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EatingOut: Valentine’s Le Francais-style!

(I’ve always found it totally paradoxical that St Valentine’s Day is taken so seriously here in Zimbabwe, compared with most other countries, when we probably have the world’s highest per capita divorce rate!)

I was saved the potential embarrassment of accepting possibly one such invite for the actual night and having to decline another perhaps three or four, because I’ll be on my way back from an eight day luxury Persian Gulf cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas, out of Dubai on February 14.

I gleefully anticipate being too well and truly knackered by the Oriental opulent excesses of the Emirates to even think about a romantic evening out here in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!)

But on Thursday I tasted my second Valentine’s special of this year at a delightful chef’s table laid on for some of the hospitality group’s more valued punters in the Le Francais Restaurant at Africa Sun’s Monomotapa Hotel.

(Snivelling around before pre-prandial refreshment of a moderately intoxicating nature in Le Francais’ attached, and absolutely exclusive, cocktail bar — now, again, supplying moreishly nutty snacks — I was very impressed with The Gazebo, a coffee bar where the coffee smelt like it’s supposed to! Folk sipped excellent cappuccino and nibbled decadent cream cake, surfed the Web on Wi-Fi and watched the latest turmoil unfolding in Egypt.)
Group publicist, the very amiable Farayi Mangwende, had invited me for Friday lunch but I had a pre-engagement then as did she on the Thursday, so we merely greeted.

I chatted with Monomatapa’s general manager Ivan Kasozi, ex-RTG Victoria Falls, and the group’s executive chef Zimbabwe and West Africa, Dr (yes he has a doctorate in his subject) Simon Davey, who’s half-French, half-English and — despite his job title — seems to spend half his working days trouble-shooting at the group’s  properties in South Africa and Botswana.

He tells me he is recently back from a nice holiday in Mauritius, but was horrified at the amount of garbage he discovered underwater scuba-diving in what used to be pristine, sparkling waters off Trou aux Biches, in  the north of the island. Damned shame!

St Valentines’ Day menu descriptions tend to be twee to the point of being excruciatingly so!  As, indeed, are some of the presentations.
But what hake and button mushroom fricassée, seated in a heart-shaped crouton lacked in macho “oomph”, it made up for in a delicate herb-rich flavour.  It was the sort of starter course I’d willingly order two of and, if necessary, forego the main gastronomic event.

The alternative opener was what sounded, looked and smelt a splendid concoction of roasted butternut and ginger soup with a coriander cream. There were, of course, baskets full of dinky still warm bread rolls and proper butter.

Continuing my week of avoiding red meat I regretfully declined the grilled beef fillet with “forestiere” potatoes (ham, or bacon, and mushrooms finely chopped are folded into the vegetable) and roasted market vegetables, which came with a choice of three sauces.

Instead, I opted for a plump breast of chicken with lemon, rosemary and garlic crushed potatoes and vegetables julienned in soya sauce. The huku could have been a wee tad moister, but it was otherwise a handsome, tasty dish.

I’m not the world’s greatest fan of cheesecake, which can often be unbelievably sickly in taste and texture, so said “no” chocolate cheesecake with a confit of orange sauce which, when it came to Simon on my right, actually looked as if it would have been a howling success.

I thoroughly enjoyed the “fresh” fruit skewers dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with vanilla cream, but I’m not totally convinced that “fresh” should apply to very fresh fruits that have been grilled/caramelised?  OK the fruit wasn’t tinned, bottled or frozen, but is it fresh having been cooked?
Over to you, dear readers!  Your inputs on this moot point will be appreciated.

Many of my fellow guests bombshelled back to work stations immediately after the entrée and two young ladies from Zimra (was one watching the other?) gapped it after pudding. Then Ivan left for a 3 o’clock.

Simon, Chef Leonard Moyo and I were left, like characters in a whodunit mystery at a table big enough to play championship snooker on, to sample the really excellent cappuccino I’d admired in The Gazebo, earlier and home-made “sweet-meats” (petite-fours.)

This menu, with the traditional giveaways, is available in Le Francais at US$30 a head tomorrow (Monday February 14).

Early booking is highly recommended.

l dustym@zimind.co.zw

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