I waited weeks to sample, on your behalf, the Christmas/New Year menu at Rainbow Towers Hotel and when I finally had the verbal nod confirmed, there was a snafu and no festive fare to be feasted upon!
Opinion by Dusty Miller
It didn’t worry me much, because I was already getting a bit cheesed off with tucking into turkey and trimmings and being bombarded with various restaurants’ and hotels’ proposed ho-ho-ho menus in Ha-ha-ha-rare!
Although someone with a name like Dragoljub Zivanovic sounds as though he should probably be standing trial at The Hague for cruelly decimating Balkan minorities, he’s really the extremely amiable food and beverage manager at the Towers and I lunched with him and his wife, Jen (also a qualified hotelier: She runs Old Georgians Club) in the Komba Hari steakhouse.
“Drag” is a fairly young (by my standards) hospitality professional who trained locally on Prof Mike Farrell’s American Hotel School course and did major internships before RTG poached him from the Groombridge Spar eatery. Locally born, he’s of Serbian stock.
Quickly perusing the menu at a Komba Hari fuller than I’ve seen it in years, I briefly toyed with the idea of ordering two or three starters and skipping a main course as I wasn’t exactly ravenous and had an evening event pencilled in the diary.
Appetisers always sound and usually look and taste wonderful at Komba Hari, but prices seem to have crept up recently.
I didn’t look beyond the first item, to choose traditional Scottish smoked salmon on a bed of vermicelli with cucumber, lemon, garlic and yoghurt dressing at US$12. But, sadly, it was “off” (unavailable: not turned!)
Drag and his missus had already opted for steamed mussels (the big, braw New Zealand Greenlip versions served on the half-shell), flash-fried, served with a garlic, thyme, tomato and cream sauce so I joined them. They were totally delicious, if rather filling as the sauce was so moreish every drop was mopped up with dinky crisp bread rolls.
I hadn’t realised they were US$12 for four and I had to be fair and admit I’d already written a restaurant review complaining I thought the mussel pot at The Mill rather over-priced at US$14 for seven of the smaller Scottish jobs with chips as a main. I protested on behalf of all this column’s followers. Drag looked a bit horrified, too, and promised to check costings with a view to revising the price
Herb-bread-crumbed mushrooms stuffed with bacon and cream cheese and garnished with a sweet chili sauce were US$11. I usually associate trinchados with cubed beef served in Portuguese restaurants, but Komba Hari uses chicken breast, cubed, flash-fried, marinated in a white wine and garlic sauce at US$11.
Old favourites chicken livers are US$8, king calamari rings (US$12) and vegetarian tempura US$9. An attractive help-yourself salad bar is US$4…the same price as Western-style or Asian soups (both usually extremely good.)
Turning to mains, I briefly flirted with the idea of a light, digestible Japanese-style teppanyaki meal (prices range from US$12-US$32) or pasta at US$12/US$13. Drag went for a juicy looking, gloriously aromatic fillet steak on egg-foo young type rice at US$22. Beef steak and I don’t get on together too well these days, so when Mrs Drag enthusiastically ordered “Mozambican prawns” asserting that the dish was absolutely wonderful, I joined her.
At Komba Hari, main courses are cooked before your eyes on a super-heated griddle arrangement. Punters sit at high, but comfortable, stools around a hollow square and every aspect of cooking happens as they watch: the julienning, breaking shells for the egg rice, seasoning meats, fish, and shellfish: chopping, dicing, searing, turning. The sound is of sizzling goodness and the aroma heady. Truly this is part of the living theatre of eating out.
Prawns proved very large (looking like lobster tails!) king-size jobbies still redolent of dhows and fishing smacks at Vilankulos. They were full of the taste of the Indian Ocean, tender, juicy and real mouthfuls. And there were five of them! An awful lot of fishy protein, slathered in lemon-butter sauce which I struggled to finish; Jen had hers with remarkably good well-cooked chips. I had half egg rice with julienned vegetables and half chips.
Between courses, Drag and I tried the salad bar, which was fresh and delicious. Despite knowing how little they’d cost in Beira, given the quality and quantity of the portion and calibre of cooking, the plump, pink, prawns were almost certainly worth every red cent of US$29, served in a five-star hotel 1 000km from the sea.
We were all far too stuffed to even think about desserts, even when chefs from the Harvest Garden, next door, knocked up facsimiles of the Christmas fare which wasn’t available to order earlier and fruit-and-booze rich Christmas pudding and a decadently lavish chocolate were very tempting.
Drag invited me back to the hotel to actually taste the end-of-year food, but I said I doubted I would have time before leaving for the Persian Gulf then on for my own Christmas lunch on an Australian beach. And even if I did make it, these columns were all spoken for until 2013, so readers wouldn’t know what was on offer, anyway!
Hope we have space for photographs of one or two festive items.