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Mandarin West re-appears (in the north!)

I’m often asked why I “never” write about take-aways, especially as they now seem to flourish at every street corner and almost each garage forecourt in the country. (And almost every thoroughfare, sanitary lane, footpath and vlei is ankle-deep in the un-biodegradable polystyrene afterbirth of this so-called convenience food. Surely this material should be banned?)

Opinion by Dusty Miller

Well first, it’s not true. I have — although infrequently — written about takeaways, usually non-gushingly, mainly because I’m not the greatest fan of Nando’s, Chicken Inn, Chicken Slice, Chicken S**t or the Happy Huku type of deep-fat fried food and I hate queuing for graze.

I also detest paying through the nose for grub and the cost of (say) a single packet of chips in most takeaway outlets is outrageous, vis-a-vis quality and quantity and what potatoes actually cost in bulk, wholesale.

I look forward with amused bemusement to the re-launch of KFC [Kentucky Fried Chicken] in this country. It is highly regarded in most countries where they operate, but the first franchisee here sold absolute super fat, salt and sugar-saturated rubbish.

Now a reputable franchisee is on the scene. First outlet to open will be at the 2nd Street Extension garage, Belgravia, which will be a million laughs because there’s already grossly insufficient parking for the Chicken Inn/Baker’s Inn/Creamy Inn Food Court there and Adrienne’s Restaurant: A dire and dangerous situation made even worse when Reps Theatre plays to packed houses.

I often use Redan fuel coupons at Chisipite or Msasa because you frequently can’t get near the pumps at 7th Street/ Samora Machel due to the chattering classes clamouring for cartons of carryout cholesterol at the oddly named Chicken Slice/Creamy Slices etc. How can you have a slice of ice-cream?

I’d heard good things about a Chinese takeaway (or eat-in) in the new sector of Borrowdale Village which sounded as if it were on the site of the former Patty’s Kitchen. It was and I’ll long regret never having tried Patty’s pastries and pies, all of which got thumbs up from pals who are respected gastronomic deep-throats of mine.

Mandarin West rang a bell deep in the human computer and on checking the HP Compaq electronic equivalent’s memory I confirmed I’d written good things about a restaurant of the same name which flourished briefly at Westgate.

Westgate was a major victim of the lunatic land grabs. It was designed and planned to serve the affluent farming communities of Mashonaland West, travelling in and out of the capital from Banket, Chinhoyi, Karoi, Darwendale, Trelawney, Doma, Tengwe. Once there were no farmers, there was no justification for a multi-million dollar shopping mall. One shop, supermarket, restaurant, café, cinema shut after the other; it was a ghost town within months.

Mandarin was also the name of one of two excellent pre- and immediately post-independence Chinese restaurants in what is now Robert Mugabe Road, where I spent countless happy MSG-filled hours in the 1970s and early 1980s. (Bamboo Inn was the other… the owner was murdered; it never re-opened.) There are now almost no conventional standalone restaurants in the capital’s city centre!

Mandarin West proved as good as I remember its first floor ghost town predecessor: Prices very reasonable, portions remarkably generous, service friendly and efficient, the place spotless.

Popular items on an attractive hygienic wipe-down laminated menu included beef: and broccoli with oyster sauce at US$7 and beef chow mein a dollar dearer. Sweet and sour pork with rice is US$6.

For just US$9 I had a wonderfully intense but mild — typical Cantonese-style cooking — prawn curry and rice featuring lots of plump, pink, well-cooked (not rubbery) crustaceans, out of shell in a herbs-and-spices rich chestnut-coloured sauce.

The dish provided an interestingly light after-burn on palate and tongue, partially assuaged by a can of Sprite (US$1). I ate sitting at a rustic bench beside a beautifully designed and maintained babbling water garden under tiled mosaics depicting Mozambican beach scenes.

Special dishes if you’re really hungry, or for a couple, include fried rice and noodles with chicken, beef, vegetables and sweet and sour pork or chicken at US$11 for a large helping or US$8 small.

This is just what I’ve been saying and writing Harare was lacking in its ever-growing number of Chinese restaurants serving a burgeoning number of Chinese immigrants (and local fans of their food). A similar speciality offers mushrooms instead of veg, US$12/$9 respectively.

Although banana fritters were on the menu (US$1), they weren’t available, so I went next door to Antonio’s, which is also (a principally gourmet Mediterranean) takeaway with outdoor sit-down facility shared with the Chinese operation.

Needing a mid-day sugar boost to get through an afternoon chained to my computer, I had a very fine, deeply rich, large cup of creamy cappuccino coffee and “ice-cream”, which proved a wonderful eating experience even if it was, prosaically, only a lollipop.

But this lolly (Magnum, I think) was brownie-flavoured chocolate, covered in thick milk chocolate, studded with crunchy hazelnuts. I assume the one was US$2 and the other US$3 as bottom line was a fiver. (I’ve already handed in receipts as I’m off to Australia via the Gulf for Christmas/New Year and need every, cent, penny, dirham I can scrape up for the trip!)
I wish readers a blessed Christmas and everything they’d hope for themselves in the New Year. The Standard will not appear on December 30, so my next review will be on January 6. I’m back in Ha-ha-ha-rare in mid-January.

Dusty’s “What’s On Diary” will also take a short break.

Totsiens! God Bless!

  • dustym@zimind.co.zw

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