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Harare’s coolest crowds flock to Queen of Hearts Restaurant

Sushi and Sauvignon Blanc at the Secret Bar

IN a pack of cards, the Queen of Hearts symbolises an attractive and magnetic woman who offers unconditional love to all and sundry. In Lewis Carroll’s novel, Alice in Wonderland, however, the Queen of Hearts is an irascible and acquisitive woman who declares that ‘all the ways about here belong to me’. A visit last week to the Queen of Hearts cafe, restaurant and bar in the once peaceful Hurworth Road in Highlands, revealed some of the magic of a wonderland; if a tyrannical queen does exist at this popular hideout, she was off duty when we were there.

It was a dark night, and the trees were festooned with bright fairy lights when George and I arrived at the Queen of Hearts, in search of sushi. The grassy lawns and rose bushes once surrounding a tinkling fountain, that I remembered from earlier visits, have been replaced by elegant black and white tiles, overhung by an exotic Arabian tent with low-hanging lamps and baskets of ferns with trailing greenery. No special events were advertised, but the party was pumping, and smiling, happy people of all ages continued to arrive throughout the evening. Hardy patrons impervious to the chilly weather sat in the garden at candle lit tables, but the place to see and be seen was in the tent.

Wanting to check out the newly-opened bar, we entered a long, narrow and beautifully decorated area. Bar lady Eve informed us in a whisper that we were in the Secret Bar. It seemed the time and the place to sip a cocktail, or perhaps a daiquiri of rum and grapefruit juice. But owing to the lack of ‘syrup’, an essential ingredient, cocktails were off the menu. So we made do, successfully, with a glass each of Hoopenburg The Guru Sauvignon Blanc 2017, light and delicious with overtones of guava and green fig leaves. Yes, really! We sat for a few minutes in the far reaches of the Secret Bar on a velvet buttoned love seat, before ambling off to the Oh So Sushi Kitchen to place an order.

If you’re a first time visitor to Queen of Hearts, don’t expect a waiter to come and stand to attention while you scroll up and down the menu choices . Depending on whether you want to eat a burger, sushi or butter chicken, make your way to the relevant counter, place your order, and pay in advance. When your food is ready, a waiter will bring it to your table, so make sure she or he knows where you’re sitting.

After careful consideration, we ordered a Show Off Platter of sushi, priced at $60 for 36 pieces. It was more that we could eat at a sitting, but it would introduce us to the many wonderful varieties on offer – salmon, tuna and rainbow rolls, salmon roses, tempura prawn California, soy paper wrapped sushi boats, and uniquely Zimbabwean crunchy deep fried rhino rolls. And any remaining pieces could be packed to take away for a midnight snack or breakfast the next day.

The minutes ticked by, interminably, it seemed. But what was not to like about sitting comfortably on a velvet love seat, and kicking back with a glass of sauvignon blanc in a restaurant frequented by Harare’s coolest crowds?

The Show Off platter arrived, and it looked spectacular. The salmon, prawn and tuna flavours were fresh and combined well with the seaweed wrappers, avocado and vinegar rice. There was just the right amount of soy sauce, pink pickled ginger (a palate cleanser to eat between each morsel ) and bright green wasabi, a powerful and addictive Japanese horseradish paste, for flavouring. Disappointingly, each piece of sushi was slightly soggy, suggesting that the platter had taken too long to prepare, or had stood waiting on the counter before being brought to the Secret Bar. Even the usually crispy deep-fried rhino roll looked relaxed and slightly humid.

Four pieces of sushi remained, but we could eat no more. A personable young waiter promised to pack them for us to take away, and we left the Secret Bar. Navigating a path through the crowded tables in the tent we arrived at the mobile trailer where highly-trained baristas sell good coffees and hot chocolates.

The Queen of Hearts somehow manages to be all things to all people, whether you fancy sushi, a Pizza (Friday nights), a burger, salad or a steak. During the day young mothers flock to Queen of Hearts to meet friends and chat over tea and cake, while their toddlers play on the green lawns or climb the jungle gym.

The next time I visit the Secret Bar, I hope cocktails will be back on the menu. I’ll order sushi again, but nothing bigger than an eight piece Samurai Roll of prawn, avocado and tuna. –  A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff

Queen of Hearts
1 Hurworth Road
Mobile: 0771 929 914
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