Seafood has always been a huge fascination for Zimbabweans, cut off as we are from the oceans as an entirely landlocked country. But it would seem that the lack of having fresh ocean fish and other types of seafood has made us all the more keen on it, judging by the way Zimbos tuck into this kind of fare when holidaying close to the sea and also by the way we love to get our hands on the mostly frozen varieties available to us in shops and restaurants.
Restaurant Review with Epicurean
By this token, then, Harare’s Fishmonger restaurant should be among the most popular in town, and judging by my own observations of numbers there over the years — even in these challenging times — this theory is borne out by practice. It’s a venue that offers the other meats, and vegetarian dishes, that most dining venues also have on their menus, but it’s safe to say most folk go there in search of the much-desired and often elusive seafood. So when the restaurateurs and hoteliers group dined there this past week, it was to sample the catches of the sea, and this is what they got!
On offer was a seafood barbecue, something that is also available to all other diners from time to time, and it’s highly recommended. Flavours are hugely tempting and satisfying, and I can see why the Aussies love to throw everything on the “barbie” time and again, much as we Zimbabweans favour beef on our braais. We started with clam chowder, and then moved on to a selection of sardines, prawns, red Roman fish and calamari, complemented by rice, salads, potato salad and fresh breads. The spread was lavish and delightful, and very well-received. Some of us managed dessert, too… I know I enjoyed a very sizeable portion of malva pudding and custard.
While I loved the whole meal, I really felt the sardines were superb, and were just as I remembered them done Portuguese style on holidays long gone. It was a superb day and we sat on the front terrace, while casual diners took places on the veranda. Mande Snyman gave us several hours of background music and there was a very convivial atmosphere, with a good number of restaurateurs, hoteliers, lodge-keepers and suppliers to the trade. It was great to have Roy Meiring there, now doing consulting work after several decades of hospitality experience to chief executive officer level in groups such as Zimbabwe Sun (now African Sun), Cresta and Meikles. He is regarded as one of the doyens of the travel and tourism sector and many of the newer faces in the business were keen to hear of his experience and ideas, especially at this very worrying moment in our history.
I had a chance during the afternoon to chat to our host, Zelda Baker, about the restaurant, which is now celebrating 15 years of service to the community and is something of an institution in Harare, with a very good reputation for cuisine and service standards. Like other venue operators, she has noted a downturn in business, but she’s optimistic and is delighted to have a regular following that know the venue well and enjoys its treats time and again.
I noticed that there’s quite an emphasis on “specials” at Fishmonger, mirroring something I have seen all around town – and elsewhere around the country. Folks are looking for added reasons to go to restaurants and the biggest incentive, of course, at the moment is price. So specials are on offer to provide access to quality meals at a reduced price, but diners know that to make a special work it has to have a reduced quantity. The seafood barbecue we had is available on demand, for a minimum of 50 diners, and the price is a very reasonable $28 per person.
On Wednesdays, Fishmonger offers a prawn special: 12 queen prawns for $20 and 12 king prawns for $25. Fridays and Saturdays feature a sushi special (it seems Zimbabweans are catching on to sushi in a big way judging by the number of venues offering it); between 12 noon and 5pm, diners buying any platter can get am eight-piece salmon platter for free. Between 1pm and 5pm on Saturdays, a mega prawn fest offers half a kilogramme of prawns, including four queen prawns and the remainder made up of (new to me) prince prawns. Seafood linguine is available at all times for $12, with tiger prawns going for $8,50 for 100 grammes.
Specials also extend to non-seafood dishes. Lamb shank goes for $23, impala stew for $14 and the restaurant serves up a very popular and acclaimed peri peri chicken for $12. Zelda hastened to add there were a number of vegetarian specials, too, catering for the growing army of vegetarians out there, even in traditionally meat-based Zimbabwe. A range of desserts is both varied and appealing.
Fishmonger is open all week, including Monday. It seems many venues are also opening up on what used to be the traditional day off, but this is entirely understandable in times like this, where business lost can never be regained and no-one can afford to lose as much as one customer. Also good news is the fact that Fishmonger takes plastic cards, something I feel is a must in every restaurant today. In fact, I am shocked when people don’t have this facility, as they must surely be turning away business in cash shortage times. Foreign visitors to the country — yes, there are some! — are always appalled when hotels and restaurants don’t offer card facilities, and they find it a mix of unfriendly and primitive when they get a “no” on this request.
The restaurant is sited in an old family home on East Road in Belgravia, bordering on Avondale. East Road now features a number of restaurants, including the Great Wall, Gava’s and St Elmo’s… although, curiously (and not from necessity) there are a number of hospitals and clinics close by! Gone are the homes and this is now very much a working part or the recently-extended central business district. It’s still easy to get parking, thankfully and Fishmonger has its own parking area immediately outside the front gate. Diners can sit indoors or on the veranda, although the terrace is very pleasant, too. I gather that some lunchtimes and evenings are very busy, so perhaps it’s a good idea to reserve a table.
Quite a few friends favour Fishmonger for celebratory events, and over the years I have almost always seen a birthday party or something similar going on.
l Fishmonger’s is a leader in Harare’s restaurant trade and has a well-earned reputation for excellence. The team welcome business diners, family and celebratory groups, romantic couples and even folk on their own. Call (04) 308164 or 302285. It’s at 50 East Road. If you haven’t been there yet, get on down there soon, especially if you have your heart set on a good seafood meal.