HomeWining & DiningStepping up to St Elmo’s

Stepping up to St Elmo’s

My daughter, Adele, was still in gymslips when she first dragged a reluctant me to lunch at St Elmo’s after we found a then new — since permanently shut — Chinese restaurant we meant to explore temporarily closed.

Report by Dusty Miller

I am not the world’s greatest fan of “chain” franchised outlets and could see immediately St Elmo’s was of that genre.

Pork chops with BBQ sauce, good chips and an enormous side salad cost US$15
Pork chops with BBQ sauce, good chips and an enormous side salad cost US$15

A Tex-Mex pizza, from the Gourmet Pizza range.
A Tex-Mex pizza, from the Gourmet Pizza range.

s6-pic-1,-no-special-order

Pictures compiled by Tinotenda Samukange,Online Reporter

But the food was so wonderfully good, sparklingly fresh, portions so generous and service so friendly and polished that I was immediately won over. And have been since. That little girl in gymslips is now a mom herself: her seven-year-old daughter now wearing gymslips 10 000km away!

(Her two-year-old brother has had us on tenterhooks this week. Having inadvertently swallowed a 5p coin, he apparently went quite blue, like an Ancient Briton wearing woad. He seems to have fully recovered but a few days’ serious nappy checking has failed to produce the silver!)

My advice to first-time visitors to St Elmo’s is to ignore prices, which initially sound high. Order a course at a time, so you aren’t out-faced. Ask for half portions/ladies’ portions/kiddies’ helpings, if available. There are various genuine and worthwhile “specials” offered on different days of the week.

I was very tempted to go for a couple of tasty starters, which is what my daughter did there on our very first visit and seeing as the helpings are so enormous, that’s a plan which has much merit.

Creamy garlic mussels, at US$8, was one such appetiser which leapt out of the laminated wipe-clean menu. But then so did a new dish of five pork cocktail sausages with a sweet dipping sauce; crumbed mushrooms, crumbed mozzarella or fried feta, all at US$6. Flame-grilled barbecue wings, piri-piri chicken livers, 200g of sticky riblets or half-a-dozen snails drenched in a garlic herbed butter were US$8.Gypsy spits (mushrooms wrapped in bacon) were US$7 as were soups (minestrone, asparagus or mushroom).

Rich minestrone
The vegetable-rich minestrone was acceptable, other than it seemed to contain — oddly — far too much caramelised onion, which tended to dominate the flavour. But with lashings of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and dunking free focaccia into the thick broth, I quite enjoyed it.

St Elmo’s serve wonderful salads: French, Greek, Thai chicken or avocado and chicken which are virtual meals on their own, especially for figure conscious teenage daughters!

Wood-fired pizzas are, of course, the trademark speciality of this restaurant chain. Regular pizzas vary in price between US$7 for a medium Margherita to US$18 for large models which include toppings of hot chicken, sweet chili chicken, tandoori chicken and honey-and-mustard chicken. Gourmet pizzas are US$12-US$20; Limited Edition pizzas US$13-US$20 and there is a range of pizza pies (which seems tautological to me, pizza being Italian for pie!)

Although there are several vegetarian dishes listed on the menu, St Elmo’s is worshipped by carnivores where dishes start at US$12 for a pure beef-burger and peak at US$32 for the Titanic T-bone which — I’ll take their word for it — is a full kilo of prime beef steak hung for 21 days.

A 500g lazy aged rump steak or 400g of tender fillet steak will set you back US$27, whereas a 250g fillet is US$19.

I went for pork chops — a pair of thick, juicy tender slabs of dead pig, char-grilled to perfection, anointed with a BBQ sauce which wasn’t as cloying and sweet as it can sometimes be, served with a mountain of skinny, crisp golden chips and a huge “side salad at US$15.”

Between courses I’d been joined by a good friend of mine’s former wife, a professional artist, who thoroughly enjoyed a pizza, the name of which I forgot to jot down and I seem to have neglected to photograph it! She washed it down with a large glass of red wine (probably chateau cardboard!) and threatened me with her pizza knife, if I mentioned her name in print. Meanwhile I was given a verbal heads-up on almost everyone I’ve ever met in Central and Southern Africa in the past four decades!

Chicken yardstick
Many diners out use the price, size and quality of a half chicken and chips as a yardstick of a restaurant’s competiveness, cooking and reliability; and while you can be served some half hukus which are half the size of others! prices seem to vary between about US$9 and US$15. So I suppose that puts St Elmo’s half a bird: Spatchcocked barbecue style, piri-piri or with lemon and herbs at US$13, roughly in the middle-of-the-road bracket.

Pastas and gourmet pastas range between US$11 for Alfredo (with mushrooms in a creamy sauce) to US$16 for marinara (seafood). I can recommend both those, plus bolognaise (US$12) and beef lasagna at US$15.

My artist lady friend having left the verandah, I gnawed luscious meat off my chop bones, washing it down with a second Golden Pilsener (US$2.)

I probably daren’t have even thought about a pudding had she still been telling me who’s married whom, who got divorced last month and who died of what in Bradford, Brighton, Brisbane, Bloemfontein, Bindura or Billings, Montana, but when the friendly waiter said they had a new sweet on the menu: apple-and-cinnamon bake with ice-cream and hundreds-and-thousands, I ordered it pronto with a pleasant cappuccino. Very nice, but, personally, I’d use a pinch or two more spice with the fruit!

St Elmo’s, 7-Arts Complex, Avondale. Smoking/non smoking areas. Kiddies play area. Handicapped friendly. Fully licensed. Closed Tuesdays, otherwise open lunch/ supper daily. Tel 334981/2. Booking recommended; vital on occasions.

Stock picture of some of the friendly staff at St Elmo’s. All pictures: Dusty Miller
Stock picture of some of the friendly staff at St Elmo’s. All pictures: Dusty Miller

l dustym@zimind.co.zw

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