilled, boiled and smoked dead pig and also run a cocktail bar.
It was an uneasy alliance, I thought at the time. Probably as likely to work as smoothly as our Global Political Agreement farce!
Returning last week, I found Anna-Lise had bought out Aisha Patel and was running the whole operation –– now strictly non-Halaal –– with new business partner Tendai Mumvura (a female Tendai, I didn’t meet her.)
Highly talented locally-born exec chef, Shane Ellis, was ruling the ranges in November. He now has one of the most sought after jobs in southern African cooking at Pamushana Lodge near Gona Re Zhou National Park, in the Lowveld, where he coddles American millionaires and billionaires.
But Shane (he looks like a young Gordon Ramsay) obviously taught his understrappers well, as everything I ate last week was of extremely high standard and dishes passing my table for other hungry lunchers looked and smelled superb.
The last time I went I wrote about the Hanging Gardens of Borrowdale! Two walls were planted with various luxuriant plants and shrubs. A fountain runs down one wall into a brick “wishing well” and misting machines at high level helped keep diners cool on even the hottest rainless November day in Central Africa!
Well, fountains and misters were certainly not needed last Wednesday and, sadly, some of the vegetation seems to be suffering from the floral equivalent of alopecia as –– Anna-Lise explained –– the sun isn’t in the right position in our winter.
Additional lighting has been installed, flowering walls receive extra TLC and she hopes to have them back as a major attraction and talking point by summer.
The Circle (in the round building attached to TM Supermarket, where Barclay’s Bank was) is trying to be all things to all men (and women…and kiddies!)
Downstairs still dispenses delicious pasties, croissants, light meals and hot and cold beverages, but upstairs you can get substantial breakfasts, brunch, lunch, afternoon high tea and dinner…and booze!
Most dishes are Western-modern-fusion, but there’s an Asian and vegetable section.
I bemoaned the fact that no soups appeared on the menu I was given, but Anna-Lise assured me they did wonderful soup and carrot was a speciality. Instantly ordered, it was disappointing to learn that carrot was “off” but butternut “on”.
Butternut is by no means my favourite vegetable but it can make a fine potage du jour with skillful handling; that’s just what it got at The Circle. Lots of depth, creamy, rich and velvety, piping hot and topped with crisp, crunchy, toasted garlic croutons.
Because it wasn’t on the menu, I didn’t realise soup cost US$6 and, for that, I thought they could have thrown in a nice continental roll or two, with butter.
No other starters per se are listed on the photocopied menu I was given to take away, but there are five scrumptious-sounding salads at US$6-US$9 apiece.
In November I made do with a couple of non-alcoholic “cocktails” an Ooopa (my grand-daughter would love to sip an Ooopa with her Oupa! and the unfortunately named “Crapple”. On my latest visit it was my usual “poison”: a brace of Golden Pilsener lagers at US$2 each.
Main course in November was a simple-sounding smoked salmon croissant, but the pastry –– big tick and gold star –– was light and nicely moist rather than the dry, tasteless, flaky, croissants we’re often served, crammed with generous slices of smoked salmon, the heady flavour of which took me back to Bonny Scotland (where I’ll be next week) served with herbed crème fraiche on a bed of rocket with additional salads tastefully presented at a very reasonable US$6.
This time I went for linguine pescatora. Explanation: linguine is flat pasta roughly half-way between the width of spaghetti and fettuccine; “pescatora” means cooked in the style of the fisherman’s wife in Italian.
Well this fisherman’s wife knew her onions…or rather king prawns, squid, mussels, clams and calamari I found in this rich dish. The pasta was splendidly cooked to al dente and the sauce, comprising tomatoes, white wine, (a wee hint of) chili and garlic a masterpiece.
A very generous portion consisted of relatively expensive imported ingredients, so US$14 was good value.
I, personally, would have removed prawn tails before serving (probably before cooking) and, would ask punters how much chili he or she enjoys (or how little).
The dish was extremely rich and filling but some folk would have liked grated Parmesan. And others eat bread with everything. As none of the staff of life was served to anyone that day, it was hard to see why the bone-china side plates were laid out as standard!
Other main “lunch time” (10am-3pm) meals start at US$9 for a “Copper mountain” two-cheese bacon and mushroom quiche with salad and peak at US$18 for either 250g fillet steak, 300g sirloin steak or pork chops with choice of starch, seasonal vegetables and a sauce.
Chicken or beef pot pies, spagBol, pasta Alfredo or hamburger and chips were all US$10; a trio of mini-burgers (including the intriguing-sounding lamb and cranberry) cost US$12; half a piri-piri chicken or fish of the day with chips US$15.
Six puddings are listed at US$5-US$6 and at the higher price a strawberry panna cotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) was a delightfully light sweet of soft, rich vanilla cream, strawberry coulis and slices.
Bottom line: soup, seafood pasta, sweet, two lagers: US$30.
They open in winter 8am-5pm Sunday-to-Tuesday and 8am-11pm Wednesday-to-Saturday. In summer they will trade longer hours.
The Circle, TM Complex, Borrowdale Village. Anna-Lise 0772 577 816.