One of the things that we have harped on about in this column is a general lack of consistency in the quality of our Harare restaurants.
Too often have we given a rave review on the basis of which readers have followed our advice, only to be bitterly disappointed. This year we are going to try to visit the restaurants under review on more than one occasion in order to improve the quality of our recommendations.
We open the year — and the new policy — with Casa Mia, on the corner of King George Avenue and Aberdeen Road in Avondale. We may have reviewed Da Eros (which closed two years ago) in the past. Casa Mia is its reincarnation.
This really is a family restaurant, with ample seating inside or outside in the pretty garden. It has an Italian menu to suit most tastes and is extremely child friendly. It is nearly always busy — an encouraging sign — but the welcome and the service are generally uniformly good. There is a pizza menu offering a good thin crispy base with a range of toppings but also a full menu of starters, pasta dishes, meat, poultry and fish.
The acceptably tasty, if unremarkable choice of starters range from $5 for brandy creamy livers, calamari, or crumbed mushrooms to $8 for prawn tempura with very good deep fried haloumi or mozzarella priced in between.
My word of caution on the antipasati is that the portions throughout the menu are generous and too much enthusiasm for a first course might find you struggling later on. Alternatively there is a range of salads which although deliciously crisp and fresh, I found wanting for a few extra herbs and a dressing to lift them out of the ordinary. There is, of course, olive oil and balsamic, but I almost felt like asking for a jug, a fork and a few more ingredients to make my own dressing!
The pasta ($9-$15) is all homemade on the premises (apart from the penne) and cooked to perfection together with a varied choice of good sauces. There is also ravioli, lasagna and gnocchi all of which are equally good — we found the vegetarian ravioli in a creamy mushroom or blue cheese sauce particularly delicious.
The pork chops and ribs are reportedly both signature dishes, though I have had no first hand experience.
There is a wide range of beef on offer, including oxtail, but the only one we have tried, the T-Bone, was lamentably disappointing. Cut too thin and cooked too long, there was no chance of this passing the medium rare test! However, the diner in question, “not wanting to make a fuss”, didn’t report his complaint so we cannot judge what the response would have been. All restaurants make mistakes and unless we point them out they cannot be expected to improve.
We have sampled all the chicken dishes and found them to be thoroughly enjoyable. Likewise the fish dishes — calamari, hake, tilapia, kingclip or prawns — of which we have ordered all but the prawns, are presented simply and succulently with a choice of salad, rice, baked potatoes or chips.
The side salad is as un-herby and undressed as those criticised above, but sloshed about with a healthy dollop of olive oil and balsamic, goes down a treat.
The desserts are not a strong feature but for those still able to able to squeeze in another mouthful, there is a good, if predictable choice.
The last couple of times we have been —on a Friday — there has been a very talented female vocalist/guitarist performing which hugely added to our enjoyment.
This is not Fine Dining, but it is Good Food — and consistently so. It is also comfortable, accommodating, affordable and cheery. Just what we need in these somewhat uncertain times.
● 2 courses and drinks: $20-$25 per head.