Some people “eat with their eyes” (enjoy consuming food which above all LOOKS good on the plate) and others eat more conventionally: probably not giving a stuff for the results of the hardworking chef’s culinary arts skills as long as the grub tastes good and there’s plenty!
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
There were a few groans and moans at Greendale Good Food and Wine Appreciation Society’s Christmas lunch at Meikles Hotel’s five-star La Fontaine Grillroom when development chef Rory Lumsden’s creations appeared, initially, to put style well ahead of substance.
But an hour or so later, when all the “little” noveau-cuisine dishes had been finally cleared, I don’t think any of the 23-members “on parade” could have comfortably eaten another morsel.
After a convivial hour or so in the well-stocked comfortable and comforting Can-Can Cocktail Bar (so convivial one of our members “forgot” to pay a US$28 tab!) we trooped into the almost a century old hotel’s flagship restaurant.
Initially we’d been told that because of ongoing US$7 million refurbishments at Meikles, our lunch would be held in The Bagatelle, which has mainly been in mothballs since the lunatic land invasions killed Zimbabwean incoming tourism.
I had mixed feelings about that, because Bagatelle is redolent of memories of some of the all-time-great bon viveurs and bon vivants of Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital) but I’ve always found it a bit claustrophobic, dark and gloomy (especially at lunch) and I miss natural cross ventilation.
La Fontaine, on the other hand, is comparatively light and beautifully proportioned with acres of gleaming polished glass overlooking Harare Gardens and the eponymous fountain which was, for once, working, albeit not as spectacularly as in its pre-independence days. I’m told after the ongoing makeover, it will be much lighter and airier and “user-friendly”. Sadly, they plan to do away with the “old fashioned” fine dining concept. In other words, it will be dumbed down!
I was pleased our lunch was on a relatively cool day in a Central African December, because the air-conditioning was not working properly.
We were served an attractive amuse bouche of smoked salmon en croute with a cranberry for decoration. I assume someone at our table of eight (I was quite disappointed they couldn’t manage a hollow square with all members seated together) was allergic to fish, because I got two and they were delicious.
Then there was a choice of chicken livers with parfait and pickled mushrooms, which was the most popular option with our group; still being talked about enthusiastically three days later or a crispy, crunchy crumbed pork belly with apple salad I went for. There was some interest in turkey consommé with cauliflower ravioli until I confirmed a suspicion it was a cold soup. Somehow chilled gazpachos, vichyssoises and cold consommés don’t really set Harare diners-out on fire.
Main courses were either: piccata of turkey, braised leg, broccoli and fondant potatoes which ended up with grand snappy green beans, cauliflower and julienne carrots.
It was very acceptable, but I think most members expected something more like a traditional Christmas turkey presentation than this dish. When I looked it up, it’s popular with American singletons, couples and small families who either don’t want to splash out a fortune on buying a monster Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey (or don’t have the means to roast one) so use turkey breasts and an electric frying pan!
Or there was lamb shoulder with onion puree and noisette potatoes. Again I got the impression that members expected a traditional slow-roasted joint of lamb as mother would have cooked, rather than Rory’s version in which meat looked to have been “pulled”, shredded, then deconstructed and reconstructed. (“Faffed around with,” I overheard one of the unconvinced comment!)
No one at our table plumped for pan-fried hake with (oddly?) chicken lemon jus. I suppose I should have ordered it just to try that unusual combination of flavours and possibly textures.
You could see the GGF&WAS boys are definitely into carbohydrates. Scrumptious diddy in-hotel baked brown and white bread rolls were hugely popular with lovely salty butter and waiters were sent scurrying off back to the kitchen for “extra” spuds.
There was allegedly a choice of a selection of desserts from the trundling retro circa 1930 wooden sweet trolley or cheese plate with raisin bread, but by common consensus, everyone with still a bit of an appetite had a little (or sometimes quite a lot) of each.
We finished with tea or coffee and really good old fashioned fruit-filled, still warm, mince pies, just like my grand-mother used to make. Lunch cost US$30 each and as management agreed to waive corkage an eclectic array of white, red, rosé and sparkling champagne type wines appeared and were sampled, tasted, discussed, compared and glugged.
My own contributions were a Portuguese Vasco da Gama sparkling champagne-like label and Normandie a robust but pleasantly smooth Cape red which— a little bird whispered in my ears— is grown by Billy Rautenbach’s missus; both of which I’d won in general knowledge quizzes held every other Thursday at blue@2 Private Wine Bar in Aberdeen Road.
By sheer coincidence, some of us who enjoyed Rory’s nouvelle-cuisine dishes, almost painted-on-the –plate style of presentation at Meikles on the Friday, ate a totally different dish of conventionally roasted leg of very tender lamb, with mint sauce and/or mint jelly, round-the-joint roast spuds, cauliflower cheese, pumpkin and totally unnecessary fluffy white rice at City Bowling Club two lunchtimes later.
The plate was far too “busy” and crammed. I doubt if mine would have taken another grain of rice, but by gum it was good and a real bargain at US$9 (with a free pudding of vanilla fudge surprise ice-cream) for members and US$15 for others.
I love good lamb. I’m writing this 24 hours before leaving for Dubai en route to an Australian Christmas where, I’ve heard, breakfast often includes lamb cutlets or chops with the eggs (instead of bacon). If true, I may not come back!