But it was the seafood special chosen by three of us when we sampled a new menu at Le Francais, the in-hotel fine dining restaurant at Monomotapa recently.
Africa Sun Hotel’s publicist, bubbly Farayi Mangwende, and Mono’s general manager, Ivan Kasozi, (ex-RTG, Victoria Falls) invited me to try the new bill of fare and I asked Tricia Bays, a sunny blonde Californian travel agent, who has recently launched her safari operation, On the Ground Zimbabwe, here after working from Arusha, Tanzania, for several years.
It maybe shows a lack of professionalism when I admit I hadn’t glanced at the new menu when the maitre d’ announced soup of the day was leek-and-chicken (which three of us who wanted starters ordered instantly). He got no further than saying special seafood dish was lobster thermidor, which three of us ordered with alacrity.
It is moderately priced at US$21. True, it was nothing like the big titanic thermidors I ate in my teens and 20s on cruise ships off Scandinavia and obviously not quite as fresh as the crayfish version of this classic dish I’ve been served at lovely Archipelago Resort in Vilankulos, Mozambique. (An hour after the peasant fisherman lifted his pots, we tucked into delightful crustaceans, washed down with copious quantities of ice-cold Mozambican beer and Portuguese rosé wine.)
But 1 000 km from the sea, it was a fine example of the dish, created by Marie’s Restaurant, Paris in 1894, named after a popular play of the same name…well “Thermidor”…not lobster thermidor. Thermidor was the name of a month in the French Revolutionary calendar; Thermidorian Reaction (which the drama is about) was when counter-revolutionaries kicked out Robespierre, ending the Reign of Terror. (Will a dish be created when You-Know-Who leaves the political stage?)
A creamy mixture of cooked lobster flesh, egg yolks and cognac is stuffed into the empty shell from which the meat was scraped and served on a bed of (preferably) either creamy mash or rice with young al dente veg. No reason whey oiks couldn’t have it with chips, tomato sauce and baked beans, I suppose!
Leek-and-chicken soup, by the way, was exemplary: two totally different flavours and textures blending superbly. Other starters were tossed snail and mushroom vol-au-vents; sautéed chicken liver with asparagus; calamari with garlic mayo and lemon; forest mushroom soup with chives; classic Nicoise salad or green salad with crispy bacon, cheddar cheese and balsamic dressing.
We were all in a fishy mood, as Ivan, the one to spurn lobster, chose tilapia fillet, seared with lemon and herb butter. This Kariba speciality is at its succulent best. Also in this section were grilled queen prawns piri-piri or in garlic butter sauce; herb-crusted kingklip fillet and grilled Nyanga trout on sautéed button mushrooms.
Because of its scarcity, extensive time needed in prep and relative expense (but US$21 is very reasonable), lobster thermidor is a special dish for major celebrations. For everyday occasions, there are excellent grills, steaks and chops from 240g to 350g, which come with chips or roast and a choice of three sauces.
Medallion of game, was (I think!) kudu…or maybe eland? There was grilled baby chicken; escalope of chicken breast; pan-fried pork fillet mignon and lamb cutlets with rosemary, thyme and garlic sauce.
There were three splendid sounding vegetarian dishes. Puddings were a very fine hot apple tarte tatin with brandy sauce, I wolfed; crepes Suzette; fruit salad; cheese cake on passion fruit coulis (either Farayi or Tricia had that and said it was excellent) and dark-and-white chocolate mousse
Tricia and I slurped a beautifully chilled Nederburg Chardonnay Viognier, a light, crisp Cape white with hints of peach or melon, which nicely balanced rich seafood and would go well with spicy Indian or Thai dishes.
BY DUSTY MILLER