IMBA Matombo isn’t a place the average reader often visits…nor does the average Zimbo food, drink and travel hack.
Eating out with Dusty Miller
It was years since I’d last been to the attractive private hotel, perched eyrie-like on a gomo off Enterprise Road, Glen Lorne, but I went unannounced on the last day of Harare Restaurant “Week” prompted by a voucher from the organisers.
A whiskery flyer on the delightful three storey chateaux-styled thatched 15-roomed complex and its Harlequins Restaurant, once described it, optimistically, as 18-minutes’ drive from Harare CBD and, totally unrealistically—I thought — “25 minutes from Harare Airport”. (Hmmmm!)
I’m nit-picking….but that’s what I’m paid for! It took 37 minutes from The Kopje and I was waved through two road blocks!
Imba Matombo (“house of stone” in Shona) is sparkling, stunning, sensational, superb…sexy, even. The driveway is steep. Second, even first, gear stuff in the office clunker. Lawns are lush, thick, billiard table green, manicured and clipped, edged by colourful flower beds and mature indigenous trees.
A welcoming 25 metre long Wedgwood blue swimming pool met us; we parked between that and a well-equipped gym, close to floodlit tennis court, near a Jacuzzi: all, now, demanded by today’s fit, fastidious traveller.
And travellers using Imba Matombo probably really need these “wellness” facilities as food and cellar is sumptuous, rich and tempting, going back to the days when Terry Ryan, one of Zim’s few real celebrity chefs ran the place.
Originally the impressive family home of Charlotte and John Ford, it’s been a hotel 23 years and was one of a clutch of boutique hotels snapped up by a Chinese “investor” a couple of years ago. I gather Imba, Gecko Gardens (formerly Seasons) and Highlands Park, all in Glen Lorne and Pangolin (now Imba) Lodge at Borrowdale “went east” to the same young purchaser circumnavigating the leafy northern suburbs one weekend with a suitcase full of loot which certainly wasn’t Chinese!
Imba Matombo’s public rooms: restaurant, lounge, drawing rooms, conservatory dining room, bar, staircase and connecting corridors boast breathtaking décor with priceless antique furniture, ceramics and paintings; guests’ bedrooms are also pleasingly appointed.
I’ve stayed in the Ford’s original en-suite master bedroom, now called the Dombashawa Suite, as it looks on to imposing Dombashava Hills — important in Shona history and for traditional rain-making ceremonies—many kilometres away.
I once lived a few doors from Imba Matombo, on a similarly high plot; our singles mess overlooked much of the then lush farming area of Enterprise Valley. On a clear day we saw Shamva and (I think) Murewa with naked eyes and, with powerful field-glasses, often saw “interesting” things happen (in 1977/78 at the peak of the Bush War!)
The hotel rooms effectively marry elegant Architecture Today stylish proportions with Country Life good taste furnishings and décor, but with an over-riding tangible home-from-home atmosphere of genuine welcome.
I peered at vast sun-lit tracts of Mashonaland East and Central from a table at the side of the pool, ordering from a special menu a wonderful starter of prawns on chunky inverted mushrooms with garlic butter sauce. That was from the US$25 tariff and the alternate was duck liver paté on toasted brochette.
From the middle-range US$20 menu I went for “sons-vide” (they mean sous-vide: a method of cooking underwater in sealed bags) chicken spicy roulade, served with sun-dried tomato, zinfandel (grape) juice and basmati rice; the option was grilled entrecote beef steak with mushrooms, brown gravy and mashed potatoes. The pleasant “chicken” roulade actually also featured small cubes of luscious ham; didn’t worry me: but then I’m not Jewish (or Muslim!)
Sadly the hotel couldn’t offer a properly chilled dry-white Nederburg Lyric wine (in Restaurant Week!), so I reluctantly chose Nederburg’s semi-sweet Stein. Nederburg were joint sponsors of the week and most of their wines were listed at US$15 a bottle, or US$4 a glass, but a glass was included as part of the package.
From the cheapest US$15 menu my pudding was a sharp, tangy palate-cleansing lemon sorbet and a lovely fresh fruit salad and I ended a leisurely lunch as sole customer with a splendid stainless steel cafetiere of freshly brewed Zimbabwe coffee.
Spotless loos have a photographic roll-call of rich and famous guests who stayed there: mainly touring sportsmen and minor European royalty. Topping it, however (in my opinion), is the late cookery writer and TV celeb chef Keith Floyd, with whom I had the odd noggin in The Volunteer, a pub of which my daughter sternly disapproves, in Faringdon, Vale of the White Horse (and also in The Folly, and a few other ale-houses of mixed repute in rural Oxfordshire!)
“Tell me, Dusty” he asked hoarsely, tenth long filter cigarette clutched between lips, Guinness pint in bony fingers, large Scotch chaser on bar. “Where in Africa, do you write about food?” “Harare Zimbabwe, Keith.”
“My dear chap…is there ANY bloody food in Zimbabwe, nowadays?” (This was 2008, a year of great shortages, heartbreaks and squillion percent hyper-inflation!)
“There sure is, china”, I told him. “Certainly at places like Imba Matombo.”