Having tried out the brand new Highlands restaurant, Maestro, on readers’ behalf, I was about to write: “third time lucky?” in reviewing it.
Eating out with Dusty Miller
Then I remembered that at some stage, probably between the Season’s and La Serenata regimes, an Indian restaurant with the Chinese-sounding name of Golden Bamboo apparently briefly traded on this prime two-hectare plot at the junction of Enterprise Road and Ridgeway South. Making it fourth time lucky?
I typed “apparently” because it came and went so quickly that I never got a chance to sample its offerings.
Season’s I liked, because it moved from Glen Lorne (where the currently Chinese-owned Gecko Gardens is) and the substantial double-storey brick building was purpose-designed and built for the daughter of the Season’s (Glen Lorne) operation and her husband, Gabriel Ettling.
My own daughter’s wedding reception had been at Glen Lorne and she was sad it was (then) closed on her last trip “home” but consoled when given lunch at its successor and was shown round the premises after which she declared that they had the best professional kitchens she’d ever seen.
The Ettlings left to farm in Mozambique; the place traded on as Season’s; then there was an interregnum, before it re-opened as La Serenata, with my good friend Lauren Pile (ex-Green Bean at the former Richard Rennie art gallery) in charge. Sadly that went the way of all flesh soon after Lauren returned from the UK with the brand new baby she wanted so much.
After many months of standing empty (during which, rumours suggested a bank was to take over the property) Maestro roared into life about 10 days ago.
Well, roared perhaps isn’t the best word, because owners, Bill and Ben (no, not the Flowerpot Men!) but Nyaumwe, had a comparatively soft opening, inviting about 100 suppliers to dinner on Day One.
I happened to be driving past, with time on my hands, on Day Three and whipped in for a late al fresco lunch in what has always been a stunning garden. I sat under a shade tree which (I discovered later) dropped twigs, leaves, petals and odd bits of wriggly insect life into my hair!
Ben Nyaumwe (the family’s from Nyanga district, but he’s been running restaurants in South Africa for decades) told me they planned to specialise in cocktails and he’s imported two ex-Zimbo highly professional mixologists from Down South along with executive chef Graham… wait for it… Pengapenga!
Was Graham mad for coming back? I mused on ordering the Miller equivalent of a cocktail: an icily cold Golden Pilsener Lager and frosty Sprite lemonade to make a refreshing, thirst-quenching beer shandy! Local beers are US$3, imported US$4 and “mixers” US$2.
Most vodkas, canes, brandies, rums and gins are US$2 or US$3 but the ultra-smooth Grey Goose French vodka (I was at the Zim launch recently at Mekkah in Borrowdale) was US$5 a tot as was Belvedere, a brand with which I’m not familiar.
Many Scotch whiskies and Irish whiskeys cost US$3 a tot, but a hopelessly misspelt Glenmorangie was US$6 and a similarly mangled Glenlivet 12-year-old was US$8, the 21-year-old US$30, a shot. The menu writer has managed to correctly spell Glenfiddich but a tot of their superbly smoky 18-year-old will set you back US$18. Not being much of a spirits drinker, I omitted to discover whether 25ml or 35ml optics are used. (That makes a big difference!)
They have a good range of South African wines on opening special at US$15. But I felt US$30 for Fat Bastard Chardonnay, US$40 for Fat Bastard Shiraz and US$70 for a small range of Chilean wines rather top heavy for a Zimbabwe in nose-diving recession, with at least 88% unemployment. I told Ben so, but got the impression the brothers are aiming for the very top percentage of the lucky 12% who have a salary (and a good expense account!)
“Food, people and music” is Maestro’s slogan. Quite a few people were there, given that only word-of-mouth had announced the fact that they were open. I couldn’t hear any music in the garden (which, perhaps needs rectifying) but picked up Frank (Old Blue Eyes) Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald (The First Lady of Song), both of whom have the Miller seal-of-approval, on checking the breathtakingly well stocked plush cocktail bar, a huge improvement on the sort of afterthought- in- the-corridor pub which was the previous owners’ idea of a comfortable drinking spot.
Indoors, are huge wallpaper murals based on sepia photographs of a concert orchestra and much of the seating is rather ornate (but comfy) Indonesian sofas, settees and banquettes. There’s a selection of silver Middle Eastern hookah pipes (hubble-bubble) in which a non-tobacco molasses-based non-addictive concoction called shisha is smoked through cooling water. Perhaps 30 years after I gave up tobacco, I gingerly accepted one of these, with hygienic disposable mouthpiece, in a picaresque nightclub in Sharm-el-Sheikh. Will they take off in Highlands, I wonder.
Tables outdoors seemed a little too high for the chairs and I felt a bit like a schoolboy as I perused the simple but packed menu of what Ben and chef Pengapenga call comfort food. Breakfast is served from 8am until 2:30pm. There sounded to be quite a few items unavailable on the lunch menu, which seemed odd when this was only the third day of trading and virtually everything is now procurable (at a cost) in a US$ denominated Zimbabwe.
The menu clearly stated that fried haloumi salad (US$6) came with iceberg lettuce leaves, cherry tomatoes, onion and cucumber, but, perversely, I was disappointed that was the only rabbit food surrounding the rich deep-fried Greek cheese. I wanted red, green and yellow peppers, olives, grated carrot, radish, avocado pear, maybe beetroot, etc, and how about a sweet chili dipping sauce for the rich cheese?
From the “Something Light” section, I also fancied smoked salmon on crostini at US$14. Vegetable springs rolls (US$4) were “off” as were beef carpaccio rolls at US$6. Grilled calamari with chips (US$8) didn’t sound particularly light to me, as I wanted a main course afterwards.
And for mains I had an extremely reasonably priced linguine “scampi” at just US$14: A great steaming bowlful of slippery well-cooked linguine (little tongues in Italian) pasta into which several good-sized prawns with garlic, lemon, olive oil, tomato salsa and an intriguingly under-stated chili element had been tossed.
Scampi is in quotes because, by culinary definition, the seafood involved should be Norwegian lobster, Dublin Bay prawns or langoustines and I’m pretty sure these tasty little cockroaches-of-the-seas will have come from Mozambique!
Other main include kingklip fillets at US$18 and a range of 200g sirloin steaks with various sauces at US$14-US$16. These are combatively cheap and cheerful prices for sound cooking, nice presentation, swift, slick, pleasant service, generous portions, in idyllic surroundings. (Notwithstanding the rather pedestrian salad.)
Only two of five listed puddings were “on”. I detest most cheesecakes and, guess what? the ice-cream and chocolate sauce came with strawberry sauce instead, but was light, cooling and refreshing at US$4. “Bottomless” tea or filter coffee is US$2.
Maestro, 146, Enterprise Road, Highlands, Harare. Cell (Ben) 0777 284 634. Open daily from 8am breakfast; kitchen closes 10:30pm. Fully licensed. Dining indoors or outside inn beautiful garden. Smoking/no smoking plus non-tobacco Arabic pipes. Nice background music. Live music in the garden on family Sundays. Safe parking on-site. Guarded road-side parking when busy.