I actually set off last Monday to review a new coffee shop in Highlands, a printed flyer for which had been thrust into my hand at the Doon Estate food and book fair the previous Saturday.
Report by Dusty Miller
Half way there I thought: “The Little Bears Tea Shop (16 Kew Drive) really sounds a bit too wussy for me” and when I realised there was no way I was going to get a bitterly cold Golden Pilsener Lager with my lunch I veered left — to Borrowdale Village and one of my favourite family restaurants in this country: Leonardo’s.
And what a masterpiece it is! Always a lovely welcome from one or other of the Marini family who are chef-proprietors, a splendid menu, sound wine list, cosy bar and highly professional service.
The Marinis have run Leonardo’s for 11 years. Before then, the main manna, Danny, was at Le Française both at Monomotapa and when (of fond memory) it was at Avondale. He also worked at St Elmo’s, having interned at Bulawayo Sun while studying at the then highly professional and successful hotel training school in that city.
Danny’s father, Tony has recently retired. Danny is locally-born, half-Italian, half-German; his wife Voula is also locally-born but of Greek descent. They serve mainly Mediterranean-style fusion food, accurately capturing the cuisine served between The Levant and Portugal.
But twice a week they have live oysters, mussels and salmon specially flown in from Scotland and if there’s anything in a restaurant I can’t resist it’s half-a-dozen juicy, live, plump, chilled Loch Duarte oysters, dusted with salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon and tabasco sauce slithering down my throat! (But Monday wasn’t the day!)
I nibbled a slice or two of warm, yielding focaccia bread, dipped in a pungent, pongy garlic sauce, before my magnificently retro 1960ish shrimp cocktail (US$9) arrived.
The overblown Babycham glass was deep and filled with pink, plump prawns, slathered in marie-rose (1 000 islands) sauce on a bed of rocket and lettuce leaves.
My only complaint was that the portion was far too large …for me … for a lunchtime starter and Danny accepted that many of the lovely, lithe ladies who lunch languidly at his place order this Swinging Sixties favourite as a main course.
Other starters from the main menu are piri-piri chicken livers at US$4; goats’ cheese tarts, deep fried button mushrooms, deep-fried haloumi or a mini chicken couscous salad all at US$6. Escargot (snails) in either a blue-cheese and garlic sauce, or drenched in lemon butter sauce or garlic butter and ostrich or kudu carpaccio were US$9.
There’s a new light summer lunchtime only special menu on which all appetisers are either US$3 or US$4 and that includes a calamari dish or ricotta fritters.
This same special tariff also has reasonably priced mains: grilled fish, chips and salads, chicken kebab with either freshly mixed salads or chips and seasonal vegetables, half a piri-piri chicken or Leonardo’s bespoke (made to order) beef burger and chips all at US$10. Ricotta gnocchi — savoury dumplings — tossed in a fresh tomato and basil sauce are US$8 and a tuna-and-olive fettucine pasta US$9.
From the main pasta menu I had another outfacing dish of ravioli con carne e pollo: Small, home-made daily, al dente pasta envelopes of delicious minced chicken, ham and salami tossed in a tomato and basil sauce and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Whether it was the generous helping, or the enormous crustacean cocktail appetiser or the more-ish focaccia bread with garlic sauce, but roughly a third of this dish went home in a doggy bag!
Pasta costs between US$12 (a Leonardo’s special of feta and sun-dried tomatoes) and US$18 for marina (seafood), with my choice pegged at US$15. They have pizza leggera for the health conscious (the dough centre is chopped out and replaced with fresh salad) at US$10-US$13; conventional pizzas are US$11-US$14 and salads US$9 (Greek or grilled haloumi cheese) to US$15 for salmon Caesar.
Fish and seafood dishes are US$16-US$27; poultry US$16 (duck breasts) to US$20 (ostrich fillets) and grills US$13 to US$24.
Puddings are US$6-US$7 and at the more expensive end I thoroughly enjoyed the Amarula crème caramel dish which Voula created. You simply substitute half-to-two-thirds of the usual cream element of the sweet and substitute an equal quantity of the South African girly, giggly Amarula liqueur.
The result is a nicely presented sophisticated pudding with an understated but definite alcoholic kick! (I do hope our printers don’t stuff up my photograph of it!)
Leonardo’s, at Borrowdale Village, opens lunch and supper Monday-to-Saturday. Tel: 883158. Booking advisable. No one could describe the restaurant as handicapped friendly, but in the past we’ve managed to get a badly lame guy up the steep stairs and — occasionally — a merrily “legless” mate (under the influence!) safely down.