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Food and Travel: Frying, Most Nights, at Fishmonger

ONE thing Fishmonger has in common with its distinguished Hararian pristine piscine predecessor, Pino’s, (apart from the culinary accent being firmly on fish) is a popular misconception that both outlets were rather dear.

Fishmonger is, as far as I’m aware, currently the country’s only eatery almost exclusively dedicated to fish, shellfish and other seafood, riparian and freshwater lake products as, in its heyday, was that former illustrious temple of ambrosial marine fare, Pino’s.

Shut my eyes and I can still taste Sicilian Pino’s retro prawn cocktails, his roll mops, seafood pasta, shrimp omelettes, Lake Malawi chambo and Nile perch (two kings –– or emperors –– of freshwater fish.)

Pino’s was at the top of what is now Kwame Nkrumah (nee Union) Avenue at the heart of the CBD, near the junction with San Nujoma Street. Fishmonger is on East Road in the leafy Avondale suburb.

I went there for lunch last Thursday and wondered if I could actually get in: the over-the-road car-park being pom-pom full of late model pearl-coloured 4WDs and big black and navy Mercs.  My bashed little clunker looked well out of place.

I remembered (too late) that the last time I went there was with the late “Bloody” Mary Cosgrove on a quiet mid-afternoon and, although eyebrows almost reached the crown of my skull, I reluctantly accepted the redhead’s tip that we each order hake from the children’s menu.

Neither of us was starving. It was before the most severe days of “the shortages” and we hadn’t reached the stage when you ate everything before you, because you weren’t sure when or where the next meal was coming from.

The kiddies’ hake portion proved more than adequate.

I wished I had recalled that session earlier on Thursday, because the adult helping of hake (two enormous fillets, golden, crispy, beer-battered) with  a generous portion of good chips and substantial side salad after an allegedly ‘small” Greek salad starter, served with an excellent crusty roll, was slightly over-facing.

I partly resolved that by taking about two-thirds of the Greek salad home in a “doggy-bag”!

The meal as described, and as good as anything you would get on the Natal coast, in Mozambique, in a classy British sit-down chippy or in a Florida seafood specialists was $22, including two delightfully chilled Bohlinger lager cans and filter coffee.

It is only on typing that, and consulting the bill, I realise they forgot to charge for Maria pudding: a trademark sweet with whipped condensed milk, crushed Tennis biscuits, fresh fruits and granadilla pulp. That should have been $4, as are all puddings; chocolate mousse is especially good.

I do like hake, which is among the world’s most under-rated sea fish and is actually despised in the Disunited Kingdom, for some reason.

As far as I’m aware hake stocks are totally sustainable, unlike cod, haddock, halibut, turbot and plaice, all popular Mud Island fish suppers and mostly on the verge of extinction.

It is a pity restaurant reviews largely  –– certainly in southern Africa –– are based on a single critical visit; I would have dearly loved to try other items:

Among starters these would include three different presentations of mussels; grilled or fried calamari and Portuguese sardines at $7. Restaurant partner Butch Culverwell tells me that by far and away the most popular appetiser is garlic prawns (also $7) as is “LM” (surely not the politically incorrect Lourenco Marques?) prawn cocktail, same price!

Fish, prawn and vegetable soup sounds delightful at $5; the day I called the ubiquitous cream of butternut soup was potage de la jour at a buck less.

I sat on the broad shady stoep enjoying a slight breeze across sylvan gardens on a hot, muggy day. Almost every table was taken, many by captains of industry or diplomats. Nearby, a Zimbabwe senator entertained a former Zimbabwean Businesswoman of the Year.

Prawn mains looked superb, the crustaceans resembling langoustines or even crayfish or lobster from where I sat. Queens are $3 each, kings $4, tiger mediums $5 each and tiger giants $5/100g.

Combination dishes are now hugely popular in Zimbabwe (presumably with people who can’t decide!)  a combo of thee queen prawns, half portion of calamari and chips and rice was $16; medium-sized sole and half a calamari $23; a small sole, two queens and ½ calamari $19.

If you’ve never tried calamari (or squid) steak, you’ve a treat in store. It’s a dish you will battle to find even at the coast, but Fishmonger has it, with Portuguese or garlic sauce, at $15; conventional calamari (grilled or fried) is $13.

Prawn curry is $18, calamari curry $16, prawn AND calamari $17, fish kebab or seafood paella $15. Whole bream $10, grilled trout $12 and grilled kingklip fillet $17.  Line fish of the day was butterfish (I can’t stand it!) at $14.

It’s not all a fishy story, though. Steaks are $13/$14; LM baby chicken $10. The day I went, Portuguese-style white tripe (who cooks English-style white tripe and onions on creamy mash?) was a blackboard special at $12.

There is a sensibly priced not over-condescending children’s menu and, after grazing fish fingers etc, they can play safely in the garden. The kids’ hake-and-chips plastter I should have ordered was $7.

There is an impressive wine list (mainly well-known labels from the Cape) and a wide choice of canned lager and bottled cider.

The restaurant shuts Mondays and as soon as the Sunday lunch crowd finally disperses; (no one’s chased away); otherwise it’s open lunch and supper daily.

Fishmonger, 50 East Road, Avondale. Tel 308164


Dusty Miller

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