I knew that good pals who used to meet there for lengthy coffee breaks every weekday at around 10am had long ago kicked the Argyle Road restaurant into touch in favour of Café Nush in Avondale’s Shopping Mall, and wondered if they knew something I didn’t.
Well the place had had a coat of lively bright lime green paint on the front walls making it look a bit more cheerful, but I didn’t think the human welcome, atmosphere or ambience were quite as warm as they were.
The menu has changed substantially, but it must have been some time ago as the quite difficult to read (when you’re my age!) black-on-green printed typography was on cracked, creased, stained, tatty stock and candidly unpleasant to touch.
Say what you like about impersonal laminated tariffs, at least they’re easy to clean and keep relatively hygienic. The menu is almost the clients’ first introduction to a new eatery… and first impressions definitely count.
Soprano’s is a Muslim-owned operation, so there’s no alcohol sold — or even allowed on the unlicensed premises — no pork products on the menu and macon (a — to me — rather unsatisfactory beef substitute) was served instead of breakfast bacon with eggs, although they no longer seem to serve conventional breakfasts: just combos and sandwiches at US$7 to US$10.
From the menu’s “starters and light” section I ordered special vegetable soup, which was good and probably did me good eating it. Tiny specks of greenery, red, brown and yellow vegetable matter suspended in a highly seasoned piping hot smoky broth, mid-way between clear and opaque, with a very pleasant medium-strength chili kick and after taste.
It was good … very good, but certainly not US$7 good! (Especially when served without Melba toast or a roll.)
Best soups in town currently
are the unusual creamy-white French onion one served at L’E-scargot, Courtney Hotel, where it often seems that the US$2 item contains at least US$2 worth of rich gooey cheese!; the splendidly wholesome and lip-smacking prawn-fish-and-vegetable concoction from Fishmonger (US$4 with a warm Portuguese bap and Irish butter) and Adrienne’s minestrone (on a good day) at US$3.
Last week, at Monos Restaurant (ex-Le Francais) at four-star Crowne-Plaza Monomotapa Hotel, brown French onion, forest mushroom, or leek-and-celery were US$5 a pop — with loads of Melba toast. (See my review in last Friday’s Zimbabwe Independent.)
There were 10 or 12 chicken dishes: mainly traditional Indian, Chinese or Portuguese piri-piri presentations outlined but — sod’s law — the one I really fancied: tandoori was sadly off!
This is an Indian/Pakistani dish in which huku is marinated overnight in herbs, spices and yoghurt and then roasted in a tandoor cylindrical clay oven. On the menu it’s US$16, which seems, at first sight, a wee bit costly, certainly compared with the city’s other Indian outlets and regional price trends.
It may well have been truly worth that sort of loot, because the butter chicken curry ordered as second choice at US$14 was of tremendous quality, full of taste and zing, it came with a mountain of fluffy basmati rice into which vegetables were folded and with a very acceptable substantial dressed green side salad.
In a distinctive vivid vermillion hue, featuring large quantities of tender, fork-sized chunks of chicken it was ultra flavoursome with a deep, complex and coriander-rich finish and left a pleasant lingering after-burn on the palate. I managed to finish about two-thirds of the too generous portion.
Other main courses include mutton dishes at US$14, Asian vegetarian specialities from US$8 to US$12, and burgers and wraps at US$10-US$12. Salads as a main course vary between US$10 and US$14 (which patently, and possibly blatantly, IS dear!)
Half a piri-piri chicken costs US$15; a quarter ditto US$12. Kariba bream is US$15; imported hake US$14, which is the same price as a fillet steak. “Portuguese” prawns (number, weight, size unstated) cost US$24.
With my curry — in the sad absence of a refreshingly chilled article of something moderately alcoholic — I had icily cold canned Sprite lemonade served in a large dimpled glass with sliced lemon and enough ice cubes to sink The Titanic.
I ate on the shady verandah. There was a distinct winter nip in the air, but it was pleasant in dappled sunshine. A gang of navvies dug up the street outside unenthusiastically laying those bright coloured plastic tubes which have something to do with tomorrow’s ITC. The material is obviously relatively valueless as I’ve seen huge piles of it coiled at the side of roads and popping out of holes in various places between Plumtree and Pomona, Beitbridge and Bindura, Khami and Kariba and it doesn’t seem to ever get nicked.
Unlike the copper fittings on Soprano’s hanging urinals which certainly have gone walk-about. A hand-written notice apologises that the equipment has been “vandalised”; the person concerned probably sees it as “liberating” the filthy capitalist restaurateur’s valuable non-ferrous piping. I call it theft!
I finished with an individual good-sized iced-carrot cake which was delicious, but grossly over-priced at US$4. And a pot of lemon Rooibos tea which — as we have no change available in The People’s Republic of Fredonia — couldn’t really be any less than US$1… could it?
Bottom line: soup, main course, bun, cool-drink, tea: US$28, which is heavy for mid-week lunch in this workers’ paradise!
Soprano’s (themed after the Mafia TV series, not operatic divas!), 5 Argyle Road, Avondale. Tel 333833. Opens Monday-to-Thurs- day 7am-7pm; Friday and Saturday 7am-10pm; Sunday 9am-8pm.
Safe, secure off road parking. Eating indoors or an airy verandah. Smoking on the stoep (well one inconsiderate person fouled the air). Very child friendly. Reasonable access for handicapped. Music channel on TV.
Dusty Miller rating: two-and-a-half stars (from a maximum four for unlicensed restaurants) at late May 2012.