HomeWining & DiningThe ‘Arti’s’ of dining out!

The ‘Arti’s’ of dining out!

I’m afraid I gulped and did a double-take at initially glancing at the menu of yet another brand new Harare restaurant, thinking at first, that the prices were horrendously dear.

By Dusty Miller

Then I saw the portions, tasted the really excellent food, soaked up the whole culinary experience, examined the fixtures, fittings and decor and discussed with management their concept and plans for Arti’s, in the new part of Borrowdale Village occupying roughly half of what was the disastrously short-lived 360 Degrees.

And I saw that maybe the cost of dining out there is perhaps not as outlandish as it first appeared. Especially if you are the sort of yuppie, buppie, NGO or Corps-Diplomatique punter they are really aiming at.

Perhaps the family man on a fixed income rapidly reducing in buying power by insidious inflation would be better sticking to somewhere like neighbouring Leonardo’s or St Elmo’s at Avondale with their special deals, such as kids-eat-for-nothing, pensioners’ lunches, half-price, three ladies-eat-for-the-price-of two offers, etc.

Portuguese-born businessman Roger de Sa says the restaurant is little more than a hopefully paying hobby for him and somewhere to entertain his friends and family in Harare. He has mining operations across southern Africa and motor-car franchises here. His wife has a very successful travel agency.

His last venture into the hospitality industry here was when he owned the Danai Restaurant/Gainsborough Club in Fife Avenue.

The rambling Colonial-style property was demolished and is now a multi-storey Chinese-operated supermarket.

Hands-on general manager is Russell Kenny, who’s certainly been around the block a few times in similar capacities, has done restaurant consultancy and imported wines.

Cooling waterfall
They were both around when I lunched there on Wednesday: outdoors by a cooling, tinkling man-made waterfall, under a shady canopy on a stinking hot day.

I’d first checked out the cool interior with huge grainy blow-ups of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack. Marilyn Monroe is on the walls in a famous pose and her blonde-locked face is printed on the cushions. (That could be a turn-on for some…sitting on MM’s pouting lips!)

I was invited to the official opening by Roger’s friends Paula and Joao from Paula’s Place, who helped him out with design ideas and behind the scenes professional tips, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it as I was travelling overseas at the time.

Apparently the eponymous “Arti” is a Greek friend from Down South who was also in at the conceptualisation stage, which explains why most dishes on the sensibly small menu are either Greek or Cypriot-themed.

Russell tells me the restaurant’s trademark dish is lamb kleftiko, the classic slowly cooked “stolen lamb” of ancient Greek mythology which was a winner at Taverna Athena (now in liquidation) and the old Hellenic Club (not sure if it’s still available).

I tried the merest soupçon of it and it was superbly seasoned and literally fell off the bone when “cut” with a teaspoon, as indeed it should do.

Lamb is always expensive, even if it’s only from Chinhoyi, but this is New Zealand lamb, arguably the best in the world, imported for consistency of quality, flavour and supply.

A generous chunk of a Larry the Lamb who had lived a contented life gamboling on rich well-watered pastures. It was truly wonderful; but I have to seriously question whether or not it was US$28 wonderful?

Unexpected extras
I had just a tiny sample because I’d already ploughed my way through my selected three-course meal (with unexpected extras) and was rapidly heading towards being rather uncomfortably replete on a deadline day.

A gorgeous genuine Greek salad had contained no lettuce as, indeed, it shouldn’t, but was jam-packed with plump, purple olives, a lovely soft, creamy, salty authentic feta cheese, slices of red, green and yellow peppers, grand small juicy tomatoes and loads of cucumber.

I don’t suppose US$8 was really over the top for that presentation, as there was probably sufficient for two covers sharing it, or one generous meal-on-its-own for the nibblers of this world.

Candidly, with some still warm pitta bread and butter it would really have done me for lunch. But even I can’t wring 1 000 words and several photographs out of rabbit food!

Roughly half-way through the course, a plate of traditional Greek dips and toasted bread sticks arrived, unannounced, unordered and un-invoiced later.
This was really an amuse bouche which should have been served before the starter course proper, to nibble as I sipped a bitterly cold Golden Pilsener Lager and perused the concise menu.

Other starters were spanakopita (a classic Greek spinach pie), keftodakia (savoury meat balls) and chorico/chorizo (the fiery, peppery, grilled sausage of the Iberian peninsula) all at US$9.

Prawn sanganaki was US$14 and lentil soup (using pulses, spring onions and coriander) was US$6.

For mains, that classic Hellenic “mincey” dish moussaka with diced beef steak and aubergine was US$24 and vegetarian moussaka (presumably sans the mincemeat?) US$18.

Chicken gemisto (breast stuffed with tomatoes and feta cheese) was US$22 and kingklip Kalamatas, a Hellenic take on that grand South African fish, featuring a pesto and Kalamatas olives sauce was US$25.

That other authentic Greek dish starring minced beef steak, pastitsio, was my choice for mains, eaten with much of the remaining Greek salad. It was a very fine version of this typical eastern Mediterranean dish with layers of tubular pasta, ground beef and Béchamel sauce baked together. Very rich, very filling.

There are near similarities to lasagna and cannelloni but in Italy the nearest equivalent dish is called pasticcio di pasta and on Cyprus it’s known as baked macaroni. Pleasant comfort food…but US$18…hmm?

Dhakhtyla kyron was the pudding I was told I was going to sample. (No argument!) That translates as ladies’ fingers. Pounded almonds are mixed with cinnamon, sugar and blossom water and this filling is wrapped in very thin phylo pastry about the size of fingers. These are quickly deep or shallow-fried, bathed in an aromatic syrup and drizzled with more blossom water, served with ice-cream and a berry coulis.

Other puddings (they all cost US$6 a pop) are galaktoboureko which is something like a milk/custard tart and mango pudding with freshly whipped cream and mascarpone. I was told that hidden away and unlisted on the menu was ice-cream and chocolate sauce for those Zimbos who need a regular fix of the stuff!

Bottom line: My “light” lunch of salad, pasta, pudding and two Golden Pilsener Lagers (ignoring the kleftiko tasting): US$28, which really doesn’t sound too bad these days, but you could fairly easily double that figure without going totally berserk at the attractive New York-style cocktail bar where (on a good {or bad!} night owner Roger da Sa may very well croon for you, allegedly like Old Blue Eyes, himself.

Arti’s Restaurant, Shop 20, Borrowdale Village (New Sector). Child and handicap friendly. Fully licensed. Eating outdoors in brilliant surroundings or at an elegant interior. Sophisticated background music of the 50s and 60s. Safe parking. Opens From early lunch to late supper Tuesdays-to-Saturdays and Sunday lunch. Tel (Russell) 0714 188 252.

dustym@zimind.co.zw

(There’s a tasting of award-winning KWV brandies at Arti’s at 6pm for 6:30pm on Tuesday October 1. Let Russell know if you want to join in.)

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