(Gudrun’s family used to farm at Chimanimani; I understand she’s gone off to London to get married. Pieta, I hear, is now farming in Nigeria.)
But I was chuffed to hear this chintzy-cottagey operation, much supported by the diplomatic community, was now (since Easter) being run by mother-and-daughter Susan Seton-Rogers and Diana Wells.
OK, I must come ultra clean and declare an interest. I’ve been on several magical Kariba houseboat voyages where this dynamic duo have been in charge of the catering and have done wonderful jobs. If you can keep 20-odd ravenously hungry tiger fishermen happy, three very square meals a day, plus snacks, running a bijou coffee shop is easy-peasey!
I checked it out over lunch last Thursday and was pleased that almost nothing has changed…except perhaps the welcome from Susan and Diana, which was warmer and more genuine than that under previous management.
It was a greeting certainly more clement than the day. There was a distinct nip in the air as we ate in the mature garden. Oddly, the sky above the varsity was Wedgewood blue with the very odd powder puff white cloud, whereas the horizon over town was somewhere between a threatening gunmetal and pewter hue, with the odd rumble of thunder from beyond The Kopje and occasional worrying lightning.
I’d wandered around the classically Cape Dutch building white painted and double storey building, which wouldn’t look out of place in Franschhoek or Stellenbosch, before my lunch partner arrived.
There are lots of antiques, artifacts and paintings on sale in the public areas, other little stores sell clothing and leather ware; there’s a beautician’s and hairdressers and The Attic Library can be found — not surprisingly — one flight up.
I haven’t yet been to The Olive for breakfast, unlike my pal Craige who often breaks his fast there. A full English is US$10, health breakfast US$8 and scrambled eggs on toast with sundried tomatoes costs US$8 with bacon and US$10 when smoked salmon is the main attraction.
Neither my lunch guest nor I, went specifically for The Olive’s trademark salads: understandably hugely popular with the many lovely ladies who lunch languidly there. They often wash down the crisp, green goodness with something equally crisp (say a nice 2010 un-oaked Chardonnay) from one of the inestimable Cape vineyards, now easily found in Zimboland.
The eatery is not licensed and they don’t charge a corkage fee, so you often see some very interesting vintages popping out of Victorian-era ice-filled silver coolers.
Having eaten grand, proper, Italian dockyards style beef lasagna on a previous visit and having been entirely delighted with its meaty goodness, baked in layers with rich creamy cheese sauce and topping, lots of cooked tomatoes in various guises, I decided that as nothing at The Olive appeared to be broken, there was no point in fixing it.
The pasta dish costs US$18 and comes with a very substantial side salad one which, oddly, on every occasion I’ve ordered it, has never featured even a solitary eponymous olive!
My lunch partner plumped for peppered fillet steaks (three generous chunks) under a sauce which also featured sliced mushrooms; it was served with a generous helping of potato wedges and a salad identical to the one I had. The dish is US$20.
Both were served promptly and efficiently and there was not a single word of conversation as we chomped contentedly. I washed down my pasta with two large chilled glasses of apple juice and my companion had a pot of flavoured Rooibos tea and later a Diet Coke.
My dining companion was “stuffed” by the precisely as ordered medium-to-rare steak and spuds and declined the part of the meal I’d been looking forward to all morning.
Having sampled it on Kariba and again a few years ago at her Polish-born mother’s 90th birthday party, I was convinced that Susan’s multi-layered, cream-endowed, strawberry studded sponge cake was among the nicest “Victoria Sponges” I’d ever tasted.
I’ve since learned its real name is a Blow-Away cake…and it will really blow you away! Gratifyingly there’s no fat used in the recipe, but what it saves on lard, butter or margarine, I’m sure it makes up for in gorgeous cream!
The Olive is at 11, Churchill Avenue, Alexandra Park and opens from breakfast until mid-afternoon weekdays. (They no longer operate on Saturday mornings…shame.)
Dusty Miller rating: if this place had a liquor licence it would warrant 5-stars without doubt; 4 stars, anyway.