Eat dirt cheap at Gaby’s!

Dusty-pic21.jpg

I WONDERED whether to add commas before and after the word “cheap” in the headline, but decided that was too vicious!

Eating out with Dusty Miller

Gaby’s graze is inexpensive, but under no circumstances could it be described as gourmet food if my last few visits are anything to go by.

The little restaurant, pub, coffee shop in Travel Centre, Mazowe Street, Harare once pumped with popularity, but there were just two other punters when I went on a Saturday recently and, if I recall correctly, not a single one on my previous visit.

With ever-growing numbers of food and drink outlets, all chasing the same consumer buck, (which seems to be getting scarcer by the week) customers are voting with feet and wallets.

Incidentally my two fellow “diners” gazed into each other’s eyes, held hands, simpered and apparently made notes in a child’s school exercise book –– not the most profitable activities for the owner of the eatery –– for ages, before ordering coffee, a milk shake and sharing a plate of chips!

First reaction to the menu is that it’s very reasonably priced. Yep, you can sure eat dirt cheap at Gaby’s!

Gaby’s once claimed to be an Italian restaurant and I was tempted –– mainly out of curiosity –– to order one of two hopelessly misspelled tagliatteli dishes, or pasta Alfredo, priced at just US$4 each, (US$1 cheaper than a year ago!) under a section labelled “Pizza and Pasta”, listing not one pizza!

No soup is on the menu. On a previous trip, a US$3 minestrone soup proved to be about half a packet of probably Royco’s dehydrated idea of that noble Italian broth and, other than the name, all resemblance ended. It was made with about half the recommended water content, resembled weak milky coffee into which desiccated cubed carrot and potato could be vaguely discerned and was covered with a thick skin. (“Clarty” is a good Scots word to describe the texture.)

It came with a “roll”: hamburger bun sliced into three with –– for some odd reason –– the two small ends (“rockers” my kids called them) lopped off, presumably discarded. I told a waiter exactly what I thought of this disgusting dish; at least they had the courtesy to lop it off the bill.

Spaghetti bolognaise, then, wasn’t as bad as I feared. (It wasn’t from a tin!) but was underwhelming. Pasta wasn’t quite al dente, but neither was it soggy. Minced beef tasted gritty, covered in a cheese which had no claim to be made in the Parmesan-style; all served on an unprofessionally cold plate.

The pasta soon turned stone cold and gloopy. It was only US$5, but I’d rather have paid double that and enjoyed it! Some of those small diced raw peppers and chilies served in real Italian trattorias may have lifted it out of the depressingly sub-ordinary, but weren’t available. Plastic squeegee bottles of Cheeky Chili aren’t in the same league.

On this latest venture I thought the all-day breakfast a fair bet. In UK and the former British empire, on which the sun never set (God didn’t trust Poms in the dark!) you usually can’t go far wrong with a fry up.

It was described as two eggs, two bacon rashers, sausage, fried mushrooms, grilled tomato, potato cake and toast.

Translation: two eggs fried as hard as the knobs of hell, dry, yolk totally desiccated…and cold, with two tiny bits of probably the misnamed “value” bacon, which were tepid; sausage was two wee, tasteless, chipolatas; I’d already heard mushrooms were “off” (odd that, they were also unavailable a year ago); I accepted “liver” as a substitute (that wasn’t bad); you can hardly bugger up a slice of grilled tomato; “potato cake” was six small, greasy chips. Toast was ok!

The US$8 dish took at least 25 minutes to prepare, cook and serve. On the plus side, they warmed up my teapot, served very early (for which they forgot to charge when I finally got the bill. I just noticed that as I checked it to write this review.)

Four puddings and three cakes (once Gaby specialities) were on the menu, but only the last slice of a chocolate cake with coffee-coloured icing, thankfully much less sweet than it looked, was available, at US$3

I’m in no hurry to return while Gaby’s remains under the current invisible, hands-off and apparently anonymous management, but they tell me they open daily, except Sundays. Tel 700094.

NOW this would probably have been really good value-for-money food!

Someone (thank-you) left me a supper menu from January 19, 1975 for the Chimanimani Hotel, Melsetter, Rhodesia and for RH$1,25 (which, then, was about US$2) travellers and holidaymakers could tuck into:

Soup: cream of mushroom; consommé royale.

Starters: Fried fillets of Angola bream and lemon; spaghetti Bolognaise.

Cooked to order: Grilled entrecote steak maître d’hôtel; finger chips and boiled potatoes, vegetables in season.

Cold buffet: Roast beef, ox-tongue, Rhodesian ham, corned silverside (beef), roast pork, home-made brawn, French and garlic polony. Assorted salads.

Sweet: baked marmalade pudding and fruit sauce; peach Melba.

Cheese and biscuits and coffee.

Wine was 25c or 28c a glass! Beer would have been between 15c-20c; cigarettes 30c for 30 Benson & Hedges, Peter Stuyvesant or the like. Yes THIRTY!

The hotel would probably have been mainly occupied by South African holiday-makers who, typically, would work their way down that menu…then possibly have ordered the same again!

In 1975 an artisan’s wage was about Rh$300-Rh$350 a month. As a senior sub-editor on The Chronicle, I pulled Rh$500 a month, basic salary and could earn up to another Rh$240 for working three or four Sunday News sports reporting shifts.

I shared a mess with other bachelor journalists, where we lived like kings for Rh$70 a month each. A SAA flight to London with up to five European stop-overs was Rh$333. It cost Rh$8 in petrol to drive to the Vic Falls from Bulawayo; the Casino Hotel (where the Kingdom is now) charged Rh$8,80 a night dinner, bed-and-breakfast; the booze cruise was Rh$1,50: drink as much as you like/can!

Life was simply heaven!

dustym@zimind.co.zw

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