It was buzz and excitement all the way at The Centurion restaurant in Harare when we had lunch there on December 31, with people setting up a stage and other amenities for the new year’s event celebration later that day. As we dined, there was movement and activity aplenty, and it looked as though this was going to be one of the highlight venues of that night’s celebrations in the city.
It was hot and sunny, so eating out on the veranda, overlooking the cricket ground and all the creative activity going on, was pleasant.
It was my first experience of this popular venue, which many colleagues and friends rave about, among them my predecessor on this page, Dusty Miller. The Centurion is run by Lance Nettleton in the main building of Harare Sports Club, but one of the misperceptions about the place needs to be dispelled: you do not have to be a member of the club to dine there; it is open to the public and when we were there, many of the diners were indeed casual visitors.
The Centurion is, in fact, a pub and grill rather than a straightforward restaurant, so the dining is exactly as one would expect from a venue where the drinks are as big a drawcard – if not bigger – than the food. The menu is extensive and there’s a buffet choice at lunchtime from Monday to Saturday, the latter with no fewer than 15 choices of meat and vegetables.
The buffet itself was set on the veranda and guests made their choices from the array, and my guest decided this would be the source of her lunch. Diners pay only $4 for the buffet, definitely one of the real bargain meals in town. Choice from the meats is a maximum of two, but portions are sizeable. My guest declared the meal very enjoyable and thought the sauces of the meats were well above average.
I selected a main course of pork chops with mashed potato, served with a tangy and tasty sauce and a selection of vegetables. This was good and is a dish that must go down well with the beer drinkers at the pub – good portion size and great value for money at $12. For dessert we both had the only choice: ice cream and chocolate sauce, once again a good portion and at $4 good value. I assume very few diners there seek out a dessert, which is why the choice is a Hobson’s one.
The venue is open daily for breakfast and diners can assemble a dish of their own selection, choosing from the huge number of options, each costed individually.
For lunch and dinner – and as a pub and grill venue, obviously at other times, too – there are choices aplenty. Starters are priced in the $5 and $6 range and include crumbed calamari, chicken livers and “tato” skins. There are five different salads to choose from, including a side salad; the latter is $2,50 while the others, which can serve as stand-alone meals, are $6 and $7.
Diners can also assemble their own basket or platter, with choices that include ribs ($8 or $16, depending on size), crumbed hake, prawns, crumbed calamari (prawns only $5,50) and a range of snack-type offerings, which includes vegetarian options. Sauces are also varied and can be selected according to diners’ own wants. Also on the menu were burgers (chicken, ribs, bacon and beef) and these can be combined by choice with a range of accompaniment, including chips, and sauces.
Pizzas include a selection of five different basic types, which can once again be assembled with selected toppings. Light meals include chicken wraps, chilli con carne and nachos (vegetarian, chicken or chill beef), in the region of $11. Hot dogs, boerewors rolls, rump steak rolls and tasted sandwiches feature on the menu, with sauces and accompaniments to choose from …from fried egg to blue cheese.
A bar snacks section highlighted pies, Scotch eggs, samosas, muffins, chocolate cake and sponge cake.
So it looks as though even regulars need not have the same meal twice, unless they really like what they have had, and a few of the regulars have told me they enjoy choice when out for a ‘dining’ night and stick to the old favourites and easy choices when out on ‘drinking’ nights.
As far as activity is concerned it seems The Centurion has a calendar of variety: Tuesday is quiz night, while Thursday is karaoke night. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights are music nights, with a DJ in attendance, while Sundays have an emphasis on music, too – I suspect the latter is a family day. There’s a whisky lounge on site, set up separately from the indoor dining room, the main bar and the veranda area, and I understand that here folk get a VIP experience!
Lance told us the venue is open daily from 9am to the “wee hours” and the trade includes more than a few regulars, which must be a compliment to the dining and ambience aspects. He’s keen for more people to try it out, and I can heartily recommend this to diners who like a venue with activity and action all around them; I suspect quiet dining moments may be few and far between, although Lance said there are quieter times during the week.
The restaurateurs and hoteliers grouping will be dining here in the first half of 2016, and I am sure they will select lunch on the veranda. When there’s international cricket at HSC, the veranda is packed, and there’s a cover charge to get into the HSC grounds; this does not apply at other times, of course.
Many readers will remember the venue that was the predecessor to The Centurion – it was the Keg and Maiden, also a popular spot for many regulars. Since dining at The Centurion, a number of people have commented that they did not know the Keg was gone, but Lance tells me his operation had been in place for a number of years!
The Centurion Pub and Grill, Harare Sports Club (entrance on Fifth Street). Tel (04) 700037 for information and reservations. A pleasant and attractive venue, with value for money meals and a buzzy ambience. Good for family dining.
Feedback from readers continues to come in, most recently with this piece from Harare: “I am an avid follower of your articles, as they give me an overview of the different eating places around Zimbabwe and I am a frequent traveller. I have noted with great concern the lack of pay point machines for paying for meals. It seems as though we are having an IT boom as a country, yet most of our restaurants are fixed on good, old-fashioned cash transactions! I find this disheartening, especially as we seek foreign visitors who don’t carry cash on them, let alone being able to find a decent ATM from which to withdraw cash.” Perhaps restaurants would like to comment?
*Don’t forget to let us have your comments and suggestions about dining in Zimbabwe, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org with these and also with feedback on restaurants you like or don’t like – and reasons!