I HAVE been given various slightly varying versions of the translation of the word Ubuntu (a newish restaurant/coffee shop/art gallery/cultural centre) on Arcturus Road: the most common being “humanity” or perhaps “humanism”.
Whatever: it’s a very promising place. I was particularly impressed because, when I arrived unannounced on Wednesday, the very personable owner, Mercy Mugadza-West, at first apologised because the chef was suffering transport problems and wasn’t there and the Zesa cable had crashed to the ground in a heavy storm 48-hours earlier, so the best she could do for me was coffee and cake.
Tssk, tssk, thought I: more than a little peckish and staring wistfully at an appetising menu I initially felt was a little overpriced.
Having toured the Zen-peaceful gardens photographing some of the impressive statuary I was making notes when Mercy told me, a single-phase was working so if I could hang on she’d have soup of the day ready in five minutes and a “surprise” main course perhaps 10 minutes later.
Multi-skilling personified! She’d rolled up her sleeves and got on with the job.
Mercy told me she was Kadoma-born and had attended Jameson High there. She’d spent more than 10 years in Australia’s business capital, Sydney, running an Afro-themed promotions company involved in fashion, had been married to an Australian and had returned to Zimbabwe – very much bucking the trend – in 2007: when almost everyone else was trying to leave!
I dutifully jotted down all Ubuntu’s prices, shaking my head slightly that most of them “sounded” a wee bit high, compared with similar outlets. (And money is VERY, VERY, tight here currently.)
I will not repeat them here because when we had a chat after lunch, Mercy said she’d come to the same conclusion and we went through her tariff, lopping an odd US$1 here slashing two-bucks or $2,50 there. (Say “thanks, Dusty!”)
Anyway, for an impromptu meal cooked under very trying circumstances in record time, while her little daughter, Malaika (3) was “doing grumpy” (as my own not-quite-three-year-old grand-daughter says), Mercy did splendidly.
Pumpkin and butternut are just about my two least favourite vegetables when served at the side of meat or fish, but they combined to make a rich, herby, very creamy soup, piping hot and deeply intense of flavour. And plenty of it in an arty-crafty rectangular ethnic soup bowl.
It was US$4, I think you’ll now find it’s $3.
An under-described, on the menu, jacket-baked potato with coconut creamy curried chicken, again sounded unnecessarily costly at US$10. However when you saw the size of the spud (King Edward’s are best for baking, but who knows what you buy in Zim?) and tasted subtle Thai-style spices, mainly expensively imported from Uganda, and then bear in mind a small, but tastefully rewarding, Greek salad is “thrown in”, a tenner (now $8, I think) isn’t so bad.
The curry can also be beef steak, fish or vegetarian.
Among other attractions were grilled pepper-mushroom T-bone steak with chips or rice, charcoal grilled soft piri-piri marinated chicken, New York-style beef burgers, pan-fried hake or tilapia fillets, stir-fried beef, chicken or vegetables, spaghetti Bolognaise, Greek, green garden salads as a main course, or salsa.
Puddings include crÃ¨me caramel, banana fritters with caramel sauce, fresh fruit salad.
The restaurant proper opens from 9am-9pm Tuesday to Sunday and on Mondays, coffee/tea and home made cakes are on sale to visitors to the gallery which runs in tandem with the eatery. From yesterday an antique dealer should have moved in and, in the near future, they will offer Shona lessons to non-Shona speakers
They hold poetry nights on Fridays.
The restaurant is not licensed, but clients are welcome to take their own booze and pay a small corkage fee.
I approved of the Zen-peaceful gardens, until I was grazed by mosquitoes seemingly the size of house sparrows, with bites like Tiger fish, and was pleased to move inside to eat in a rustic Afro-centric dining room pleasantly solidly furnished and surrounded with artifacts. High ceilings made it cool on a muggy day.
Another attraction of moving indoors was that they were playing great music. I can usually take (or preferably leave) piped music in eateries, but when it is Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller and the like played at sensible levels, I can take plenty plus.
When Mercy cranked up decibels on a particularly memorable retro New Orleans jazz band with haunting trombone, clarinet and saxophone solos, I was in my element.
Ubuntu, 25 Arcturus Road, Greendale. Tel 481007.
BY DUSTY MILLER