Now here’s a new one! I’m often asked why I ate at such-and-such a restaurant for review purposes on a particular date and the myriad reasons are as varied as the cuisine available in this country.
Eating out with Dusty Miller
Never before have I been able to reply something like: “I went to Emmanuel’s fine dining restaurant at the Bronte Hotel to, hopefully, eat a freshwater Kariba crayfish dish, so I have an excuse to show readers a picture of the real live thing — a yabbie, one of 61 caught overnight in a lobster pot at Charara — for them to compare it with the cooked product.”
I’m quite proud of my shot of one of the squillions of Australian yabbies which are busy taking over the man-made lake and destroying its eco-system. They escaped (or were released from) fish farming projects in Zambia, entered their river systems, got into Kariba, arrived on “our” side two or three years ago and are now through the dam sluices and busily on their way to occupying Mana Pools and Chirundu, en route to Caborra Bassa. They have no natural predators in Central Africa, breed like billy-oh and claw their way through mud dam walls causing massive flooding and destruction.
Dining — whether lunch or supper — at Emmanuel’s really is fine…always an eye-opener for first-time visitors to Central Africa, with its hectares of glazing overlooking spectacular gardens, acres of gleaming, starched table linen, sparkling crystal, fine china, solid silver cutlery, exemplary service and always an excitingly different menu to put you in mind of Hampstead or Highgate, rather than Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun city!).
Executive chef there is no less a person than that maestro of the ranges, Steve Hyde. The award-winning, Kadoma-born, Steve returned to his roots fairly recently, but along the way he spent much of his career at Westminster College London as head of hospitality, catering and tourism. He taught Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay (among many other first-team players, now household names) their trade. He also mentored Emma Dickens (25) there and she’s back home in Zim and the new perky restaurant manager at Emmanuel’s.
Since my last visit, they’ve introduced a very splendid sounding express lunch at US$15 for two courses and US$20 for three. When I went on Tuesday, starters were beignet soufflé (beignet is deep-fried choux pastry with, presumably, a savoury filling), leek and potato soup, bruschetta or salmon mousse.
Followed by a choice of mains, including, of escalope of pork, fillet mignon (steak) Diane, butternut and leek risotto or beer-battered tilapia (Kariba bream). Puddings were berry compote with apple sorbet, steamed treacle pudding with custard, marbled chocolate torte or date pudding, sticky toffee sauce and vanilla ice-cream.
That really sounds excellent value for money and I would usually have tried it on your behalf, but nowhere were the dreaded yabbies listed. I had to turn to the lunch a la carte menu for those.
It was an avocado and crayfish tail tian: diced avocado pear which was as creamy as butter with mixed salad leaves, in a tottering tower topped with yabbie tail and Marie-Rose (1000 Islands sauce). On a day with a shade temperature of 32°C and 42% humidity, this was just ideal: cool, richly flavoured but light in texture.
I think, given correct cooking, sauce and accompaniments, freshwater crayfish can be even tastier than their ultra-expensive marine cousins. In a nightmare Doomsday scenario they are rapidly taking over ever water way in Central Africa, and perhaps the only way to slightly curb their expansion is to eat the little sods.
Obviously you can try them at Emmanuel’s, where Steve says he also does a main course of an attractive-sounding totally retro crayfish thermidore; I recently wrote about the prawn salad at Miller’s (no relation) Café at Borrowdale Village and I noticed them on the menu as “combos” (with steak, fish, calamari etc) at The Pointe. We had them as a crayfish braai at Eagle’s Rest, Siavonga on the Zambian side of Kariba.
Other lunchtime a la carte starters include citrus salmon (a sort of South American-style ceviche dish) at US$10; I highly recommend it; seafood tagliatteli at US$9; beetroot and chorizo risotto will set you back US$7 and, for US$6, take your pick from soup of the day (butternut on Tuesday), chicken liver parfait and…wait for it!… deep-fried sadza, with coriander and garlic, served with a tomato and chili relish. (Sounds suspiciously like polenta to me!)
I would usually, ideally, prefer to sample more than one of the delicious main courses on offer at Emmanuel’s and Tuesday was no different as I sat at a comfortable table in a beautifully proportioned cool room with Oregon pine strip ceiling and contemporary chandelier uplighters next to a plate glass window overlooking a lush garden with a backdrop of jacarandas in full bloom, temptations included: Fillet mignon (beefsteak) at US$19 and slow-roasted shoulder of lamb for US$21.
Other dishes were supreme of chicken, bacon and brie or braised belly of pork at US$18; poached fillets of Kariba bream or game cobbler at US$17; chicken parmesan at US$16.
But I’d started with a fishy course and decided to continue along that road with what proved to be a magnificent dish. It was pan-fried supreme of salmon trout (and I’m not going to get into the controversy over the accuracy if the fish’s name!) from Loch Duart in the Scottish Highlands (sob, I was there six weeks ago) served on crushed and diced herbed new potatoes with wilted rocket served with a wide selection of seasonal vegetables including potato fondant, julienned carrots, broccoli, red cabbage and ratatouille.
The wonderfully rich, slightly gamey, generously portioned filleted fish cut easily into totally bone-free delicious pink, meaty, slices; all the different textures flavours and interesting hues came together totally successfully. The dish cost US$19, which is about what you’d pay for it in Scotland
Charming Charmaine Nyathi, who’s 25 and from Kezi, on an internship from the Bulawayo Hotel School, served me a lovely light pudding of a compote of seasonal berries with a deeply refreshing apple sorbet served in a brandy snap “bowl” from the set-price three course express menu; which may explain why it doesn’t appear on my bill, which bottom lines at US$32, including two Golden Pilsener Lagers.
Clearly lunch is more affordable than supper, as the last time I went there for a fairly similar evening meal it came in at US$48, before a well-earned tip.
Emmanuel’s at The Bronte Hotel at Fourth and Baines (separate entrance/guarded parking off Josiah Chinamano Avenue). No smoking indoors.
Eating indoors or out in lovely garden. Nothing to stop you taking kids there, but I wouldn’t (use The Palms buffet restaurant next door.) Reasonably handicapped friendly, but the loo is up a steep flight of stairs.
Fully licensed, well-stocked cocktail bar; corkage US$5. Background music at a very discreet level. Opens lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, supper only Saturday.