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Excitement as Khaya Nyama Wombles opens in Highlands

LOCKDOWN has been lifted, and the Easter bunny will be busy collecting chocolate treats to scatter in the gardens of deserving children, on Easter Sunday, in three days’ time. Jewish communities are currently celebrating Passover, a holiday commemorating the Hebrews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt. The period of rejoicing (although with strict dietary laws and work restrictions) ends on the fourth of April, coinciding with Easter, the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This time last year, the country was under lockdown, and Easter festivities were of necessity low key. But in March 2021, as the rollout of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm gains momentum, there’s a feeling that we may be coming to terms with the pandemic, and cause for optimism and hope.

Bar One and ice cream dessert at Wombles

There’s also excitement among Zimbabwean restaurateurs and in the culinary world, as restrictions on dining in are lifted, and hot new restaurants in and around Harare are opening up. Last Monday, the long-awaited and much anticipated Khaya Nyama Wombles opened its doors at 158 Enterprise Road in Highlands. Created by homeboy Duncan Barker and his wife Yvette, Wombles is a steak house like no other.

A hands-on chef, Duncan Barker has always felt at home in the kitchen. His interest in cooking was sparked at a young age by John, the accomplished family cook, who hailed from Malawi. While at Amby Green nursery school at the age of four, the future chef made cup cakes, and boyhood friends who grew up with him have memories of the banana fritters Duncan made while in primary school.

Some time after completing his studies at Oriel Boys High School, Duncan opened Blondies, a steak and seafood restaurant in Kamfinsa. A few years later he sold the business and moved to Kariba to manage Kariba Heights Hotel. By 1988 he was back in Harare, running the legendary Wombles Steak House in Ballantyne Park. Moving onwards and upwards, by 1995 he had built Barkers Lodge in the upmarket suburb of Kambanji. In this elegant resort you could enjoy fine dining, but might have to wait three months for a reservation.

Medium rare prime rib steak at Wombles

Wanderlust took Chef Duncan and Yvette to Perth in Australia, and then to Bryanston in Johannesburg. ‘Zimbabwe has always been home’, said Duncan, when I met him last Monday at the opening of his latest enterprise. In spite of winning culinary awards at every stop in his travels, the lure of returning home to Harare proved too strong to resist, and Khaya Nyama Wombles opened its doors earlier this week, to a flurry of excited guests.

Decor at Wombles is elegantly opulent. Red velvet sofas and Persian rugs combine with the Africana of Baines prints, basketware, potted palms and animal wall trophies. Waitstaff, always the face of a restaurant, are attentive and cordial and smartly dressed.

Elegant decor at Khaya Nyama Wombles

The menu is wide, and meat lovers can choose their favourite cut, whether beef fillet, rump, sirloin, T bone or prime rib. Whether you choose a 250g portion of fillet, or a 1kg man sized piece of rump, the quality will be excellent and it will be cooked to order, be it rare, medium or well done. The prime rib, aka tomahawk steak, was perfectly cooked to medium rare and well seasoned. It was so good that I couldn’t resist picking up the bone for a final nibble. All main courses are served with complimentary roasted onions, sugar snap peas, and butternut squash. Side dishes include chips, rice, creamed spinach, onion rings and mushrooms. A number of sauces are available, and most people order them, although I think they detract from the flavour of the beef.

We were seven at our table, but every plate was beautifully presented and every steak cooked as requested.

It was difficult to choose from the menu of classic desserts, which included crepes Suzettes, Pavlova and Malva pudding. Creme brulee , served with fresh berries in a footed glass dessert bowl, was delicious and as pretty as a picture. George gave his Bar One in ice cream a rave review.

Khaya Nyama Wombles opens for lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday, and on Saturdays for dinner. Next Monday being Easter Monday, they will be closed

Whichever establishment you choose to visit, you should arrive wearing a face mask; and remember that protocol requires you to sanitise your hands on arrival, and to have your temperature taken. This weekend, whether you choose to eat in, to eat out, or to picnic at your favourite beauty spot, I wish you a happy Passover and the happiest of Easters.

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