But I had been “AirZimed”!
The scheduled Wednesday night flight to London Gatwick was cancelled at the 11th hour, amidst a buzz of worrying rumours and alarming headlines relating to the national airline’s future.
So I was still grounded in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital) and fairly fuming. The next flight would (fingers firmly crossed) be Sunday, taking off from Harare two hours before the ceremony was due to start at picturesque All Saints Parish Church in the pretty Cotswold Hills. As the flight to Gatwick is 10 hours 15 minutes and Gatwick to Faringdon, via Oxford takes around three hours, I was clearly, sadly, going to miss a major family event.
(Damn Air Zimbabwe!!!!)
The lovely old Anglican church where the Christening took place was built in Norman times, lost its steeple to Oliver Cromwell’s Roundhead artillery cannon, during the English Civil War (1642-1651), and no one’s ever got round to replacing it.
Driving down Cork Road, Avondale, late on the Thursday lunchtime, I was amazed to see a large number of cars parked outside and opposite Café Espresso. The place, until very recently, had a well-earned reputation for prices as steep as All Saints’ missing steeple, charging like wounded elephants and tended to attract very few daylight hour punters.
I was interested in what had brought about this sudden change in popularity but more so in discovering what was happening at owner Pilani Mazadzire’s new project at the former Trax/News Café premises in Newlands which (it seemed to me) had been undergoing very extensive and expensive refurbishment for apparently ever. (Pilani also runs the Café Espresso operations at Harare’s International and Domestic airports.)
The Cork Road place was pumping with families, friends, solo diners, couples and a bunch of sleazy looking Zanu PF bigwigs plotting, planning and scheming nefarious nastiness under a shady tree in the garden. For my sins, I can lip-read fairly well, but not when the lips in question are whispering in Shona!
The menu was a revelation. New dishes were mainly adequately, efficiently and apparently accurately described and most prices were very affordable. One exception which raised my eyebrows was “rotisseried half roast baby chicken at US$15.”
Now is this half a roast baby chicken or is the huku half-roasted and then what…boiled?…stewed….deep-fried…or simply raw? Yes, I know I’m being pedantic…but that’s what I’m paid for! Many people simply wouldn’t understand that tortured inaccurate description.
Also, US$15 is a wee bit pricey for half a baby chicken. Half a conventional sized bird at Coimbra, the former Cascais (soon to be Paula’s Place at Glenara), Arnaldo’s, Adrienne’s or almost anywhere else in town, is between US$8 and US$12, including chips/starch and usually a bit of salad.
Talking about salads: Café Espresso has some delightful sounding ones; just perfect for ladies who lunch languidly to nibble in the clipped shades gardens, by a soporific trickling waterfall landscape feature.
I wasn’t really hungry and had just one course: cannelloni fromage, which certainly lived up to its unusual half-Italian, half-French name and featured loads of bacon (which I thought should have been diced, rather than cooked in long thin strips) and mushrooms (one or two, perhaps!) under a cannelloni pasta covering, topped with a very rich, gooey moreish four cheese sauce. At US$8 it was really excellent value for money.
Pilani has brought in a top-class consultant chef from Cape Town, Anton Rautenbach, who wasn’t on-site when I visited and engaged Zimbabwean-born Anele Dube, who has been cooking at prestigious restaurants and hotels in Durban, as group executive chef.
Young Anele, originally from Bulawayo, who joined my table, seemed a perfectionist. He was brimful of fresh innovative ideas, but very willing to accept constructive criticism and suggestions.
Anton and Anele’s main task has been to get the Newlands project up and running successfully.
Pilani told me the very latest state-of-the-art equipment has been imported for the new eatery. The ground floor area of what was the very much missed Trax (formerly News Café) is to operate as a continental-style café, to be called Butler’s, It will offer French, Italian fusion food, soft and alcoholic drinks and some of the greatest coffee around (he has the Zimbabwean rights for LaVazza, the up-market Brazilian-grown, Italian blended, coffee relished by coffee connoisseurs)
Upstairs (and here I mused, cynically, about a rather perilous looking wrought iron — almost fire-escape-style — external staircase he has had erected) will be The Lounge: a cigar, wine, whisky and cocktails operation, where sophisticated people can meet and enjoy stimulating conversation. (His words, not mine…I rarely hear much stimulating talk these days in Zim!) and there will be cabaret shows and occasional mini-theatre productions, with late suppers being served.
(This sounds more like Knightsbridge than Newlands!)
They are scheduled to begin trading about the time this article is published, with an official opening in around a fortnight’s time.
This will almost be a local of mine and I wish Butler’s/the Lounge all the best.