Light lunch at Pariah State!

WHEN a new bar/eatery at Avondale opened on December 3, I was intrigued as to how long it would be allowed to flourish.

Eating Out with Dusty Miller

Because the owners had given it the ironically satirical name of Pariah State!

And being blessed, or cursed, with a fairly lengthy memory, I clearly recalled how the stern-faced humourless men in dark glasses and white Land-Rover Defenders descended on the similarly light-heartedly named “Comrade Kebab” soon after independence, accusing owners of taking the mickey out of the ruling party and ordering them to either change their trading title or shut.

Matt Austen is senior partner in the new operation and is responsible for the moniker. He came to this country as a babe-in-arms from the UK and has been away several decades, globetrotting, but latterly working as an interior architect and graphic designer in Los Angeles, California.

He acquired a Southern Californian wife and on mentioning he’d like to return to the Africa which was in his blood, especially Zimbabwe where he’d spent his formative years, friends and family demanded to know how he could even contemplate going home to a “pariah state”; (Well, let’s face it, that’s how much of the world has seen us since November 11, 1965!)

He finally returned ( the memsahib loves the place) and he found two business partners, Karl Eckard, until recently at the former 360 Degree, Borrowdale, currently also running catering at Old Georgians and Bongai Zamchiya, who wasn’t there when I visited, but LinkedIn says he’s chairman of Montclair Hotel and Casinos.

They opened on December 3 and have attracted huge crowds of mainly regular patrons since.

Pariah State is at Hilary House at Avondale Shopping Centre (left-hand side driving out of the city). Older readers, especially former night-owls in their misspent youth, will fondly recall the site as where High Chaparral served burgers, steaks, chips (and more chips!) plus greasefest artery-clogging breakfasts 24/7.

In those days there were several outlets in Avondale licensed to sell grog, but since the George Hotel shut and the dreadful Wimpy Bar became the Muslim-owned and strictly halal Steak Out, only St Elmo’s and Pariah State are now in the booze business.

The good news (for people like me) is that PS’s drinks are relatively affordable, not much dearer than those at sports clubs; solid (not stolid) menus are also within the range of many folks’ pockets; music is middle-of-the-road, listenable to at agreeable decibel levels and service is swift and swish by amiable people pleased to be doing their jobs and no under-21s are allowed in the place.

Very unusual for Zimbabwe, even well into the 21st century, Pariah State has a strict no smoking policy, putting us in line with most of the rest of the world. They open six days a week from 11:30am until midnight.

I went after late Saturday morning shopping at TM, Avondale; left the motor in that appallingly pot-holed, totally neglected car-park and walked across King George Road. I didn’t mind doing that at a little after 12 noon; not sure if the same journey on foot around 12 midnight would appeal, given the rotten driving seen here daily.

The day was hot and humid, but the almost cave-like Pariah State was cool and welcoming, fans humming efficiently but drowned by, among others, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald and Rolling Stones. An attractive young waitress served me the first of what proved to be three delightfully chilled refreshing liquid articles of a moderately intoxicating nature (Golden Pilsener.) Mixologist (cocktail barman) Roberto Rodriguez was busy on the silver shakers.

I chatted about the history and progress of the project with Karl and Matt, while waiting for one of the limited number of items from a compact lunch menu to be cooked by Chef Michael van Rooyen, who, as I remembered from his days at 360 Degrees, trained in Denmark.

Anything else on the menu would have taken “a minute or two” I was assured, but as I was in no hurry and really fancied the sound of a Danish-style open fish sandwich, I was happy to wait the quoted 20 minutes or so to prepare and cook this dish.

Michael assured me it’s called fiske frikkadeller in Danish. You needn’t be a polyglot to work out that “fiske” is Danish for “fish”; “frikkadel” in Afrikaans is a fried or baked meat ball (from the French fricadelle.)

Michael made tilapia (Kariba bream) fillets into tasty fish cakes, which came in a toasted ciabatta with sauce remoulade (a bit like tartar sauce), salads and a stack of great, beautifully cooked chips on a timber platter, at a very reasonable US$7.

I was told menus were a work in progress and would be expanded shortly, but at lunch time the Pariah gourmet burger features a home-made beef burger, grilled bacon, caramelised onions, salads, aioli (garlic mayo) and fries at US$8 (Karl ordered one) and steak Prego roll, a Portuguese speciality, uses marinated, much tenderised top-side with salads in a toasted Panini with piri-piri sauce. Matt ate one of these, also US$8. A proper lettuce-less Greek salad was US$6.

The anytime bar menu has items from US$3 (hand cut fried or deep-fries onion rings) to US$18 for a platter of four prawns, six ribs, six chicken wings and six samoosas with tequila citrus mayo, barbecue sauce and fries.

Pariah State 1, Hilary House, Avondale Shops, is a fully licensed music bar that serves food; no under 21s, not really handicapped friendly; No smoking (hurray!), limited parking outside, plenty in the car-park opposite. Shut Mondays. Tel 0772 279 051 or 0773 261 954. —dustym@zimind.co.zw