As part of their re-launch after the Meikles’ Hotel $8 million overhaul, La Fontaine management hosted a chef’s table for the press to showcase their new facilities and new menu. As one of Harare News’ food writers, I lucked out and made my way there for a seven course tasting of their latest offerings.
Our table was in the kitchen where the guests could watch the happenings in the preparation area. It was great to see them hard at work, though the La Fontaine main dining area is gorgeous too. Big windows overlook Africa Unity Square where people and traffic barge around noiselessly behind the thick glass.
Our table in the kitchen was laid with an army of cutlery and gleaming glasses, and a browse through the menu showed why. There was rabbit, salmon and beef to get through, two cheese-focussed sections, and of course, the meal was framed by a soup and something chocolatey.
A couple of top-drawer red and white wines were poured and it was on to the first item – Tomato Soup with Tomato Bread. It was nice and light, very fresh, served in a teacup, which had most of us vexed for a minute until someone took the plunge and started sipping it as it was apparently intended. I was sitting between Ndeipi editor Jaimee Johnstone and the Meikles commercial manager Tham Mpofu. We started chatting.
Tham tells us that the kitchen is brand new, but not exactly how they wanted it. The initial idea was to have it open to the restaurant so that diners could watch their food being prepared. This is an approach to restaurant planning that has taken off in lots of places, mostly in the posh spots, with nothing to hide I assume!
The next item to arrive was a blue cheese mousse with celeraic crisps and macadamia nut dressing (pictured). It was pungent, extremely rich, but wonderfully petite and I had to fight the urge to lick my plate when the last of the mousse and paper thin crisps were gone.
Sitting next to Tham was the hotel’s food and beverage manager, Alexander Zissimatos. Conversation drifted to the invasive Kariba crayfish, and a consideration of their place on the menu of restaurants like La Fontaine. Counter intuitively, cost is a prohibiting factor at the moment. The ‘yabbies,’ as they are known, are sold whole, but the portion of meat on each one is tiny in comparison to lobster for instance. It would end up costing diners a fortune once appropriate mark-ups were slapped on. Alexander foresees this changing however as availability and popularity make them more affordable and interesting.
The plates were cleared and the next course arrived – rabbit with white beans, tapenade and broccoli. I loved this course, though mostly because it reminded me exactly of my mother’s creamy and slightly sweet chicken casserole, but wrapped in spring-roll sized filo pastry rolls. And presented, as too were most dishes, on a monstrous white satellite dish of a plate.
The waiters came striding up once again, this time with roasted salmon with peas and carrots. My fish was sublime. Perhaps underdone slightly for most palettes, but I’m a ravenous sashimi eater and the soft textures were just right for me. I noticed a slight discrepancy in cooking time though between my own cut and Ndeipi editor Jaimee Johnstone’s. She seemed happy too however, the salmon was fresh and delicate.
Next up was the best bit of fillet I have ever eaten. There was a tightly rolled knot of spinach to one side and some sweet braised onions to garnish it. The beef was so flavoursome, the smallest of forkfuls could keep my palette singing as I tried to make it last.
I asked Tham about the rumours of the Hilton’s arrival in Harare and what it meant. The Meikles contingent at the table seemed relatively unconcerned, though felt that if the Hilton came in at four stars, the strength of their brand might see them capturing a lot of the business-related traffic coming to Zimbabwe. It seems so far off though, and perhaps Meikles has a strong enough brand itself to fend off such top-end competition.
For pudding there was a chocolate fondant. Mine was perfect, the rich, runny chocolate oozed out deliciously when I broke it open. Similar to the salmon however, other people’s were more or less cooked than mine. A surprising inconsistency for a place like La Fontaine.
The Meikles is one of the few places in this city where a person can get three, four or seven courses served. It’s very posh, and the food is great. I recommend La Fontaine for hosting important guests, especially first-timers to Harare. They will be impressed by the service, food and the great views from the main dining area.