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Eating out: Christmas is coming….

(I first asked on Monday and am still waiting at close-of-business Thursday! Obviously not keen on publicity!)
On Tuesday I enjoyed an a la carte lunch at Rainbow Towers’ Komba Hari Grill Room (see review in last Friday’s Zimbabwe Independent) and was given advance copies of their menus for Christmas and New Year. The five-star hotel (formerly The Harare Sheraton) this week entered its 26th year in business.

And on Thursday, exactly a month before Christmas Eve (it doesn’t seem five minutes since LAST Christmas!) Meikles Hotel unveiled its own Christmas/New Year’s fare to the Press, who were actually able to taste the stuff at a delightful chef’s table held in the Livingstone Room.

I’m not sure whether readers can take full advantage of this preview, because a friend of mine told me this week he’d spent the whole afternoon on the phone ringing 18 restaurants and hotels in the capital trying to make reservations for Christmas (Day) lunch only to find they either won’t be open or were already fully booked. (At anything up to US$60 a pop!)

Meikles now has one of the most talented chefs operating in southern African, Zimbabwean-born Rory Lumsden, who won his spurs cooking under Duncan and Yvette Barker (now at Wombles, Parktown, Johannesburg), when they ran Barker’s Lodge, Kambanji. He has just returned from years in the UK and France

We started with an amuse-bouche of cold tomato soup in a dinky espresso coffee cup. The phrase means to amuse, entertain or awaken the mouth/palate and it did just that.

In a dish from Normandy: smoked salmon paupiette with beetroot, the Scottish fish was encased in a wrapping of thinly sliced cucumber, but beetroot confined to a decorative sauce.

I have yet to properly interview Rory, who seems a bit Press-shy for a celebrity chef, but his presentations seem, usually, to be attractive, light, flavoursome and easily digested mainly delicate noveau-cuisine, which has gone down very well at the two events I’ve attended; rather than the more robust ancienne-cuisine beloved of many Zimbabweans.

A summery chicken-and-leek terrine with sauce gribiche (mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce with capers and chervils) was splendid; very Sloane Ranger-ish, but hardly the thing for a Tiffin box at the Tiger Tournament!

If you are hungry and eating at Meikles over the holidays, the slow-baked shoulder of lamb on a bed of creamy mashed potatoes with buttered carrots looked by far the most substantial dish in the main course choice of three.

It also had those who chose it oohing and aahing over the flavour and tenderness of the rich meat. One or two decried a lack of mint sauce or jelly, which Rory justified by saying the lamb was dark rather than pink. He may have been away too long. Possibly due to a preponderance of Anglo-style palates, even Papa’s and Taverna Athena, our two Harare Greek restaurants offer piquant mint sauce with lamb kleftiko!

I had the roast kingklip and prawn ravioli, which granted isn’t a dish I associate with Christmas yo-ho-ho’s and Rudolph the Sodding Red-nosed Reindeer, but I like fish. I’m not sure that roasting is the best way to cook kingklip, though, and a colleague complained hers was “a bit rubbery”. The crustacean-packed pasta, however, was magical marine manna!

I’m not over fond of pot-roast meats outside blue-collar American diners, so turkey cooked that way with the traditional garnish didn’t appeal to me. I was glad I opted against it on seeing turkey roll had been used. The only turkey roll I enjoy is a slice of moist leg meat off a traditionally oven-roast bird, with a bit of chestnut stuffing, in a lightly buttered bap!

Unannounced on the menu, came a small helping of a cheesecake which was sophisticated and nowhere near as disgustingly tooth-rottingly sweet as this dish can often be. It was further dignified by an attractive and generous dollop of very Christmassy cranberry sauce.

Several colleagues eagerly anticipated the Christmas pudding with brandy custard, also cheered up by decorative plump strawberries, the colour of a robin’s redbreast. They were far from disappointed.

But this is an either/or course and as I still had half a bottle of delightfully chilled Golden Pilsener left, I opted for the individual cheese platter which was OK, but by no means memorable. Three hours later, having failed to photograph it, I admit I can’t even recall which varieties we sampled!

We finished with tea or coffee and very more-ish petite-fours and, it being a Thursday and one of my deadline days, I was obliged to — like so many journalists in history, before me, but in vastly differing circumstances — make my excuses and leave!

The Christmas fare as described above is between US$35 and US$50 depending on in which restaurant it is served and on which day between mid-December and New Year’s Eve.

The food will come with Christmas crackers, party hats and those streamers people at the next table annoyingly hurl into your soup, music, entertainment and great fireworks on very special occasions.



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