I fancied “something different” on visiting The Fishmonger Restaurant in East Road, Avondale, Harare, for lunch on Tuesday.
Report by Dusty Miller
Regular readers will know that my starter course was certainly not very different from the sort of fare I often order several times a week: Soup of the day, which was a wonderfully sound home-made vegetable soup, chock-a-block crammed with probably a dozen different sorts of veggies, chopped, diced, julienned and cooked to tasty perfection in a deep, steaming broth.
With a dinky, still warm, soft Portuguese roll and a pat of butter from one of those faffy airline-style tin-foil containers, it would have been a meal on its own for many in this world at just US$3.
I followed with another two starters rather than a main course and my choice: three sardines grilled whole with strips of griddled peppers (US$8) and a “small” blue-cheese salad at US$3 proved inspired, I thought!
No matter how deft you are with a fish knife at whipping the oily flesh cleanly off a sardine’s spine, those annoying little hair-like soft bones will get into your mouth and the only way to deal with them is to munch a mouthful more of the lovely bread roll and butter.
Sardines and pilchards are from the same family, related to the herring and like kippered herring, are delicious smoked. We usually, of course, see them in cans in brine, olive oil or tomato sauce; this delightful little fish is one of the world’s richest sources of protein, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids which, it is claimed, helps prevent Alzheimer’s.
I just fancied grilled sardines because I’ve eaten them all over the world, often caught by myself and on a chilly, but sunny day, it was a dish that reminded me of sun, sea and sand, often washed down with a glass or two of the local white wine. A half-gallon flagon of chilled Jugoslavian Riesling on a baking beach in pre-independence Croatia, as we braaied Mediterranean mackerel and freshly caught sardines leaps to mind.
The fish were simply gutted, rinsed, dusted in sea salt and black pepper and cooked for a minute or so each side on tin foil over the braai grille, a drizzle of good olive oil added, then the fish were piled up on platters already stacked with a freshly picked garden salad, studded with black and green olives and pungent cheese.
And The Fishmonger’s grilled sardines eaten with what is probably one of Harare’s best blue-cheese salads at just US$3 for a so-called “small” helping and US$5 for a whopping “medium” ticked all of the right boxes.
The salad also contained crisp lettuce and rocket, tomato and cherry tomatoes, peppers and cucumber. It already had a pleasant dressing, but I added a little more extra virgin olive oil. The piquant blue-cheese (“’stinky cheese” my daughter calls it) was grated fairly finely and sprinkled across the dish, its unique umami flavour permeating the whole presentation.
I’ll be with my daughter and grand-children on the cusp of the Cotswold Hills in just over a fortnight and look forward to again sampling the local Stinking Bishop cheese, from Gloucestershire. But I’ll probably have to eat it in the garden with my son-in-law!
Other starters included mussels steamed in a creamy garlic sauce and finished with parsley at US$8.
On a recent visit to Fishmonger, for US17, I had the most wonderful medium-strength Thai-style red prawn curry with a dash of Mozambican coconut milk: the gently spiced sauce being light enough so that I (and some dining companions who dived in) could identify various herbs used in its preparation by taste. The sauce coated what seemed an enormous serving of peeled plump prawns, with one unshelled monster plonked tastefully atop the dish, which came with an individual bowl of fluffy, spicy rice, crispy poppadum and pleasant sambals.
The restaurant’s trademark dish of fish (hake) and chips is US$9 or US$13 for a Homer Simpson-sized helping.
Puddings are US$4-US$5 and at the latter price I enjoyed a colourful Pavlova, with grand meringue, whipped cream, a passion fruit coulis and fresh strawberries.
I miss “JP”, the piratical Algerian-born Frenchman who ran Fishmonger for yonks, but his successor, Zelda Lubbe, formerly of The Red Fox at Greendale when it was Zimbabwe Restaurant of the Year and Flat Dog Diner at Msasa when hugely popular with the public and critics, having returned from years in Cape Town, has significantly raised the bar since taking over.
Bottom line: soup, sardines and salad, pudding and two Golden Pilsener Lagers: US$23.
Fishmonger is at 50, East Road, Avondale and opens from early lunch, straight through until fairly late supper Monday to Saturday; they close after a civilized Continental-style lengthy late lunch on Sundays. Dining indoors, al fresco, or on the stoep. Smoking, non-smoking; reasonably child and handicapped friendly; safe guarded parking off East Road, opposite; fully licensed; good wine list at affordable prices; nice background music playlist. Tel 302285 or 308164. Booking recommended.