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Eatingout: Ups and downs at Gaby’s

IT was several years since my last visit to Gaby’s –– an Italian-type bistro in Travel Plaza, Mazowe Street.

I’m unsure why — other than vaguely remembering feeling queasy after enjoying splendid pasta and making the mistake of visiting the appalling adjoining communal toilets.
I returned on Friday having been unable to find the exact location of a much-vaunted newcomer to Harare’s dining out scene: Vanilla Moon. It was not in the street described, roughly where Avondale abuts Alex Park and Mount Pleasant (it may be in the next one!)
I thought I’d check out Mojo, the former Bloom Manor (ex-Haddow House) in East Road. It focuses on wedding receptions and small conferences judging by signage. Run by the ultra-efficient Julie Webb, who left the general manager’s job at Imba Matomba/Gecko Gardens/Arnaldo’s to enter business on her own, it should be worth trying. Julie used to be GM at Leopard Rock, Vumba.
However, I took a wrong turning, after perilous chaos at the robots!
I was in Mazowe Street and hungry; so we’re now at Gaby’s!
The restaurant –– like, indeed, the whole shopping plaza –– was severely under-patronised. It was often said in the good-old/bad-old days that diners out and drinkers in this country (which come to think of it wasn’t then this country!) didn’t patronise premises in basements, attics or arcades.
Very wrong: Maison Nick in the cellar at Warnborough Mansions, Bulawayo was a Swiss-run triple Restaurant of the Year winner.  The Rhodes Room and Vista Bar on the top floors of the (then) Bulawayo Sun were hugely successful (it’s now the Bulawayo Rainbow) and drinks and snacks in another Vista Bar at Vic Falls Casino Hotel/Makasa Sun, watching a blood-red sun apparently drop into the Zambezi, was an unforgettable experience, which can’t be reprised at successor, The Kingdom.
Here in Harare, Pink Panther, followed by Front Page in Linquenda House arcade, were the only two outlets to have flourished on that site. A couple of doors away, Mokador was massively patronised in a first floor position (it’s still there but struggles.) It could take a week to get a table at Dublin Carvery on the roof of Fife Avenue shopping mall. Despite its name, you climbed stairs to the bar of The Cellar at Marimba Park, boasting world-class cooking.
Exceptions disproving rules! Basically, we’re still wary about going upstairs, downstairs or into shopping arcades for meals.
There were just five punters at Gaby’s. On at least one previous visit I recall waiting for a table. And then they served in the sunny courtyard with dusty under-nourished palm trees surrounding Gaby’s venerable main building: resembling an early colonial farmstead.
I’ve been there several times for excellent breakfasts, now $7 for a full house without a hot drink. Omelettes are $6 and bacon and egg sandwiches $4. The teas or coffees not accompanying the Full Monty fry-up are $1, so a pukkah breakfast costs $8.
I asked a regular, who’d greeted me by name, why it was so empty midway through Friday lunch. He thought the problem was the restaurant had changed hands several times and previous people apparently didn’t serve booze.
Can you credit the anathema? The place is so continental:  an ideal location to enjoy a nice glass of wine with lunch on a hot summer’s day. This was a hot (nearly) winter’s day and a delightfully chilled can of Pilsener lager was soon in front of me as I perused a short menu.
“Yes” pasta was “on”, I was told. But spag Bol –– or a prosaically named mushroom pasta –– could take 15-20 minutes.
A big tick for candour; if not efficiency. Both pasta dishes were $5. I ordered the latter and farmhouse salad.
Sod’s law the mushroom dish (it was solid with fungi: fine value for a fiver!) came after only six minutes: a moment or two before the extremely generous salad bowl (which may have fed two or three people) at $4. There was lots of salty feta in the rabbit food. Add a few olives and it would have passed as Greek salad. They really shouldn’t include lettuce, but nearly always do!
Friendly and pleasantly efficient, Beverley Makombe served. She said new owner was Joanna Mukunga, but she wasn’t there.  Great 60s music played. I thought it was from the night-club upstairs or possibly a CD shop opposite, but Beverley said they were Gaby’s tunes.
She said they open Monday-Wednesday 8am to 5pm and Thursday-Saturday until 10pm. She thought steaks and “tibes” (beef cubes) were signature dishes: both $8, as are chicken a  la crème, pork chops or bream fillets with chips.
Quarter chicken and chips cost $5; dearest dish is “mega-ribs” at $10; standard ribs are $6. Vegetable pasta is $4; pudding $2.
Sadly, I had no room or time for sweet; nor for interesting-looking carrot cake “iced” with grated carrot.
Mushroom pasta, garden salad and two local lagers: $13.
Gaby’s, Travel Plaza. Shuts Sundays. Tel 700094.

dustym@zimind.co.zw

 

Dusty Miller

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