The Fishmonger in Avondale has been going for a good few years now. When it started what a treat it was – a restaurant almost solely (ugh!) devoted to fish.
Having recently said goodbye to visitors who live by the sea and who come to Harare for a meatfest of Zimbabwe’s finest cuts, and having duly served up Cholesterol Specials three times a day for the past couple of weeks, I was delighted to accept the suggestion of Sunday lunch at the Fishmonger.
Its popularity has not waned over the years. Remember when it was named as the place where interfering foreign diplomats and other assorted Puppets of the West allegedly hatched plots aplenty to bring about regime change? Did the food distract them from their intent or did they drink too much to concentrate? We may never know.
There was certainly little evidence of political intrigue on Sunday lunchtime. It was teeming with what can delicately be described as mostly the more senior members of our Northern Suburbs community.
We were offered a choice of inside or a garden table. We chose outside, furnished with the all-in-one bench/table under large umbrellas. Frankly pretty uncomfortable – but that was our decision. Hard seating aside, the table was dirty and required a sluice-down. What it got was a pretty cursory wipe. There’s something a bit off-putting about seeing the crumbs of ages stuck down the slats of the table top. Al Fresco is one thing – hygiene another.
The waiter was friendly and run off his feet. Hence the service was a bit slow – and it was difficult to order re-fill drinks as the meal progressed. We ordered starters from a selection ranging from $6 (calamari and fried haloumi cheese) to $12 (tempura prawns). I had the calamari, which was billed as “grilled to perfection.” My co-luncher went for the garlic prawns “in garlic butter and lemon sauce.” His comprised seven overcooked and therefore chewy little baby prawns in a bowl of gloopy fatty sauce. It wasn’t nasty, just not very nice. My calamari looked as though it had been thrown onto the plate in a hurry and was swimming in oil. But it was tasty once it had been rescued out of the slick. There were some mass-produced standard white bread rolls to dunk in this course. If the kitchen is not up to producing a variety of breads, Harare now boasts many good bakeries producing a wide range of tasty loaves. The lack of choice at the Fishmonger seemed indicative of a failure to pay attention to detail.
There is an abundance of choice on the mains menu including pasta from $10–$14 (salmon, vegetarian or chicken) and good looking salads. The fish choice is extensive – from prawns to pan-fried bream and a variety of combos. My lunch partner having been disappointed with the prawn starter had ordered a grilled king prawn main and was again critical of the regal stature of the little subjects that were presented. At $4.50 per prawn, I agreed. To have a satisfying portion, we needed at least six, if not eight, translating to a hefty bill for a fairly ordinary dish. I ordered the Espetada, a mixed seafood kebab of prawn, line-fish, calamari, herbs and onions, tasty but again too oily. This dish managed to be both dry and greasy at the same time as the prawn and linefish were overcooked. I stole rice off my partner’s plate and had a delicious salad. The dish also looked a treat.
Finding the waiter to place a dessert order was a mission and my appetite had waned by the time he arrived. From the selection on the board my still-hungry partner ordered ice-cream and pancake and we both had coffee. The pud was nothing special but looked good, was lightly flavoured with cinnamon and went down a treat.
While not among the most expensive restaurants in Harare, it is not cheap. We had only two glasses of house wine and a couple of soft drinks and the bill for two courses plus one dessert and coffee was $80.
I would say my Sunday lunch was thoroughly unmemorable. I would like to revisit sometime soon to see whether I was simply unlucky on a hellish busy service, or whether my fond memories of the past belong exactly there – in the past.