I’m a conservative (with lower case “c”) sort of a bloke and don’t enjoy change for change’s sake.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
As far as I was concerned there was nothing wrong with the old Wombles Steakhouse at Ballantyne Park firing the then management wouldn’t have fixed…but hey presto, megabucks were thrown at turning it into Miller’s Grill by owners Ian and Angie Miller (no relation).
Candidly, that never did it for me design or (most of its existence) food-wise. It was dark, gloomy and dear; a cross between a boardroom and an old fashioned gentlemen’s club, without the ambience of either.
It doesn’t seem five minutes since Miller’s Grill opened to instant success (until the novelty wore off) but I’m told it’s actually five years.
Now The Mill has replaced it and it’s the very opposite of dark and gloomy: Light and airy, minimalist furniture, bare-brick and white-washed ditto, with presumably plenty more bucks spent on the latest makeover?
Shutters and windows were wide open when I visited, about a month after they began trading. The air, breeze and light were a blessing and wonderfully welcome on a sizzling hot November lunchtime; I couldn’t help muse what it would be like on a bone-chillingly cold night in June or July?
“The menu concept is very local and very seasonal,” executive chef of the Miller group of restaurants (which includes Miller’s Café, Borrowdale Village and The Maiden at Harare Sports Club) “HD” Fraser told me.
“Really”, thought I, having thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant’s creamy, garlic mussel pot and assuming the bivalvia mollusca had been flown in from Scotland or New Zealand.
Well, I relished them, apart from their bottom line. Ignoring a fine example of HD’s culinary art skills, US$14 for seven mussels in shell, plus a bit more mussel meat in the sauce, some Kew Garden-style greenery, a handful of (rather well-finished -off) pre-cooked “bought-in” chips and, granted, wonderful bread wasn’t the bargain of the week!
It was only after I’d finished eating in the cool airy dining area I saw a tapas (Spanish for small plates of food) menu in the superbly appointed and well-stocked bar where “mussel pot and chingwa” (bread) is only US$5 that I began to think the main course charges are OTT. (After all, presumably, they don’t serve fewer than seven mussels in the pot there?)
I know mussels are found and caught just a few metres away from where I ate moules mariniere in a lovely fish restaurant in Leith Harbour, Edinburgh and at a beachfront café in Le Touquet, France, recently, but prices were £6 and 11 euros respectively for a PINT of the seafood in the one gaffe and a LITRE in the other. I hear their wholesale price here is now “chip-cheap”.
If tapas eating catches on here (it’s all the rage overseas), The Mill has a head start and their prices are very reasonable: zucchini (courgette) fritters with lemon aioli, US$1; home-made crisps with seasoning and salt US$2 (same price as marinated olives and beer-battered onion rings.) I think bone marrow nuggets must be what we spread on hot toast as a cheap breakfast when penniless journalism cadets; they cost US$3; chimichurri chicken wings (there’s never any meat on the damned things!) are US$4 and crusted prawns with lemon aioli US$5.
Order a few plates each, mix-match and share finger food, while enjoying a favourite dop. (I’m sure it doesn’t happen anymore but when I first found tapas in Spanish fishing port bars, they included shrimps, calamari, oysters, squid, octopus, ham, salami, cheese etc and were absolutely free, to encourage punters to drink their San Miguel Lager, sangria or sherry in that particular pub rather than walk next door!)
The Mill’s tapas also include odd-sounding chocolate salami (US$4). You’re in for a treat. I tried it at the Restaurateurs’ Association Christmas in July lunch, when the place was still Miller’s Grill. Looks just like savoury salami; tastes sophisticatedly sweet and decadently delicious!
I assume it’s made by HD’s fiancée Karleyne Flaxman, the group’s executive sous-chef, pastry specialist who jointly manages The Mill with him. She’s originally from Marondera. They met while cooking down south, coming to Zim together.
Originally from Pretoria, but he cooked at the exclusive Franschoek Hotel and Spa, HD’s last task in South Africa was to captain the RSA team at the World Culinary Olympics held recently in Germany. They came 15th out of 56 countries, returning home with a Gold, Silver and Bronze medal. Sweden won with four Golds.
Bar food prices are reasonable: a 150g sirloin steak roll (in Karleyene’s superb home-made bread) with mushroom and onion is US$12 as are fish and chips, corndogs and bunny chows. A Desperate Dan-sized 400g T-bone steak with eggs, chips and gravy (shades of old fashioned British transport caffs!) costs US$16.
If you think this is an indecisive hot-cold sort of restaurant review, you’re absolutely right. I couldn’t make my mind up if, notwithstanding some jaw-dropping top heavy prices, I liked or loved the place. Ice-cold lagers in expensive chilled glasses at US$2 were an attraction as were reasonably priced wine and cocktail lists and display shelves of familiar and exotic bottles.
And I didn’t really mind paying US$8 for strawberries and ice-cream: a beautiful sight with strips of home-made red jelly coiled round the platter, leaves, dots and spots until I realised the portion was only five halves of strawberries and two minuscule scoops of vanilla!
Surely OTT? I don’t think you’d pay so much for, essentially, two-and-a-half strawberries even at Wimbledon during “the fortnight”?
Whatever, it was quite busy on a week-day lunchtime and by all accounts pumps at nights (I’d be there often if it wasn’t so far away!) and weekends. They open noon to 11:30pm Monday to Saturday, until 4pm on Sundays.
The Mill, Ballantyne Park Shopping Centre, Harare.