I can only assume that Pilani Mazadzire still owns Butlers, the restaurant at Newlands, where Trax used to be; before that it was called News Café.
Eating out with Dusty Miller
Because last time I saw Pilani (I was sitting outside another Newlands eatery having lunch) not long ago he was bemoaning a lack of trade at Butlers (they don’t seem to be able to afford an apostrophe, so I’m not sure whether it should be Butler’s or Butlers’!) and the rather more upmarket operation The Lounge trading above it.
There was certainly no sign of him at Newlands when I ate there the day of the vote-rigging (sorry…did I really say that?…vote-counting), after Zimbabwe’s recent elections. There was also no sign of any other punters until after I’d finished my starter course, when a bunch of local and regional election observers arrived to start splurging their per-diems.
Certainly Butlers doesn’t look much like the restaurant Pilani proudly opened a while ago, following the premises remaining empty for three-and-a-half years after Innscor gave Track Armour, proprietor of Trax, the gypsy’s kiss. Then it was all acres of snowy white starched linen, heavy gleaming silver ware, cut-glass crystal, bone china, US$140 bottles of wine and a rather pretentious (for Zim) buffet “created” by a South African-recruited executive chef.
On my recent visit there wasn’t so much as a table cloth to be seen indoors or out, and the timber table tops (Pilani’s also in the bespoke furniture business, has an outdoor advertising agency and other eateries) had definitely seen better days.
To save myself an awful lot of writing, these days I usually simply photograph menus and wine lists at the restaurant I’m investigating, then, at the office, blow up the pictures and capture salient points in a note book for the subsequent review.
But Butlers menu was so faded and creased and printed in such a ludicrously small (seven or eight point) italic font that I had to forget that plan and resort to my trusty stainless steel Parker rollerball.
Breakfasts (that probably was the most popular meal in Track’s days) were US$6 to US$12.
Lunch and supper starters are now limited to mushroom or butternut soup at US$4 and onions rings (eh?) US$3. Toasted sandwiches with potato chips and side salads are US$9 and club sandwiches US$12. Chicken or Greek salads are US$6 and ham salad (well my hand-written scrawl starts with an “h” and it’s a short word: too short for “health”) is a dollar cheaper.
I ordered the mushroom soup, which was remarkably good and seemed to feature both button and oyster mushrooms in a piping hot creamy textured and coloured presentation, which had considerable depth and complexity. In fact, when they finally delivered me a spoon with which to eat it, I jotted down that it was one of the nicest mushroom soups I’ve eaten recently. And I’ve had some good ones, particularly at Arnaldo’s, Kensington and the Greek Sizzler at Pomona.
You could have almost stood up the legendary spoon in the good forest fresh fragrant fungi and with a roll, or bread, or toast and butter, it would have been a meal on its own for many in this world. There was no toast, bread or roll in stark contrast to the Cape Town chef’s regime when much emphasis was placed on artisanal baked bread and salted butter.
It was nice to sit in full (but weak) sunshine on the verandah overlooking Enterprise Road which, despite the rather pointless by-pass, was fairly busy. The other stoep overlooks the workaday, rather dim, dreary, grey concrete TM car-park and enjoys full shade from lunchtime onwards. Something welcome in summer.
No one ate indoors, which, nowadays, looks very cold, Spartan and unwelcoming and I’ve still not been upstairs to the leather banquettes, single-malt whisky by the bottle (well that was the original concept) and cigar smoke gentlemen’s club atmosphere of The Lounge.
Lunch or dinner is served with rice, potato wedges or “fries” (chips) and includes: T-bone steak or piri-piri chicken at US$10 or chicken schnitzel, tilapia (Kariba bream) or pork chops at US$12.
“Med” chicken (I wasn’t clear whether that was an abbreviation for “medium” or Mediterranean) or fillet or rump steaks cost US$15 and lamb chops (always comparatively pricey in Zimbabwe) were US$18.
Fettuccini pesto chicken was US$12 and three other pasta dishes: Arrabiata, lasagna (vegetarian or chicken) and the spaghetti Bolognaise I ordered were all US$10.
And it wasn’t a bad spagBol at all: a generous portion of perfectly al dente good quality pasta, topped with a Bolognaise ragu which featured excellent quality finely minced beef steak along with the usual tomato and onion sauce which was nicely seasoned and herbed.
Again, I had to wait a wee while until cutlery was brought, and that was a knife and fork wrapped in a piece of tissue paper. Personally, I would have thought a spoon would have been appreciated by all but the most adept pasta slurper and even for those, to mop up the last drop of rich sauce, in the absence of any bread. And of course it should have been accompanied by grated Parmesan cheese. Which it wasn’t.
I ate pasta and a Greek salad together. Pedantically, a Greek salad shouldn’t involve lettuce but as in probably every restaurant in the world outside the Hellenic archipelago and the south of Cyprus, it did. It also had quite a few cubes of salty feta cheese, half-a-dozen unctuous purple olives, some grated carrot and a few strips of pepper. Quite pleasant, but not US$6 pleasant!
I ordered traditional Malva pudding (spelled Melba…wasn’t sure if it was a Peach Melba, named after Dame Nelly of that ilk or the trademark South African vinegar pudding), but it was “off” as was fruit salad, both US$6 and something beginning with a scrawled “C” which cost US$4.
For US$6 they served a big steaming bowl full of hot caramel custard (which should have gone with the Malva pud!) and, separately, two small dollops of vanilla ice-cream. Different, but, again, not worth US$6.
Bottom line: soup, salad, pasta main course, infants school comfort food dessert and two Golden Lager Pilseners US$30.
Butlers opens daily from breakfast until suppertime.
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