HOLIDAY weekends are certainly not the best times to eat out in Harare.
For some extraordinary reason many of our stand-alone family-run restaurants choose to close at the very time they should be in peak demand!
Sure, Kariba, Victoria Falls, the Eastern Districts and the Mozambican coast resorts are packed with Hararians, but at the same time the Zimbabwean capital has an influx of visitors from “up country”, South Africa and overseas.
The good thing about holidays is that the hotel-based restaurants always operate and usually log solid business as they tend to be central and diners-out can rely on a meal there when a long trek to favourite suburban eateries may well end up a waste of time as the outlets, and indeed often the whole shopping complex, are in darkness.
I have made it clear several times in these columns that the Silver Spur Steak Ranch at the Holiday Inn is by no means my idea of excellence, although I keep hoping for a Damascene conversion.
When it is busy it features wall-to-wall ankle biters, over-eating often unsuitable food and when the kids are out in strength it is almost impossible to be served as every waiter has to leave the table he is serving every few minutes to congregate round some 10-year-old, singing Happy Birthday to You in English, Shona or Ndebele.
The very absence of many – if any – children on Tuesday night, fairly late as we journalists had slaved away at our PCs just as on any other working day was noted with a sense of relief.
Not for the first time, I was at a Zimbabwean Spur where staff outnumbered punters.
But, sadly, that doesn’t mean you will have undivided attention!
In fact there was no one ostensibly meeting, greeting or seating when I strode into the brightly lit faux-Western eating area, blinking to find that despite it being hard to locate a car-parking slot, the Spur and its attached bar were almost empty.
I chose a bench in the same area as a quartet of diners, a Japanese couple and two locals assuming, as they were presumably being dealt with, a waiter would stumble upon me before long. It was also as far away from a cold blast of air as I could get.
Their “waitron” was female, dressed like a garage forecourt attendant in blue denims, polo shirt, trainers and baseball cap. She totally ignored me: not so much as a smile or even a raised eyebrow indicating I’d been seen.
There looked to be a management meeting going on. Goodness knows what they discussed, certainly not: “Welcoming the Client!”
It was just before 8pm when I walked in and 8:09 when a rather tacky, sticky, laminated menu was plonked on the table by a male waiter. I cannot identify him, as there was none of the usual: “Hello, my name is ….(whatever: usually endorsed by a name badge) and I’ll be your waiter tonight. The special is….I can highly recommend…..and I’m terribly sorry, but we’ve had a run on…which is temporarily out of stock.”
No, the sullen youth dumped the tariff of fare. I didn’t note the time he took my order, but having assured me calamari was available, he returned at 8:25 with the predictable tidings that the selected starter was not, indeed, “on” but made no effort to suggest an alternative.
I told him to forget it and instead had a help-yourself salad which proved rather tired, disappointingly tasteless and a bit pricey at $3 for a single small side plate full.
The Japanese man’s guests had to pay cash for their meal as the waitress simply shrugged when offered a clutch of international credit or debit cards which would be gladly, willingly and enthusiastically accepted anywhere between Abu Dhabi and Zululand, with the obvious exception of Zimbabwe, still an international pariah, when it comes to banking.
Customer-wise, the place was now as dead as a Zanu PF branch meeting, but waiters, waitresses, cooks, the receptionist (invisible when I arrived) and sundry sweepers and bottle washers bellowed at each other cheerfully.
Pork chops were acceptable, although I’m not potty about the gloopy over-sweet barbecue sauce I had forgotten they splash over most meats there. Baked potato was the chosen starch, and two rather small examples were served with onion “rings” which proved unidentifiable scraps of deep fried vegetable. I retained a smidgen of side salad to offset protein and carbs.
There were plenty of carbs in a pudding: described as apple pie. It was more like a crumble which I felt should have been warmed before serving with a soupÃ§on of ice-cream at a fairly hefty $5. That would be dear in the States or the UK; there’s no way you would get away with charging R40 for it “Down South”.
With the salad I had a single slice of very bland bread and a smear of margarine from foil-wrapped packet. The amazing disappearing waiter had removed the side plate and crumbs with the only knife on the table: a razor-sharp serrated edged steak job, I’d used for spreading.
I had to go look for him in order to cut the chops he’d dumped, then fled. It turned out that instead of working sensible “stations” (two, three or more tables fairly close together), he was looking after me and what he called “a big party” about as far away as possible from my seat.
I battled to get a bill. When I did it was for $24, which included two local beers and guess what? At after 9:27 (when I lost my temper with the fly-by-night waiter, demanding my account at the till) they allegedly had no change for $25. They swore blind there was not a single $1 greenback in the place.
Dismay was tangible when I asked for my $5 note back, replacing it with four singles.Â I was simply not tipping for poor service, lack of interest, no supervision and a definite deficit of TLC.
As I stuffed the receipt away, I let out an involuntary guffaw on noticing that the reverse of it carries the slogan: “Thank You. Food is our Passion.”
A likely story!
BY DUSTY MILLER