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This Mojo’s working fine!

YOU meet some awfully nice people in this restaurant reviewing lark… and, candidly, a few mongrels, occasionally, too!

Eating Out with Dusty Miller

Mohamed Sami was last general manager at Harare Sheraton, before the exasperated blue-chip international hotel chain washed its hands of Zimbabwe and packed in their local franchise back in 2006 when the “gold-leaf” hotel became localised and indigenised as Rainbow Towers Hotel and Conference Centre.

I’ve long thought that if it hadn’t been for Mohamed’s immediate predecessor, fellow Egyptian (but Christian Copt) Magdy Anis (now in Tibet), Sheraton would have cleared out of here about 10 minutes after the first farm invasion.

Magdy had a touching faith that this country –– especially its tourism sector –– would eventually come right and Egyptians especially, would be flocking in!

Yeah, well…the jury’s still out on that one!

I knew Mohamed returned to Egypt to run Sheraton’s flagship outlet at Luxor (the ancient capital of Upper Egypt, Thebes, in The Valley of the Kings on the Nile) and half hoped to see him for a drink on two or three visits there.

It’s a good job I didn’t try too hard…he’d moved on to Sheraton Abuja, Nigeria: a place that almost drove him penga with daily head-on collisions with inefficiency, incompetence and blatant corruption (and this complaint coming from an Egyptian Arab!)

That’s what he said when he bought me lunch soon after he opened what was then a fairly new Harare operation, Mojo’s in East Road (opposite the Trauma Centre.) We repeated the scenario the day before V-Day (voting day) in this country a few weeks ago.

Within days he was off back to Cairo to visit his mother in the midst of the turmoil there and I was leaving for the Cotswold Hills, London and the Channel seaside resorts of England, the rolling green countryside and rivers of Scotland and the magnificent architecture of Dubai.

Mojo’s is a churrascarria (Brazilian/Portuguese for steak house); churrasco is barbecue or braai but with much more sophistication than those labels hint.

Picture the world-famous Carnivore Restaurant, outside Nairobi, Kenya or Victoria Falls Safari Lodge’s The Boma at its best, with all the humour, similar fun-filled inter-activity, but pile on a slab of class and élan as found at some of the best West End restaurants and you’re getting somewhere.

Barbecue it may be, but the crisp linen, sparkling crystal, expensive china and general fixtures and fittings (you could eat off the loo floors!) speak of the best-run outlets in Europe, Cape Town or Manhattan!

A splendidly unique eating experience begins (maybe after a pre-prandial dop at an amazingly well-stocked cocktail bar) with tapas.

Spanish for snacks, these currently comprise: smoked salmon rolled and stuffed with mozzarella cheese, savoury profiteroles stuffed with chicken livers, vegetarian spring rolls in tempura batter, chicken-spiced yoghurt, pickled stuffed olives, marinated peppers, Mojo salads and Brazilian cheese bread. It all comes with pleasant dipping sauces.

The platter would easily feed two people with average appetites as there is two of each different component.

Mojo’s is where Blossom Manor and Haddow House were and was the brainchild of Mohamed’s partner, Julie Webb, a former Centenary girl who was the general manager of Imba Matomba/Gecko Gardens/Arnaldo’s, before starting out on her own.

A qualified chef with a hospitality degree from Bournemouth University, UK, she’s also a former GM of Leopard Rock in The Vumba and worked in Holiday Inns here and at the local Sheraton.

Mojo’s is not the sort of place to go if rushed. Well, maybe not unless you have only the tapas; my feeling is that it’s more suited for leisurely supper than weekday lunch, with deadlines threatening menacingly, but it’s a grand venue, eating al fresco on a sunny Zimbabwean winter afternoon. Not that the day before voting could be described as “sunny”. It was freezing!

After tapas comes “starch”: par-boiled then twice fried potato wedges which are probably the nicest member of the “chip” family served in Harare, spicy saffron rice and more colourful salads.

And then a carnivore’s dream! Skewers loaded with wonderful meat: carved from a full juicy dripping beef fillet joint, seasoned with sea salt and garlic and smelling wonderful; then there’s fire-roasted spicy beef sausages (wors, really) or chicken ditto; mouthwatering off-bone ribs beautifully seasoned and slow roasted, tender pork fillets encrusted with parmesan and sizzling with flavour.

Mojo’s serves poultry comprising chicken pieces, thighs or drumsticks lightly basted in a special marinade; juicy chicken breast in bacon and chicken fillet.

All these are slow-cooked on skewers over charcoal to retain the natural juices, flavour and, texture.

The mains don’t all come together. There’s a beer-mat sized card on the table. Green side up, it says “Yes, Please” in English and Portuguese and “gaucho” waiters/carvers will swiftly arrive and dispense meat, by carving it at the table from the huge stainless steel skewers on which it has been cooked.

Reverse it to red and “No Thank You” and they’ll leave you alone until you feel you can perhaps sample a bite more. There’s no limit to the amount of meat you can eat, or how long you take to enjoy it.

There’s a wide range of grown-up puddings: my white chocolate and coconut mousse topped with a mango and passion fruit coulis and whipped cream was exemplary. Others are banoffee trifle sundae, chocolate cappuccino cheesecake, passion fruit yoghurt mousse, vanilla cheesecake with a guava topping, served with mango salsa, ice-cream sundae and honey and nougat semifreddo (half-frozen) drizzled with chocolate sauce.

Tapas starters with bread, salads, rice and “fries” and the eat-as-much as you like/can churrasco and pudding costs US$25 at supper and US$20 for lunch.

Eat indoors, on the verandah or in the lovely gardens. There’s a small conference room and facilities for private receptions and similar, with up to 300 covers. When I was there a hire company was erecting a marquee for a garden wedding with about 500 pax.

Currently they trade Monday to Saturday lunch and supper. Fully licensed, well-stocked cocktail bar available for diners only.
Safe on-site parking; guarded additional parking on verges on East Road. Smoking/no smoking. Child and handicapped friendly.

Mojo’s, 10 East Rd, Avondale. Tel 705993/761639 mojos@zol.co.zw

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