Dining out is a luxury. Dining out in a restaurant such as La Fontaine, entered in the competition in the Deluxe category, is even more so. Expectations are high.
By Le Connoisseur
One hopes for a memorable occasion with great service and great food, in which one feels privileged and special. This is, after all, a treat — only a few can afford.
So we were very pleased to be allocated La Fontaine this year and set off with high hopes of an evening to remember. Were we disappointed? In no way at all. This was undoubtedly, a night to remember.
Throughout this memorable evening, every member of staff who served us — we counted half a dozen — treated us as though we were all that really mattered that night.
This is not an experience one has in a restaurant every day, though of course it should be, and most especially, in a grand restaurant.
All waiting staff were attentive, friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. When enquiring if items on the menu could be slightly adjusted to our liking — no problem, nothing would be too much trouble, everything must be as we desired — this was the tenor of the occasion, and we enjoyed it.
We were also advised at the outset, that should we have any suggestion of how things could improve, we should not hesitate to share this, or to draw any shortcoming whatsoever, to the attention of the staff. This was done with accompanying declarations of pride in the Meikles Hotel and La Fontaine Restaurant, which were rather delightful.
We were presented with both an à la carte and a table d’hôte menu, both of which had our mouths watering. The content of each showed much imagination, as is sought after by Zim on a Plate reviewers, and we took our time, we were in no rush.
We were however also hungry after a long and trying day in our mutual offices, and at length, so torn were we by so many delicious options, that we decided to order starters and then continue chewing over the menus.
We also studied the excellent wine list which offered a vast selection of wines from all over the world, and was a pleasure in itself to scrutinise.
Could we order some dishes from the table d’hôte and some from the à la carte, we enquired of Shadreck Hove? No problem at all. Whatever we wished.
A surprise amuse bouche arrived while we continued our enjoyable deliberations, a small coffee cup on saucer, containing a delicious vegetable soup.
The rolls served with it were delicious too, and clearly freshly made on site, with a choice of white or brown.
Another pleasant surprise was the pianist, playing proficiently in the corner, with a varied and suitable repertoire, which fitted the environment perfectly, unobtrusive yet pleasing, and far preferable to any kind of piped or recorded music which can so often detract from one’s enjoyment by being overly loud, or not to one’s taste. This music would have suited anyone and annoyed no one.
We finally settled upon a Paul Cluver 2011 Gewürztraminer, as something different to try out on this special occasion. Like everything else that night, it came promptly and was served most proficiently by another friendly member of the crew, Taitos.
All staff wore name badges which I always think an excellent idea, and we were delighted to see a previous year’s finalist for Service Personality of the Year, Sylvester, proudly wearing his Zim on a Plate badge declaring this as well.
Glasses were replenished at exactly the right intervals and an ice bucket and stand were of course provided. Our starters came promptly and were superb, the mushroom soup spectacular, the prawns likewise and beautifully presented too.
We eventually settled on our mains though it was hard because there was much to entice that sounded unusual and delicious, specifically, the vegetarian options drew us, and my wife actually did settle on one of these after a long debate with herself, as she does enjoy meat too.
I went for the lamb in the end, as this is a real treat and not something we eat at home.
Her dish came from the table d’hôte offerings and was olive and tomato taglietelle with shaved parmesan, a dish that had also appealed to me, I must say. She declared it divine, and my lamb was delicious and as tender as butter.
The vegetables were perfect — al dente, nicely presented and served — cauliflower, carrots, courgettes, all done with a certain touch of magic — they each had their own additional touch of flavoursome sauce.
We were enjoying our evening so much that we lingered for its own sake over each dish and soaked up the ambience, which was reminiscent of La Fontaine’s usual home — lovely wooden panelling, old world elegance, and to add to the atmosphere, the restaurant was busy with a varied clientèle, both local and international, and even a family with small children celebrating a birthday, who seemed to be having a fine time. The staff sang a happy birthday later in the evening, but not in a way that was disturbing.
However, it was a happy interlude and all patrons clapped. Our wine, it turned out, was an excellent choice. Not one we’d tried before, and we enjoyed every drop.
Though satisfied fully by the time we had cleaned our mains plates leaving not one morsel, the amounts served at each course are exactly right, we could not resist checking out the desserts trolley, laden with temptation, but we’d also spied crêpes Suzette on the menu earlier, flambéed at the table, and though now eating out of greed rather than need for another mouthful, we decided we were having such a fine night of it, we might as well go for broke and enjoy the drama of the flambé for its own sake.
This enjoyable spectacle was put on by Nevson. We thoroughly enjoyed watching, and the visitors to Zimbabwe at the adjacent table, after enquiring if it tasted as good as it looked, which it certainly did, ordered one themselves, though they’d already finished their meal! It was absolutely delicious, prepared exactly as this well-known dish should be.
It was fun watching the preparation and the soaring flame.
Sylvester came by with the liqueurs and brandies trolley to tempt us still further, recommending a noble late harvest dessert wine to go with our crêpes at the appropriate moment, and it would have been the perfect accompaniment, but we did need to drive home and were fully satisfied in every way by then.
This experience ticked every box for an excellent fine dining experience, from environment and ambience, to service, to attention to detail, catering to every request and enquiry with friendly helpfulness, and creating a great memory. Well done to the entire staff complement at La Fontaine for doing this exactly as it should be done.
Expect to spend US$35 to US$65 per head
Meikles Hotel, Harare