I often think to myself, and remark to others, what a thoroughly nice place to eat lunch, brunch, breakfast or afternoon tea is Antique Rose, the chintzy, cottagey, coffee shop within the Golden Stairs Nursery complex off Second Street Extension, roughly where Ashbrittle meets Marlborough and Mount Pleasant, in Harare’s leafy northern suburbs.
Report by Dusty Miller
Readers may recall its predecessor, the award-winning Urban Bliss, and Antique Rose should by rights be high in the honours, if the Zimbabwean Restaurant of the Year challenge is ever resurrected.
Antique Rose is run by a very modern rose. Stacey Attwell, who was at Lomagundi College and, judging by her youthful, Victorian-heroine looks, not too many years ago!
At first sight Antique Rose appears to be a wee bit pricey for a coffee shop but, goodness me, those prices reflect real quality food, precisely judged cooking, professional service, extremely pleasant, peaceful surroundings and overall excellent value for money.
As everything’s freshly cooked, it’s not the ideal place to go if you’ve only 10 minutes to gulp lunch. Nor is it the outlet for the burger and chips greasefest brigade.
The ever changing blackboard menu is excitingly different from run-of-the-mill Zimbo eateries with, for instance, beef and mushroom fillet, oxtail couscous and rabbit stew couscous leaping from the chalk dust to scream Eat Me! All those dishes were US$15 each when I called last week and, unusually, all were still available at a few seconds before 2pm, when I sat down on a brain-broiling hot and humid day. (The car thermometer read 44,7⁰C after being parked for an hour while I ate.)
Two priciest items are sole fillets, which I remembered from a previous visit to the nursery coffee shop as being superb and prawn curry. The sole was possibly the nicest piece of marine fish I’ve eaten in land-locked Zimbabwe in yonks and cost US$20, for two splendid fillets of delicious grilled sole, the delicate flesh of which was white and pearly. It sliced off the bone in two easy movements.
Potatoes were splendidly tasty: quartered, par-boiled then lightly fried and tossed in rosemary and assorted herbs. And there was a salad to leave home for including gorgeous tomatoes, onion, capsicum, ricotta cheese, a ripe fig and sunflower, poppy and mustard seeds, raw and roast garlic cloves amid rocket and mixed leaves.
But on this latest occasion I was in the mood for curry and Antique Rose’s authentically Thai-style coconut prawn curry, ticked all the correct boxes: a very light, gently fruity curry sauce was not strong enough to mask the subtle, delicate flavour of a generous portion of probably king prawns. There was a grand mélange of traditional herbs and spices, of which coriander came over as the strongest. (Apart from an ornamental bit of dried chilli which I accidentally swallowed and certainly quickly knew about! A glass of chilled home-made lemon juice and jug of iced borehole water never disappeared so quickly anywhere!)
Other mains were mainly US$12-US$15: eggplant parmigiana haloumi and fig salad, chicken and mushroom pot pie, spinach and ricotta ravioli, spinach feta quiche, Mediterranean tart and stuffed mushrooms were typical.
The restaurant was packed when I arrived with one huge table of diplomats and sod’s law, several of the waiters and cooks were laid low with flu. Stacey was in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up, slaving over a hot stove, but still managing to look extremely demure.
Where did you learn to cook like this?” I asked Stacey on a previous visit, after learning she baked her own light-as-air cakes (a huge creamy, strawberry-rich slice of Victoria sponge served at the next table was too tempting, I ordered it at US$6), gateaux, breads, biscuits, pastries, pies and much more.
“In my mother’s kitchen,” she said. “My folks were always entertaining on a fairly grand scale on the farm and I watched and helped for as long as I can remember,” she said. “Oh, and I’m an avid viewer of TV cookery programmes.”
She has no formal training in the hospitality sector. Unfamiliar, then, with the term “QBE” (qualified by experience), she seemed pleased with it.
“The farm” was in Raffingora where dad, Chase Attwell (the rally driver and motor sports star) grew sun-hemp and tobacco and raised cattle. Sadly it didn’t survive the lunatic land reform “programme”.
Chase rebuilt the coffee shop, giving it a roof providing welcome shade and Stacey opened for business in September 2010.
Pudding was memorably good: a “flourless” Cape gooseberry frangipani tart bathed in Greek yoghurt at US$6.
There’s an on-site antique shop, she again runs. (The original stock was all bought out by the Chinese!) The up-market, coffee shop almost bursts under a mismatched “rose” theme. Table cloths and overlays are rose-patterned; the (farm) family-sized tea-set was one of Maxwell Williams’ Rose Blooms design; side and serving plates a popular Coalport China set featuring sprays of roses and other garden flowers.
The outlet is airy and surrounded by mature indigenous and exotic trees. An attractive garden pool lay within a few feet of my table and often attracts unwelcome