HomeLife & StyleUnder starter’s orders!

Under starter’s orders!


My mouth is much better than it was when I nearly bit off my tongue in a road traffic “incident” over three weeks ago, but certainly not back to normal.

Shame! Poor regular readers must be getting about as fed up with my tongue trauma as I was with the almost constant pain.

But if the casual scanner doesn’t know that I nearly severed the glossus maximus when the car in which I was driven hit an unseen speed hump, taking off like a Sam 7, he or she won’t understand why a restaurant reviewer has been living on baby-style food for weeks, after days in which it was impossible to eat or drink at all (or talk!)

It’s been very frustrating: especially during a cruise on Lake Kariba (see TheStandard.co.zw, Sunday) when splendid meals and mouthwatering snacks were available almost 24/7; I was constantly peckish — if not downright hungry — but had to refuse plate after plate of great grub!

On Monday, I was told (inaccurately, it transpired) our suburb was, once-again, plunged into Zesa-less miserable darkness.

So, after a couple of after work sundowners, I called en-route home to gingerly munch a meal at a favourite eatery: Portuguese-colonial style Cascais in Harare’s Samora Machel Avenue.

I’d driven past at lunchtime, when the joint jumped; parking, as usual, at a premium. At night there were nine customers when I entered; I was No 10; a group of eight, refreshingly bubbly happy folk, arrived 10 minutes later, but two originals left.

It was Monday: not the best trading night in local hospitality; it was cold: slightly off-putting in a restaurant offering more outdoor than inside tables.

But it was month-end: punters (presumably) being still in possession of discretionary loot. And Cascais’ main opposition outlet, Coimbra, shuts Mondays. So where was everyone?

I had already decided not to try eating a conventional main course. I’d have cheerfully murdered to attack, Henry VIII-style, the restaurant’s trademark half piri-piri chicken, good chips and salad, but it was out of the question.

Soup was manageable but, sod’s law, the authentic traditional green soup, caldho verde (made in Portugal with kale, but locally using spinach, chard, rape, cabbage…or any combination of whatever member of the brassica family is readily available) was “off” that night.

No train smash, though; replacement dish was announced as bean soup. Unsure whether the waiter got the rather painful pun: “Never mind ‘been soup’, what is it now?”

It was a big, steaming, thick bowlful of tasty vegetarian goodness, stiff with well cooked legumes and assorted other veg folded in. It was sadly under-seasoned: unusual in Iberian-style outlets.

But no matter, it’s much easier to add salt, pepper and garlic than remove it! Soups are $3; spring rolls and chouriÇo (chorizo in Spanish) $4; trinchado $5,50; lovely salads, usually well-endowed with grand pitted olives, $3,50-$4,50.

I began eating out regularly in the late 1950s and from then, for the next couple of decades, prawn cocktail was starter-of-choice, probably globally. Until fairly recently the dish was described thus on Cascais’ economically-worded menu, but now — and more accurately — it’s called shrimp cocktail. (Confusingly, Americans call prawns “shrimp”.)

Wee moreish pink crustaceans vastly outweighed crisp greenery and a piquant cocktail sauce in a classically twee dish, allegedly originally created by Fanny Cradock; now –justifiably — making something of a culinary comeback. At $5 it went well with Cascais’ soft-crumbed continental-style bread and butter.

Still hungry, but unable to handle p-p chicken (full $16, half $8, baby $10,5, cubed chicken breast $7 or giblets and chips, $8) and certainly not grilled steak or chops ($6-$16) I ordered a starter-sized plate of chicken giblets in an intensely deep sauce with just a hint of the “hot stuff” which accompanies much Portuguese cooking ($4) and managed to finish about two-thirds of it.

Perhaps because the place was so relatively quiet, customer-wise, it was possible to clearly hear background music usually drowned by sounds of crockery, cutlery and glassware used enthusiastically, punctuated by laughter.

If it was Portuguese music, it sounded remarkably like some Afrikaans sokkie-sokkie, tikkidrei tracks played by Joe Esterhuizen; quite listenable to.

I can usually take or leave music in restaurants. Few of the world’s really memorably great establishments feature it.

I once made the mistake of saying how much I enjoyed Rat Pack-era numbers played routinely in the Frankie and Benny’s chain of New York-style 1950-ish Italian-American restaurants flourishing in the UK.

Those at Gatwick and Aberdeen are especially good.

Don’t praise their soundtrack, though. Specially trained waiters reluctant to take “no” for an answer immediately try to flog you a boxed set of CDs at eye-wateringly painful prices!

(It was ironic—and, I hope coincidental—that, over lunch at City Bowling Club, Harare, recently, the splendidly evocative voice of Mama Cass Elliott, of Mamas and Papas immediately followed Karen Carpenter’s dulcet well-modulated tones.

There’s something strangely, singularly, spooky about being serenaded over oxtail casserole by a very large lady who choked to death on a ham sarney and a tiny skinny one who died of anorexia!)

I ended a leisurely Cascais supper with the ubiquitous Southern African pudding: vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sauce ($3) and pleasant Irish coffee at $4.

Bottom line: soup, two starters, pudding, two lagers and a “speciality” coffee cost $23.

Cascais Restaurant, 139, Samora Machel Avenue. Tel 704831/0. Shuts Saturday lunch, otherwise open daily.

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