ZOL’s Restaurant week which ran from 29 October to 5 November provided an array of reasonably priced menus to chose from in a wide variety of establishments. I opted for the first one in the alphabetical list in which I had not previously eaten – and went to Belcantos in Vainona. I was entertaining an overseas visitor on my only free evening that week – and stupidly muddled my dates and went the evening BEFORE restaurant week began! My fault, my loss.
It was a Tuesday evening and we were the only diners – always off-putting and in different circumstances, suspicious. But in this case I guessed that other potential diners were less daft than I and were saving their dining out experience for the next day. Or the next, or the next. However I had to feed my guest so we went ahead and ordered.
The menu is encouragingly slight, fitting onto one side of the page. Not only, after last month’s tome of a Chinese menu, a quick glance affair, but also offering the possibility that the dishes are prepared freshly when ordered. It was therefore disappointing that out of the four starters on offer, one, the Mozambican Pumpkin Soup, was not available. We were also warned by the waiter that from the choice of eleven mains, of the two fish dishes, one was off the menu, as was one of the steak dishes.
We were given a complimentary warm Portuguese loaf with dips, as well as a dish of giblets. I wish the waiter had told us that this was the case before we ordered, in the absence of pumpkin soup, chicken livers as a starter. The giblets was the better dish, but neither was particularly special as they lacked sufficient seasoning. The bread, while warm, tasted stale. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays – was it from last week?
The mains menu is, for my taste, quite strange. The chef is fond of sticking a fried egg on top of his meat – Piquant Pork Chop with Fried Egg, Portuguese Beef Steak topped with Fried Egg, Belcantos Burger with Fried Egg or – another of chef’s favourites – Pineapple. There were two curries – one Chick-pea Marrakesh-style and a Zanzibar Inspired Lamb. We decided to avoid the Cholesterol Specials and take a look at the seafood. The White Fish Fillets (no-name) were absent that night, and the Catch of the Day – Whole Fish with Head and Tail – serves 2 at $32, was also lacking an identity. The waiter was unable to shed any light, so we decided on Mozambican Spiced Calamari and Grilled Queen Prawns (garlic and chilli or lemon garlic and white wine). The prawns were sadly tasteless and greasy and the calamari failed to live up to the flavours promised in the blurb of ginger, chilli, garlic, lemon, white wine and soy sauce. It was also far too oily. Both dishes were accompanied by nicely al dente vegetables – but again drowned in oil.
There were no puds on the menu – we were invited to “refer to our waiter”. As he was as elusive as the white fish fillets, we gave it a miss, asked for the bill and left. $50 for two covers including a couple of inexpensive drinks and tip. I know I am constantly banging on about prices – and making comparisons with our neighbour South Africa. Yes, ingredients are cheaper in SA, but wages, rent, and power (when available) are ALL considerably cheaper in Zimbabwe. It appears that apart from chasing a fast buck, there is no excuse.
A disappointing dinner. I seem to be constantly seeking excuses for poor performance – had the chef been given the night off in anticipation of a busy week ahead? Were they only taking delivery of key ingredients the next day? Who knows? I will not be going back to find out!