Prince prawns at Ocean Basket lacking in va-va-voom
BEING a food nerd by nature, I’m not drawn like a moth to the flame by franchised restaurants, where food is prepared according to an operations manual. Cooking by rote is the order of the day, anathema to the creative chef who allows his taste buds and popular trends in food to influence his style and to vary his menus from time to time.
Having said that, when a friend visiting from Australia some months ago, said that he and a colleague had spent many happy hours at the Borrowdale News Cafe, said to be a premium cocktail bar with an interesting cafe menu, I threw caution aside, and we set off for Sam Levy’s Village.
It was Friday evening, and I was planning to kick start the weekend with a Cuba Libre (rum, Coca Cola and a dash of lime), or perhaps a White Russian (creamy milk, vodka and coffee liqueur). We headed towards the cinemas, and the pretty pink fountain resembling a giant dandelion was visible, but News Cafe was closed and in darkness. Nearby Simply Asia had also called it a day, the door locked and barred, tables and chairs stacked upon one another. The lights were on at Ocean Basket and there was a handful of patrons both inside and outside on the verandah, so in we went.
There was no cocktail menu, but our waiter was able to describe some cocktails and their ingredients from memory. Ideally, and to create a sense of occasion, a restaurant could offer separate well-designed menus for drinks, beers and cocktails. A small soda water ($2), attractively served in a carafe, seemed a safe choice, while George asked for a Pilsner, also $2.
We could be in for a royal experience if we ordered prawns, ‘our crowning glory – eat with your fingers.’ The prawn special of ‘twelve prince prawns’ ($21) was served in a pristine-looking frying pan and came with a variety of side dishes. I chose creamed spinach and butternut squash over rice and chips. The prawns were of good quality and fresh, so fresh that even the heads and shells could be eaten. Small dishes of garlic, chilli and butter sauces were served to add some va-va-voom to the prawns. The vegetable side dishes, however, lacked seasoning, and the butternut, being full of lumps, was nether a puree or a mash.
The platter for one, with mussels, calamari, calamari heads, fish and prawns ($25) was attractively presented, but lacked the wow factor in terms of taste. No doubt the franchisor of Ocean Basket had a particular palate and a certain section of the public in mind when he created the flavours and menus for his cooks to follow. Just not mine.
After requesting a finger bowl to wash our hands, we shared a slightly stodgy chocolate lava cake served with ice cream for dessert ($8). Cappuccino ($3) tasted watery, despite a large topping of froth. George said the hot chocolate ($5) was fine.
So on reflection, the most enjoyable part of my visit to Ocean Basket was being out on a warm summer’s evening, seated on a comfortable chair in close proximity to the dandelion fountain in Sam Levy’s village, sipping a soda water, watching Harare’s beautiful people walking to and fro, and shooting the breeze with
George. Innscor Africa Ltd is said to have bought the Ocean Basket and News Cafe franchises from come back kid Shingi Munyeza, an entrepreneur and business man, who has in the past been Junior Mayor of Harare, CEO of African Sun Limited, and a senior pastor in Faith Ministries.
A leading fast food company since it opened its first Chicken Inn outlet in Speke Avenue in 1987, Innscor should have the skills and experience necessary to make these franchises profitable, despite the lack of foreign currency, and the difficult economic environment bedevilling every kind of business in Zimbabwe. – A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff
Stand 3, Sam Levy’s Entertainment Centre
Sam Levy’s Village
Tel: 263 4 852189
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