We all feel like a touch of luxury on occasion. Our quest for down-to-earth, honest-to-goodness, reasonably-priced food in Harare has thrown up the good, the bad and the downright deplorable. And frankly, if all we are seeking is an amalgam of the various hyphenated criteria above, why not cook it yourself – or just go home to Mum’s?
So this month we decided to head out and see what Harare has to offer in the form of fine dining. We chose Amanzi, an exceptionally beautiful restaurant in a splendid garden where you can dine equally comfortably in the fine interior or on the terrace. We were pleased to hear that there have been some changes to the menu with the recent addition of a tapas selection, among other things. Tapas, small snacks of Spanish cuisine, are great if you have a fairly small appetite but like to enjoy a multitude of different tastes. However, there isn’t much Spanish about the Amanzi tapas menu – it is more like a selection of dishes from all over the world. Jamaican chicken wing jerky, sushi, blue cheese and springbok carpaccio spring rolls, prawn tempura, three soup taster – all mouthwateringly attractive. The dishes are priced from $5–$10 and choosing three or more dishes each and sharing would be a delicious alternative to starters and mains. However, our table decided otherwise and we had a laksa chiang mai soup which was pronounced extremely good, a sushi platter which was utterly delicious, and two rather disappointing selections from the tapas menu. A crab and ginger dumpling was sadly lacking in crab, was encased in a leathery type pastry and its “home-made sweet chilli” sauce was unremarkable. The springbok carpaccio/blue cheese spring roll was better with beautifully flaky pastry – but the cheese overpowered the delicate flavour of the carpaccio. But the thing about Amanzi is that even when the food is not quite 100% the service and the atmosphere are so seductive that disappointment is somewhat mitigated.
Our mains courses were steak medallions, oxtail, coq au vin and smoked haddock fishcakes (which is actually a starter). To my great consternation, neither the chicken nor the oxtail came with any accompanying vegetables or salad. And there appears not to be a ‘side dish’ extra veggies/salad option. Both these dishes were accompanied by something billed as “scallion mashed potatoes” which was (dare I say?) lumpy. Scallions are spring onions but none of us could identify the lumps as such, or indeed as anything other than, well, lumps. The chicken was pretty good, swimming in delicious red wine sauce, as were the oxtail and the beef. But that extra oomph was missing. Especially, as far as I am concerned, something green. The beef was good though and did have a portion of something that resembled ratatouille plus some crispy potato thingies – neither chips nor crisps but a crunchy addition. The mushroom sauce was very good. Our fishetarian friend who had been disappointed at the lack of crab in the dumpling, said that her smoked haddock fishcakes did taste of the named ingredient – but were otherwise not special.
By dessert time we were all pretty full and so indulged in our usual trick of four teaspoons and a pudding. It was an excellent cardamom crème brulee which, together with a good coffee apiece, rounded off our dinner. We had brought one bottle of wine for which we were naturally charged corkage and ordered one more from a not too exorbitantly priced wine list.
It was an enjoyable evening and at $40 a head not outrageously expensive. But I think if all of us had had full mains and desserts, this would have risen to at least $50. The service is, as always, impeccable and the ambience superb which creates a feeling of well-being even if some of the food is not quite as delectable as the surroundings.