Not sure how long it was shut, or for what reason, but it seems ages since I slipped in to the mid-1950s building (opened by the Queen Mother) and fought my way through crowds of TWOGs (Third-World Groupies) gawping at Shona sculpture to have a coffee and chat with Nomsa Gwataringa, the then proprietrix.
Softly spoken and shy, with a lovely family, Nomsa was one of my favourite personalities on the local hospitality scene. She also ran Botanic Gardens Cafe when it flourished.
Wallace now has the lease, running it in addition to popular Shop Café, Doon Estate. When I bumped into him at the gallery this week, he insisted his son, Leroy, and exec chef Michelle Small, share the laurels with him for Shop Café’s enviable reputation. They focus on organic, locally-sourced low-carbon footprint ingredients — much of it vegetarian, some vegan — cooked in exemplary style, displayed attractively and served professionally, winning top awards.
And as the gallery deal precludes on-site cooking, goodies served there are prepared in Shop Café kitchens by the accolade-winning team and delivered by bakkie.
On Tuesday the hot meat meal of the day was pastitsio, a Greek pasta dish, not dissimilar to Italian lasagna or the better know Greek moussaka, but without that dish’s all important brinjal, which isn’t everyone’s favourite vegetable. (It certainly ain’t mine!)
Pastitsio mean a hodge-podge/jumble: harsh on this dish which rather neatly uses baked pasta, minced beef, seasoning and béchamel sauce topping. It’s grand Greek comfort food and at Gallery Café is served with Kerry’s flagship home-made breads and butter, garden salad and home-made lemonade for a fairly comfortable US$10. Delete plated side salad but help yourself to the groaning salad buffet and the cost rises to US$12.
Hot vegetarian lunch of the day (Tuesday: Mediterranean quiche) is US$8, including side salad, breads and lemonade or US$10 if you eat as much salad off the buffet as you can.
Lunch is served Monday-to-Friday, when the café opens 9am-4pm. It trades 9am to noon on Saturdays when grub is confined to the sort of pre-/post-lunch items served mid-week. Filter coffee is US$1; Nescafe or decaff US$2; teas US$1
Sandwiches are US$3, including toasted cheese, tomato, onion and chili on brown seed loaf or gammon ham, mozzarella and tomato on white bread. Croissants at US$5 feature smoked salmon-trout, cream cheese and cucumber. Cakes (carrot is arguably the best) muffins are US$3 and home-made biscuits US$1.
Kerry said Shop Café would open for Sunday lunch at “odd times” monthly. I applaud the fact their wonderful grub will be available to a jaded Harare public seeking new venues for weekend family repasts, but I’m unsure about the “odd times” aspect.
Folk never seem to get their heads round “every other Sunday” or “the first and last Sundays of the month” for instance. I feel you either open consistently on the Sabbath or stay shut; don’t try to play at both.
Impromptu Sunday lunch at Da Eros, Avondale Sunday was an eye-opener. It was almost 2 before I rang to ask if they had a table for four…which they did, despite the place pumping: every outdoor table filled to capacity with happy folk eating, drinking and enjoying Boots ‘n’ Bangles’ music.
Two Sunday specials comprised substantial part rack of smoked pork ribs in barbecue sauce (we’d already been served a wide range of home-made breads, foccacia, olive oil, balsamic, individual salads, brinjal, chili and garlic spread.)
Next on the special was a choice of cannelloni (which they both described as authentically Italian) or Weiner schnitzel with chips or rice and, to end, a colourful Pavlova pudding.
Not quite to finish because a Da Eros tradition is each punter gets fruit to eat at the table or take home and a shot glass of Limoncello, an Italian grappa-like digestif.
The three-course special was just US$12.
Unsure how hungry I was, a starter of precisely cooked calamari at US$6, convinced me I could do fair justice to spagbol at US$10. The fourth guest had a large quattro-formaggi (four-cheese) pizza of which he took home a third, followed by a tiramisu, he thought needed a smidgen more alcohol. (The classic recipe demands coffee-flavoured liqueur is used.)
A splendid afternoon, in pleasant sunshine, in great company with good music, fine food, excellent service; bottom line US$64 for four, including three lagers and a mineral water.
Da Eros, East Road, Avondale. Booking recommended, often necessary. Tel 332044.
Dusty Miller rating 4,5 stars March 2012.