WHAT a pleasure it was to be invited to a slightly belated 110th anniversary of the opening of the superb, world-famous Victoria Falls Hotel recently.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
The iconic five-star internationally-renowned VFH opened to an appreciative public on June 8, 1904 and it was Thursday June 19, 2014 when 110 hand-picked guests raised 110 glasses to toast 110 years’ impeccable service.
I used the VFH as a base for three days of a week I spent recently in and around the Falls, crossing international frontiers to look at the Cresta Mowana hotel operation in Kasane, abutting Botswana’s Chobe National Park and driving across the 109-year-old Victoria Falls Bridge to check out the lovely Royal Livingstone Hotel.
You can read about this safari here and in our sister papers, NewsDay (on Saturdays) and The Standard for a few weeks.
I had a splendid room in the so-called Stable Block at Victoria Falls Hotel, overlooking hectares of clipped, colourful gardens which run up to the national park surrounding the actual Victoria Falls, one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
The room was beautifully proportioned and furnished. A talking point was an imitation steamer trunk (circa 1900) designed to house a well-stocked mini-bar and tea, coffee maker etc.
The wardrobe was built in solid local timber probably felled in the forests passed through en route to Victoria Falls by road or rail from Bulawayo and possibly as old as the hotel.
The bed was enormous, ultra-comfortable and efficiently mosquito-netted, but would have been difficult to get in and out of by someone even an inch or two shorter than me.
Breakfasts were at the semi al-fresco Jungle Junction restaurant beloved by overseas tourists and included Method Cap Classique sparkling wines from the Cape (to make Buck’s Fizz), smoked salmon on the cold buffet and Scottish kipper fillets on the hot.
Of course almost everything else was there: porridge, cereals; eggs, bacon, sausages, a mouth-watering gammon joint, mushrooms, tomatoes, baked beans, fresh, canned and dried fruit; croissants, muffins, Danish pastries, toast, marmalade, jams, savoury spreads; teas, coffees, drinking chocolate, fruit juices and much more.
Tourists from across the globe relished the sight, smell and taste of a world-class breakfast on crisp, clear, sun-lit mornings.
Other meals were taken on The Terrace overlooking the magnificently engineered bridge, built where Cecil John Rhodes instructed: connecting the two countries which bore his name and positioned so the spray from the Falls would fall on carriage windows as the trains passed, in theory, connecting Cape Town with Cairo across an Africa painted British Imperial pink! Since the UNWTO talkfest in August, the bridge is now attractively illuminated at night.
On one occasion I only wanted soup…but what a soup! Thai chicken broth with lemon grass, ginger, coriander and vermicelli noodles at US$8. Another time I ate a truly wonderful platter of baby octopus chili stir fry, with vegetables, egg noodles, sesame seeds and watercress at US$18.
I missed an amuse bouche served at the 110th anniversary banquet as “someone” got 1730h and 7:30pm confused! I was still taking pictures of colourful birds from the deck of the faux-Victorian Ra-Ikane cruise vessel on the Upper Zambezi when a cocktail party began on the lawns outside The Terrace; still struggling with bow-tie and tight patent leather shoes when 109 other guests sat down to supper in The Livingstone Room.
This was recently named seventh best restaurant in the world by the influential blog site the Daily Meal. If I ever launch The Daily Miller, it may well ride a notch or two!
Having missed out on an amuse bouche prepared by Meikles Hospitality group development chef Rory Lumsden…who’s rather good at entertaining punters’ palates…and VFH exec chef Paul Muranda, I was in good time for a magnificent starter dish of ravioli of scallops and Kariba crayfish (yabbies) with chanterelle (a type of mushroom) and asparagus dressing.
A chef’s nightmare must be the speeches droning on over-long when the main course is rapidly approaching its best-served by minute… but possibly the choice of lamb en croute (baked in pastry) with white onion puree, celeriac (celery cultivated for its tasty roots), carrots and bacon, efficiently kept hot at the pass, got over that problem.
It was an inspired selection. Everyone (except vegetarians) can eat lamb, whereas there are possible religious problems in serving beef or pork. And it tasted heavenly!
Two of three puddings served on “l’assiette (plate) of desserts” were also magic but I’m afraid a pineapple sushi ticked none of my boxes, nor those of folk sitting around me, although, thinking about it later it was probably just a problem of too much savoury rice and too little sweet fresh pineapple in the composition. We finished with filter coffee and petit fours.
During the function, long-service awards were presented to several members of staff by VFH general manager Giulio Togni, Meikles Hospitality managing director, Karl Snater and tourism and hospitality minister Walter Mzembi.
Recipients were Roy Dube, Noel Chiwara and John Mathe each for 34 years’ service; Dorman Murapatu for 36; Duly Chitambire (the much photographed doorman)after 39 years and the hugely popular Philip John James (maître ‘d’hôtel ) for a whopping 45 years’ devoted service to the hotel and its guests.