I RECENTLY visited arguably the most popular Italian-style Mediterranean restaurant in Zimbabwe. I had had yet another power-cut, and found that once again Zesa had also deprived Newlands of electricity, but discovered that Mama Mia’s owners are much better organised than I am.
You could scarcely hear the hum of the potent generator powering lights, fridges, deep-freezers, cold rooms and stoves. It did not work the overhead space heaters though and, being a particularly bitterly cold night, I moved indoors and away from any draughts.
Nowadays I call up a few crits of the restaurant to be reviewed so as to refresh my memory of who’s who at the zoo and compare prices. Wow! Meals that were $1,1 million (of the old money) in July 2006 by May 2008 were around $2,1 billion (of the new money: equivalent, of course, to $2,1 trillion of the old loot!)
But that did not put off a roomful of bon-vivants and it certainly didn’t take the edge off my sharp appetite, thoroughly honed by the Antarctic-type gale buffeting the dorp.
Mama Mia’s minestrone soup is always to die for. I believe Tsisiana, the formidable lady lunchtime chef, oversees the ever bubbling stockpot of goodness. It was chock full of nourishment with thick mixed vegetables, pasta, herbs and spices in a robust meaty broth, topped by the kitchen with crisp garlic croutons and by me with lots of Parmesan, soon turning gorgeously glutinous and runny in the piping hot
The restaurant no longer serves bread, which is difficult to get consistently in spite of the “Mother of All Agricultural Seasons” with its bumper crop of blackjacks! I feel it’s a mistake not to even try to find the staff of life. Most customers agree. Most members of “The Trade” don’t!
Soup was $600 million; heavenly carpaccio: finely sliced raw beef, mozzarella cheese and juicy tomatoes (a dish created at Harry’s Bar, Venice for a countess medically advised to eat only raw meat) $1billion, as was deep-fried Greek Haloumi cheese.
I always find it amusing that possibly the country’s most successful Italian eatery is run by a Greek husband-Afrikaner wife team and
their Zimbo-born son, but Tsisiana is as Italian as Chianti, or the
Leaning Tower! Piri-piri chicken livers were $900 million whilst salads were from $900 million to $1,2 billion.
Nine out of 10 times on visiting Mama Mia’s I simply ask for a small bowl of whatever they think the day’s best pasta is and I am never disappointed. Spaghettis and pennes, raviolis, lasagnas and cannellonis ran from $1, 5 billion to $2, 4
However, ravenous on this freezing night, I fancied Tuscany pork chops: three medium-sized, medium-thick slabs of the finest nguruve, from Guruve, seared and char-grilled to perfection after being marinated in, and basted with, a secret sauce that has been in the Kalamatas family generations.
It came with a minor snowdrift of creamy soft light mashed potatoes, with a mere hint of herbs folded in the mashing and good, tasty, slightly crunchy but not quite al dente, vegetables: cauliflower, broccoli and carrots.
This dish cost $3 billion, which at first sounds a bit odd when fillet steak was $2,85 billion, but most people need a sauce on delightfully tender but usually comparatively insipid fillet, another $450 million: making it $3,3 billion in all. Char-grilled piri-piri or lemon and herb chicken was $2,4 billion.
If you like very rich food, try beef involtini: export quality fillet, rolled and stuffed with ham and cheese then grilled or baked: the “mombe” world’s equivalent of chicken cordon-bleu, at $3,45 billion. Non-pasta mains come with chips, mash, baked or roast potatoes, or rice, and seasonal vegetables.
Always check the restaurant’s specials blackboard. Of course…I forgot to do so before ordering. Rack of spare ribs was $3 billion, trio of pork fillet (different sauces on three different cuts) $3,3 billion; pasta Alfredo is now a “special” because it is almost impossible to source mushrooms these days: $2,1bn; hake or “kalamari” (and proprietor’s son George Kalamatas, running the joint, konsistently klaims his kalamari is kooked kompletely kompetently!) were $3,6 billion; “small” T-bones (about 350g!) $2,85 billion; kingklip $4,2 billion, king prawns $4,5
I ended with a refreshingly piquant healthy fresh fruit salad which was $900 million because it only comprised apple, orange and fresh cream – it sadly lacked colour.
At that stage Zesa switched the allegedly posh end of Harare back on for a while. Candidly, I should have dashed home to re-charge my laptop, but, with George treating himself to a well-earned tumbler of good Scotch, girlfriend, daytime number cruncher and evening meeter, greeter and seater, ex-Kariba girl Tamryn Attwell, to a cola and myself to a Pilsener, we settled back to discuss Manchester United’s chances against Chelsea in Moscow the next night.
Frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn about soccer! But Tamryn’s very easy on the eye!