I AM often asked which the “best” restaurant in Harare is … and that’s a totally impossible question to answer objectively.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
Best all-round restaurant when money’s no problem? Best middle-of-road restaurant when the budget’s tight? Best family restaurant where it doesn’t matter if the kids/grand-kids have an ice-cream fight?
One of my favourites is The Fishmonger Restaurant in East Road, Avondale, Harare, where I went for lunch on Tuesday and it certainly proved good value for money, although comparing the menu with what I discovered on a visit in July, a few prices seem to have gone up beyond the rate of inflation.
Regular readers will know that my starter course is very often soup of the day, which at Fishmonger is usually a wonderfully sound home-made vegetable broth, chock-a-block crammed with probably a dozen different sorts of veggies, chopped, diced, julienned and cooked to tasty perfection. With dinky, still warm, soft Portuguese rolls and butter from one of those faffy airline-style tin-foil containers, it could be a meal on its own for many in this world at just US$3.
Sardines and pilchards are from the same family, related to the herring and like kippered herring, are delicious smoked. We usually, of course, see them in cans in brine, olive oil or tomato sauce.
This delightful little fish is one of the world’s richest sources of protein, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids which, it is claimed, helps prevent Alzheimer’s.
I often order Fishmonger’s three grilled sardines, Portuguese-style, because I’ve eaten them all over the world, often caught by myself and on a sunny day, it was a dish that reminded me of sun, sea and sand, often washed down with a glass or two of the local white wine. A half-gallon whicker-covered flagon of chilled Jugoslavian Riesling on a baking beach in pre-independence Croatia, as we braaied Mediterranean mackerel and freshly caught sardines, often leaps to mind.
The fish there was just gutted, rinsed, dusted in sea salt and black pepper and cooked for a minute or so each side on tinfoil over a braai grille, a drizzle of good olive oil added, then the fish piled up on platters already stacked with a freshly picked garden salad, studded with black and green olives and pungent cheese.
And The Fishmonger’s grilled sardines, at US$9, eaten with what is probably one of Harare’s best blue-cheese salads at just US$5 for a so-called “small” helping and US$8 for a whopping “medium” usually ticks all of the right boxes.
The salad also contains crisp lettuce and rocket, tomato and cherry tomatoes, peppers and cucumber. It already has a pleasant dressing, but I add a little more extra virgin olive oil. The piquant blue-cheese (“stinky cheese” my daughter calls it) is grated fairly finely and sprinkled across the dish, its unique umami flavour permeating the whole presentation.
Other starters include mussels steamed in a creamy garlic sauce and finished with parsley at US$8, prawns as appetisers are priced at US$10-US$12 and on the subject of prawns, on a recent visit to Fishmonger, for US17, I had the most wonderful medium-strength Thai-style red prawn curry with a dash of Mozambican coconut milk: the gently spiced sauce being light enough so that I (and some dining companions who dived in) could identify various herbs used in its preparation by taste.
The sauce coated what seemed an enormous serving of peeled plump prawns, with one unshelled monster plonked tastefully atop the dish, which came with an individual bowl of fluffy, spicy rice, crispy poppadum and pleasant sambals.
Other fishy appetisers are calamari at US$6 and creamy mussels in a garlic sauce which cost US$8. Grilled haloumi cheese and the Portuguese dish trinchados (marinated cubed beef) are both US$6.
Almost certainly, the restaurant’s trademark dish is fish (hake) and chips at US$9 or US$14 for a Homer Simpson-sized helping. On Tuesday, I found the US$9 plate more than filling although chef-proprietrix Zelda Lubbe seemed apologetic that due to a global shortage of hake the portions were allegedly a wee bit smaller than had been the case.
Candidly I didn’t know the commodity was in short supply but it seems that due to over-fishing Namibia’s annual catch quota has been reduced from 170 000 to 140 000 metric tonnes and the European countries want to buy more of it, because Spain’s quota has also been slashed.
I have fairly recently been to the Disunited Kingdom, where fish (usually cod, haddock or plaice there) and chips is a very favourite pub dish of mine, preferably with minted mushy peas; there’s not many places there where you can still get a fish lunch or supper for six English (or Scottish) pounds, which is the equivalent of US$9.
Puddings are US$5-US$6 and at the former price I enjoyed a palate-cleansing light, crisp, colourful Pavlova, with grand meringue, whipped cream, zingy passion fruit coulis and fresh plump strawberries.
Zelda Lubbe, formerly of The Red Fox at Greendale when it was twice Zimbabwe Restaurant of the Year and Flat Dog Diner at Msasa when hugely popular with the public and critics, having returned home to Zim from years in Cape Town, has significantly raised the Fishmonger bar since taking over about 18 months ago.
Bottom line: salad, fish and chips, pudding, filter coffee and two Golden Pilsener Lagers: US$24.
Fishmonger: 50, East Road, Avondale, opens from noon, straight through until fairly late supper Monday to Saturday; they close after a civilized Continental-style lengthy late lunch on Sundays. Dining indoors, al fresco, or on the stoep. Smoking, non-smoking; reasonably child and handicapped friendly; safe guarded parking opposite; fully licensed; good wine list at affordable prices; nice background music playlist. Credit or debit cards not accepted. Tel 302285 or 308164. Booking recommended.