Kim Greenwood used to work in one of the finest restaurants in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the skills, talent and hands-on knowledge of catering acquired painstakingly in Auld Reekie show in the Mount Pleasant, Harare eatery she runs with her sister.
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
That’s Sue Austen, who operates the hair-dressing salon and beauticians attached to the restaurant.
I was also excited to see they offer a professional car waxing, washing and polishing service at attractive prices; then disappointed to learn that’s only on a Saturday.
I don’t know where I’d parked recently but my motor car had obviously been used for target practice by seemingly scores of birds suffering the acute runs!
Vanilla Moon used to be aimed almost exclusively at the lovely ladies who lunch languidly when I last visited in 2010, but checking it out a couple of weeks ago, the thrust was at least fairly equally shared with meals perhaps more appropriate for guys who graze with great gusto.
True, it still doesn’t have a licence (to sell refreshingly chilled articles of a moderately alcoholic nature) but there’s nothing to stop clients taking their own and Vanilla Moon doesn’t charge any corkage fee.
Much emphasis is placed on speciality coffees, teas and other hot beverages and on quite a chilly day (it was bright and hot in full sun out of the searching wind), I started with a big steaming mug of hot drinking chocolate, which certainly hit the spot.
I’m often wary of ordering fish or seafood curries in many more dubious eating establishments but convinced myself if one was the daily blackboard special, it was bound to be fairly freshly made from 100% reliable ingredients and not nuked in a micro-wave, or kept bubbling and squeaking for hours, when such dishes can become extremely suspect, and best left alone!
I certainly didn’t have to worry about Vanilla Moon’s daily special: a very generous helping of chunks of lovely white boneless tilapia (Kariba bream) fillets in a spicy, flavoursome (but not over-hot) rich curry sauce with a plentiful portion of white steamed basmati rice, into which vegetables had been folded. Sambals including sliced banana and a moreish piquant chutney, wonderful salads and a “depth charge” to provide added heat to the dish for those with asbestos gullets.
Curry sauces in which fish or seafood (especially prawns) have been cooked shouldn’t be too robustly hot, otherwise they simply kill the delicate flavours of the fruits-of-the-sea — or lake in this case — and you could, really, be eating curried anything! The dish cost US$12 and I relished every last grain of rice.
On my previous visit, in August 2010, I thoroughly enjoyed an “open” fillet steak and mushroom pie, which was US$9 then and currently costs US$13.
I hear Vanilla Moon chefs cook a mean breakfast and this is really an ideal place to enjoy one, especially a business breakfast so adored by Yuppies and Buppies. They are priced between US$6 and US$12, with a Full Moon breakfast of two eggs, bacon, boerewors, baked beans, mushrooms, fried tomato, toast and butter coming in at US$10.
The restaurant is centred on yet another converted classically elegant colonial-era dwelling set on a large well-treed, manicured gardens stand.
You can eat indoors, on a broad, deep sheltered stoep often offering dappled sun or in the garden in either full or partial sun…or total shade. The very helpful waiters will cheerfully move heavy timber tables and chairs to wherever you want them.
Next to fish curry on the daily blackboard special menu was chalked “Hot Apple Cider” at US$3, which intrigued me, mainly because I’d never before sampled one and also because I knew the restaurant didn’t have a liquor licence. And I’ve certainly seen plenty of youngsters get liquored up sterek on cider: especially rough West Country scrumpy from a barrel!
Well, this was a Bowdlerised version of cider: just innocuous non-alcoholic apple juice, served piping hot with an infusion of star anise, cinnamon and lemon slices. It was delicious and I’ll certainly return soon for another big glass beaker full of the stuff.
It’s a pity that on these eating excursions it’s not often usually possible to sample more than one dish from each course. I thought the fish, chips and salads delivered to a neighbouring table looked and smelt superb.
Other attractive sounding main courses included spicy chicken livers at US$9, Mediterranean vegetable wrap a dollar cheaper, Cajun chicken burger at US$10 and moon burger (beef burger) with chips and salads at US$12.
Dishes new on the attractive menu include fillet steak, Greek salad and chips at US$15, beef lasagna at US$12 and conventional (as opposed to “open”) pie-of-the-day with chips and salad, costing US$10.
Scanning my previous article, I see I very much enjoyed a pudding of warm apple crumble with cinnamon and cloves and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, which I “thought” was US$3.
On this most recent visit I wolfed down a ginormous slab of heaven-and-hell cake (which the sister Kim and Sue have renamed “heavenly cake” to placate some of the more stridently Christian customers.) It is ultra-light layers of vanilla and chocolate sponge with cream and a peanut butter ganache and is…well simply heavenly!
Bottom line: fish curry blackboard special, mulled “cider”, heavenly cake and hot drinking chocolate (plus a free bottle of the house mineral water) US$22.
The Vanilla Moon, 8, Seagrove Road, Mount Pleasant (it runs between Second Street Extension and Upper East Road). Opens Monday-to-Saturday 8am-5pm. Lots of secure parking on the premises; guarded outside. Wi-Fi hotspot. Very child (jungle gyms and the like) and handicapped friendly. Smoking/non-smoking areas. Nice music play list if eating indoors or on the stoep. Unlicensed; BYOB; no corkage.
(Dusty is overseas on a five-week working holiday to the UK and Persian Gulf. He visited The Vanilla Moon on July 24.)