Last year’s series of reviews ended on a lamentable and dismal note, so we have to ponder, contemplating the New Year – what the average Harare diner would like to see? All the complaints (like high prices, indifferent food and inconsistent quality of food and service which we spent so much of last year moaning about) instantly rectified? Apparently some of the restaurants we have given reasonable star ratings to have been disappointing in the extreme when subsequently visited by our readers. Another reader pointed out that the star system is unsatisfactory and that if we were awarding ratings according to regional standards the results would be far more punitive. Should we have a choice of different star ratings? Zimbabwe, South Africa, Michelin? All suggestions welcome. And anyway, do the restaurants read the reviews? Do they care?
Well, it would appear that at least one does. In the December issue we reviewed Belcantos (Vainona) in a less than favourable light. There was an immediate response from the director, Tawanda, who gave his apologies for our poor experience and offered a voucher for us to return and give them another try. This we did (anonymously) in mid-January. We went on a Friday – and this time we were not dining in splendid solitude. There was one other table of diners – only. Our comment on the lack of customers was met with a wry shrug and “January disease.”
As a complimentary starter we were given some very salty brown soup and bread which was – well, salty and brown. On our last visit we were served complimentary giblets and not knowing this had already ordered something similar from the starter menu. This time we had ordered Portuguese soup as a starter before the complimentary soup arrived. Hey ho. The Portuguese soup was billed as “kale, potato and chorizo” and to my palate the chorizo had been substituted with ham hock. Our other starter was garlic chilli mushrooms. The mushrooms were drowning in oil and the chilli/garlic component seemed to have been forgotten and replaced by lemon.
To my disappointment my first choice main course was not available. After the Christmas meat overdose I was looking forward to kingclip on a casserole of mushroom, onion, red peppers, green olives and served with mashed potatoes. My luck was out and I opted for lemon garlic prawns instead. They were a little overcooked – but came with a great peri-peri sauce and chips. My partner had spatchcocked chicken peri-peri. The chicken was beautifully moist and was accompanied by a very good salad of tomato, cucumber, peppers and red onion. The peri-peri sauce was on the side, as was a strange addition of crushed pineapple. It was only after eating – and enjoying – it that we agreed that it is in fact foolish to order this dish in any other restaurant than the Coimbra. They serve little else and therefore have perfected their secret recipe to be the best in the region.
We weren’t in the mood for dessert – again suffering from a surfeit of Christmas sweets – but had an Irish coffee apiece instead. The bill, which included two glasses of house white wine and two beers, came to $65. At which juncture we confessed to being who we are and had $50 deducted. Thank you, Belcantos.
The service was very polite and friendly but a bit slow considering they were hardly rushed off their feet.
So, now on to the difficult problem of ratings. The starters were disappointing, the mains were acceptably palatable, the service pleasant, the ambience lonely. We are grateful to the management for engaging with us but feel strongly that we must remain honest in our evaluation. I have decided to scrap all the stars handed out last year and start with a new and rigorous system in the pursuit of culinary excellence.
No stars = not recommended. Should shut down.
1 star = mediocre. No good points but probably won’t kill you if everything else is closed.
2 stars = some good points. Some dishes good, service not bad.
3 stars = mainly good points. Most dishes good. Service good. Ambience good.
4 stars = good food, good service, good atmosphere.
On this new scale Belcantos earns 2 stars.