Prawns seem to be shooting up in price in many Harare restaurants and I’m really not too sure why.
Eating out with Dusty Miller
Maybe it’s something to do with the reemergence of the Renamo guerilla movement in neighbouring Mozambique, from where most of the delicious seafood available in this country emanates?
But that doesn’t make a lot of sense because I know of some eateries here which boast that their particular preferred prawns are bred in fish farms in India…or Malaysia or Thailand. The menus at some of our more expensive and upmarket operations list crustaceans and other seafoods which a few days earlier were happily swimming in Scottish waters.
Whatever the reason, Paula’s Place has stopped making their fabulous and famed trademark retro 1960-ish “shrimp” cocktails, jam-packed with plump peeled prawns and a bit of iceberg lettuce to bulk out the dish, one monster unpeeled king prawn curled over the old fashioned champagne glass, staring balefully at his dead mates, the whole presentation was awash with tangy home-made marie-rose (1 000 Islands) sauce.
Recently removing this item from the menu was a move unpopular with several members of my dining club when we ate at Paula’s Place last week and several mentioned that if it was merely a question of economics and profitability, they would much rather pay US$10 or even US$12, for a memorably good prawn cocktail starter rather than simply have fond memories of a much loved dish which was remarkably good value at US$6.
Paula’s Place starters now include spring rolls, chorico, chicken giblets and crumbed mushrooms all at US$4,50, trinchados at US$7,50 and haloumi cheese art US$6,50. A large Greek salad is US$5,50 and a purportedly “small” one is US$4.
For an appetiser, many of us settled for the national soup of Portugal, caldo verde or green soup, which in Lisbon would be made with luscious kale, but here in Zimbabwe, I suspect, features rape, spinach, chard or almost any darkish-green leafed vegetable(s) and comes with two or three generous chunky lumps of chorico or chorizo the fiery sausage of the Iberian peninsula simmered in the wholesome nourishing broth.
Add to that the lovely, light, loose-crumbed but crusty, often still warm, continental –style bread and butter served at Paula’s and that would or could be almost a meal on its own for many people in this world at just US$3.
But of course most people visiting any Portuguese-style restaurant in this country or elsewhere are attracted by the tempting, mouth-watering thought of marinated, flame-grilled often smoky-flavoured, sometimes slightly charred piri-piri chicken.
I suppose Zimbabwe’s national dish is probably the humble sadza and nyama, but the national number two choice is almost certainly piri-piri (from the Swahili word pilipili, meaning “damned hot’!) Huku with chips, boiled potatoes, savoury rice (or any combination thereof) and maybe crisp, cool salad.
We have had one or two members of the luncheon club over the years who could order, eat, finish and thoroughly relish a whole piri-piri chicken, but I’m glad to say I’m not one of them! If you are in that league the complete bird will nowadays set you back US$25.
A half chicken with starch of choice, which perhaps three-quarters of our member went for costs US$12,50 at Paula’s Place….much of a muchness with her several culinary competitors in the city. The price of a whole baby chicken is US$12,50 and a chicken schnitzel US$11,50.
Since my last visit to Paula’s Place, they’ve added a notice near the entrance stating that all huku served on the premises is a proud product of Zimbabwe (from the Dutch Poultry Farm) and none of that Brazilian rubbish we keep hearing about, which is allegedly preserved with embalming fluid!
I’m not sure I ever believed that scaremongering story carried by one local newspaper about the time that KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) were reputedly about to start trading in Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa’s fun capital!) Misinformation or disinformation I suspect! But then, we Zimbabweans are well used to that!
I must have been half asleep at Paula’s Place that Friday, because I sort of automatically ordered piri-piri chicken and chips instead of the Portuguese-style boiled half potatoes which I much prefer as an option to the deep-fat fryer.
The big, tender half chicken was eaten gustily, King Henry VIII-style, with greasy fingers; many soiled paper napkins and a warm finger bowl being used to clean up the resultant mess!
Smiling service was prompt, efficient and friendly from loyal staff who have worked with and for Paula since she started in business on her own at the former Cascais Restaurant, near the Holiday Inn in the CBD. (Now Book Café)
Paula Conseciao who, despite cooking for a living has retained her film-star good looks, has actually been in the catering business since she was a gawky Harare schoolgirl, helping out when her late father ran the then fabulously good Copacabana Restaurant in the Kopje. And her present operation,
Paula’s Place, is a credit to her and her family’s good name. Certainly it is one of this country’s cleanest restaurants and was designed and built by her husband, Joao, to be easy to keep clean, sparkling and hygienic.
Eating is in a big, airy semi-alfresco roofed-over courtyard or in a raised indoor alcove, which manages to look remarkably similar in a shining contemporary way, to their previous, Cascais, operation. There is a welcoming well-stocked cocktail bar with drinks at a reasonable price.
Like so many middle-of-the road Zimbabwean restaurants, there is a threat to charge corkage if you BYOB (US$1,50 for a 750ml bottle, US$5 per five-litre chateau cardboard keg wine, but they never seem to get round to policing the matter.
If you want a change from piri-piri chicken there are several other popular items on the menu.
One of my members went for a very handsome looking sole which was US$12 on the special board, but listed at US$16 on the new attractive laminated menu and pork chops at US$10,50 from the bottom end of the menu seemed great value. Portuguese-style fillet steak, egg and chips cost US$16 and a rack of sticky pork ribs US$22,50.
Portugal and all her far-flung former colonies were famously marine nations and fish features prominently in Lusitanian cooking. Hake or kingklip fillets are US$15,50 and US$23 respectively, codfish bacalhau, ( a bit like fish biltong and very much an acquired taste) is US$32, calamari US$16 and “medium” prawns US$28,50.
Combos are growing in popularity, presumably among people who can’t make up their minds what they want to eat! A quarter of half-chicken with prawns or calamari will set you back US$17 or US$20,50 respectively; hake and calamari or prawns US$17 and prawns or calamari US$20,50.
All puddings are US$5 and although I was too stuffed to manage one last week, I can thoroughly recommend anything which appears on the menu or whiteboard special list.
Paula’s Place, 34 Samora Machel Avenue. Fully licensed. Cocktail bar. Minimal corkage. Child and handicapped friendly. Smoking/no smoking areas. Safe guarded parking.
Opens lunch daily and supper Monday to Saturday. Tel 497950. Huge numbers of covers can be catered for, but this is a very popular restaurant and booking is highly recommended.