As chance would have it, I ate at Leonardo’s twice in a single day: first at a lunchtime meeting and later at a farewell dinner. Having the opportunity for such immediate comparison was very enlightening and the angle of this review changed a lot. I can now heartily advise you to NOT listen to the likes of me too closely! If I had based this review on lunch, it’d be absolutely glowing. If I was writing about my dinner experience, it would be much less so, and given that most reviews are based on a single meal, readers need to take them with a pinch of salt, always. After all, with different waiters, maybe a different chef, or the same one feeling tired and grumpy, it’s surely only the biggest of places that can maintain a rigid consistency.
Ultimately it was my lunch experience that has me recommending Leonardo’s overall. The service was very warm, quick and professional. I was also amazed by the value of a special that’s on – ten bucks will get you a starter and a main at lunchtime. Ten bucks! At last, the value I’ve been looking for in Harare! My two companions and I ended up enjoying a good two-course lunch for $57, including multiple drinks, a round of coffees and a single dessert.
The complementary nibbles at Leonardo’s are freshly baked cheese focaccias, thin, crispy, with cracked sea salt and a very tasty cheese. These are dangerously moreish so don’t ruin your mains! They really do set Leonardo’s apart, even trumping the much-loved bread and gravy at Coimbra.
The choice of four starters available to the $10 lunchtime patrons is simple but pleasing. I had the livers (usually priced at $6), which had a delicious tomato-based sauce and a slice of lemon for me to squeeze some tang into the very rich meat. Livers are not difficult meat to get right, but Leonardo’s took them to the next level. My companions both chose the Foccacina all Greca, spinach, feta, olives, Parmesan and mozzarella melted into focaccia bases.
For the main course I tried the Pasta alla Matriciana, which was very tender, freshly-made fettuccini with a bacon and chilli-enhanced Napoletana sauce. It was a huge portion. The others ordered the half peri peri chicken and the pork chops tikka, both of which still had the smoky taste of the grill about them and were cooled off with a decent green salad.
Honestly, for ten bucks, the whole meal was a steal. It was only when I ventured into the dessert menu, ordering the Amarula Creme Caramel ($7) that it started to escalate. It was very subtly flavoured, slight caramel hint, no amarula, but a nice consistency to it and tasty with the bitter hug of an espresso on its way down.
Coupled with the very ornate and classy décor, which manages to avoid becoming kitsch, Leonardo’s had me most impressed by that lunch. Sitting by the windows overlooking Borrowdale Road is a great place for a daytime meal, or dinner on a hot evening. Unfortunately all the window seats were taken when I returned later.
Then, choosing something off the menu became more of a challenge without the lunchtime specials. Our host had eight people to feed so we were all being polite and avoiding steaks ($19 for 250-300g.) Nonetheless there was a range of dishes ordered, from a paella with four big and delicious prawns ($21), a couple of pizzas ($13-$14) and more pasta dishes ($15-$18). I thoroughly enjoyed the Leonardo Special pizza, which balanced the sweetness of sundried tomatoes with some salty salami and olives very nicely. I also sampled the spinach ravioli with its ever so slightly doughy taste, but a nice light olive oil dressing which let the spinach flavours rise up in the end.
We enjoyed our food, though the service had deteriorated into something a bit lacklustre. A very solid lunchtime score was therefore jaded a bit by the huge increase on our tab, and the noticeably sluggish service. In the final equation, I recommend Leonardo’s for lunch, where $10 will get you well fed and well treated.