But time was short as I prepared for a five-day assignment in Johannesburg and Cape Town (oh, what a damned taskmistress duty is!)
Procrastination and prevarication prevailed…aided and abetted by an hours-eating mouthwatering array of World Cup Rugby on telly.
In the end, with my departure by South African Airlines Business Class to OR Tambo — Africa’s answer to London’s “Thiefrow” — growing closer, there was no time to go exploring suburbia, so I decided to check out a favourite establishment re-opened after the owners’ month-long holiday on the Greek islands.
Nick Kalamatas, the patriarch at Papa’s Meze and Grill at Newlands, was born on an idyllic Greek island and he and his family decided to spend some quality time there in the Northern Hemisphere summer.
I’m not sure it’s a good idea to close a Zimbabwe restaurant for any length of time, relying — as they do — on repeat, regular clients, but the Kalamatas did.
I didn‘t know about their arrangement and a planned visit to Papa’s by the Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society ended up investigating next door neighbour Bejazzled’s very fine Thai food.
Saturday was rather chilly for late September, with a nasty nip in a strong breeze battering Newlands. It was far too cold to sit and eat on the verandah, as is my wont at Papa’s, especially at lunchtime, when people-watching is splendid.
A quick debrief of Annette, George and Tarryn (Nick’s still in Greece, but will return about the time you read this.)
They’d had a wonderful month lapping up sea, sand and sunshine and spoke highly of Turkish Airlines, with whom they’d flown from Jo’burg to Athens, via Ankara.
It was quite late; the place was only about a third full when I arrived. A quarter of an hour later it was empty.
Just the sort of night to do justice to the trademark Greek vegetarian soup, which owed much to the Italian-style minestrone, which had been so popular at Papa’s predecessor outlet, Mama Mia’s, on the same site.
Prior to that, they ran the wonderful (and wonderfully un-PC-named) Fat Mama’s, at Russell Hotel.
Based on a tomatoey broth the steaming hot, full to the brim, soup strongly featured carrots, beans, okra and courgettes. Before, and with it, I ate some lovely still hot pita bread, slathered with runny butter and dipped in olive oil.
I covered the potage with a thick layer of soon-to-be-gooey parmesan cheese.
This was US$3 and would be a meal on its own for many, especially at lunchtime.
But I was “starving” and that was a great excuse to order quintessentially Greek lamb kleftiko, or “stolen lamb”.
Melt-in-the-mouth young, tender lamb on the bone, this is very slowly-cooked after overnight marinating in lemon and garlic.
Kleftiko means “cooked in the style of the Klephts”. Klephts were marauding Greek bandits. Too idle to keep their own flocks, they raided villages to steal lambs, sheep or goats.
The purloined meat was slowly cooked in scraped out earth ovens, sealed to avoid smoke giving away their positions.
Government by thieves
The word Klephts survives to this day in kleptomania (“an irresistible urge to steal”) and kleptocracy (“government by thieves”.)
Nowadays, instead of in scra-ped out ovens high in the mountains of the Hellenic peninsula, lamb kleftiko is baked — equally slowly and gently — in crimped, sealed tinfoil pockets.
Mine was big enough to hold two good-sized, meaty, lamb shanks and a variety of potatoes and other root vegetables cooked through in grand herb-infused juices of the meat.
Spuds, especially, had absorbed all the goodness and flavour of the nyama.
This dish now costs US$20. It was served with young, tender greens and carrots, half-a-juicy lemon and a large, optional, dollop of piquant mint jelly, no doubt a special touch for obviously Anglo palates.
Usually I can’t finish this splendid, rib-sticking, preparation: which is only available at suppertime and it’s a good idea to order in advance. I often take home as much as I manage to eat in the restaurant, but it’s superb warmed up the next day.
On Saturday, I scoffed the lot, mopping up the last drop of juice with the final square of pita bread.
I joined the family at their table for pudding, but yet another scandalously lengthy Zesa outage/outrage that day (I was off for 16,5 hours) meant most sweets had melted and had to be thrown away. (Why do we just docilely accept this constantly?)
Chef managed to knock up an agreeable fresh fruit salad, mainly comprising diced apple and orange in their natural juices, anointed with a perfectly acceptable melted, then half re-frozen, vanilla ice-cream, with a texture mid-way between pouring cream and soft-serve.
Papa’s Meze and Grill, Newlands SC. Opens lunch Monday-to-Friday; supper Monday-to-Saturday.