It was the 60th birthday thrash of my oldest surviving pal in Africa, Angus Shaw who heads Associated Press here.
“Goose” and I met years ago in a low tavern in Bulawayo; he a very reluctant conscript to the Rhodesian Army doing basic training at Llewellin. I’d been in the country about five minutes, subbing on the Bulawayo Chronicle.
He gave me a story about a rookie’s life in the army which nearly got him shot at dawn and almost had me PI’d. We’ve been muckers since.
He’s survived many African wars and conflicts; I was one of a few who didn’t believe he’d been torn to pieces by an outraged mob of Muslim fundamentalists in Somalia.
He was on assignment there; an AP guy was brutally murdered. But it was Angus’ German photographer (and other hacks) who died bloodily in the “Blackhawk Down” incident.
Goose’s party ran from noon to midnight, attracting a very gregarious –– to some extent picaresque –– bunch of invitees. Splendid food came well down in priority after a record-taking/record-breaking upstairs bar overlooking the picturesque cricket grounds, scratchy authentic vinyl LPs of the swinging, hippy 60s and meeting old (some, sadly, very old now) friends!
On Monday night I called at Sports Club to say thanks for the invite and open-handed hospitality and post-mortem the party.
The Keg and Maiden next door is nothing to do with the club catering but it was open, serving food late on a night when we’d had no Zesa or borehole water since 5am. (We’ve had no municipal water since 2007!) We were to be without electricity (again) until the Thursday.
Due to my restaurant reviews, I’ve been banned from both Kegs for life (twice!), but when I popped my head around the door to check what time last orders were, all staff were apparently new.
The once hugely popular establishment was almost cavernously, echoingly, empty. I booked a table for 9, returning to the club’s Red Lion Bar (facetiously known as Le Leone Rouge) for a good gum-bashing.
Keg prices once were stratospherically high. For instance, I recall having perfectly agreeable sausage and mash in Barbour’s silver service tearooms at $150 000 (at the beginning of hyper-inflation) when a candidly not as good similar plateful at Borrowdale’s Keg three days later was $530 000. Drinks were also dreadfully dear.
Dollarisation seems to have changed that. Had I been less hungry, the starter course of calamari would probably have been sufficient. Oddly served in bite-size chunks, instead of the usual “rings” or steaks, the portion was huge (for an appetiser) especially as it came (again, oddly, I thought) with a mountain of yellow rice and a separate bowl of a pleasantly piquant tartare sauce at $6.
(Best calamari in Harare at the moment is Mama Mia’s.)
I ordered eisbein, the usually very meaty German pickled pork knuckle dish, traditionally accompanied by sauerkraut and sat nursing a local lager in keen anticipation.
Background music was deplorable and far too loud, echoing throughout the barn of a place, in which three youngsters played pool upstairs and a table of six ate “something” with their fingers.
Two loners sat at the bar. Apparently unsupervised staff vastly outnumbered punters.
My waiter said the eisbein was “not very good tonight”, which merits a big tick for honesty, so I changed to similar “comfort food” oxtail and mash.
It certainly looked alright: four apparently enormous lumps of dead mombe’s tail and tasted fine, just falling off the bone.
But there wasn’t an awful lot of nyama left when bone and gristle were separated. (To be fair there rarely is!) Potatoes were first rate as were caramelised onions and rich, thick gravy.
But accompanying vegetables of (predictably) courgettes and carrots could have done with another minute on the boil; the dish screamed for butter beans in the sauce and some good garden peas.
Oxtail cost $10, whereas eisbein was $15. Steaks and grills are $10-$15, pies $8-$10, burgers $6-$9; bangers and mash, liver and onions or steak, egg and chips $9; fish, chips and salad $12.
There were only two puddings listed, and — thankfully –– the grotesquely named Death by Chocolate was “off”. Jock’s Pride proved three medium-sized scoops of vanilla ice-cream, slathered in what had once been hot chocolate and caramel sauce. Unmemorable, but quite edible, the cost was $4 (in my notebook: they seem to have overlooked it on the bill.)
Two canned lagers were $1,50 each.The coffee machine was “down”, which I think it was the last time I ate there (and was subsequently barred — again –– when the critique appeared!)
I hear on good authority the Miller clan, (no relation), is giving up the Zimbabwean Keg franchise. Ironic as it was a move I suggested years ago, when apologists for the group blamed sky-high prices on the South African franchiser’s standard tariffs, plus the costs of royalties.
An additional irony is the Kegs struggled through the bad old days, but just as things might be going right, they throw in the towel, as possibly their major regional franchised opposition, O’Hagan’s so-called Irish pubs, are steaming into Harare with all guns firing.
Keg & Maiden, Harare Sports Club, 5th Street. Open seven days a week, lunch and supper. Tel 700037