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The Fishmonger re-opens at the Italian Club.

THE ideal seafood restaurant often exists in the imagination as a rustic waterfront shack, run by a family of fishermen and a team of home cooks. Harare’s premier seafood restaurant, The Fishmonger, however, is miles away from the sea, is managed and run by the redoubtable Zelda Lubbe, and has recently re-opened in one of Harare’s most elegant and desirable locations.

Chargrilled king prawns at The Fishmonger

When The Fishmonger closed its doors in August last year, regular patrons and lovers of prawns, calamari and fish and chips, were in despair. Previously situated in a converted house in East Road, its casually rustic feel and extensive seafood menu made it a popular destination. There were no serious attempts by other establishments to take over where The Fishmonger had left off, possibly owing to the Covid-19 lockdown or to lack of expertise, so when it was announced that they would be re-opening in new premises on Thursday 22 October, there was an outpouring on social media – ‘best news ever’, ‘I can’t wait’ and ‘you have been missed’ to mention a few.

I dialled a mobile number found on Facebook to make a reservation for a late lunch on Saturday afternoon. I spoke to Edward who, judging from background noise, was working from home. He asked me to text my details, which he would forward to the restaurant. Hoping for the best, we set off for 197 Enterprise Road, the new home of the Circolo Italiano, aka the Italian Club, and the latest setting for The Fishmonger, in premises previously occupied by The Bistro restaurant.

It was after 2 pm when we arrived, but the Fishmonger was pumping, and parking hard to find. Although the wrap around verandah was packed with long-standing regulars, all stoked by the return of Zelda and her staff, our reservation was safe, and a friendly waitress led us to a pleasant table overlooking rolling green lawns and flowering jacaranda trees.

The Fishmonger re-opens in elegant surroundings at The Italian Club.

It took a while for our order to arrive, but this was hardly surprising seeing that what looked like a hundred or so hungry diners were either tucking into or awaiting their seafood fix. To ward off hunger pangs we devoured very quickly two home-baked bread rolls, served with real butter. I drank a pleasant glass of house wine (Granger Bay Sauvignon Blanc) ($3), while George kept to his usual Castle Lite ($2.50).

Deciding to push the boat out, I ordered four King prawns ($4.50 each). Butterflied, heads and tails intact, the prawns were chargrilled and looked delicious. But the unique prawn flavour that can transport you to Peponi Hotel Restaurant in Lamu or to Harbour Cafe in Kalk Bay, was overpowered by Fishmonger’s ‘special peri peri sauce’. Gummy and glutinous, the sauce lacked any meaningful flavour of peri peri. Also disappointing were the fried chips, some overcooked and all different sizes.

George was mostly content with a Portuguese Pan ($11) of prawns, mussels and calamari ‘in our secret mild tomato peri peri sauce’. He did comment, however, on the prawns being almost too small to taste. There appeared to be more sauce than substance to the dish, as George ordered extra bread to hoover up the sauce, in addition to eating most of my chips.We shared an unremarkable and rather too sweet chocolate mousse ($7) and then strolled down through the landscaped gardens to the Italian Club’s second restaurant, Azzurri.

Named after Italy’s national football team, the restaurant overlooks an astro turf five-a-side football pitch. An extremely social sport requiring a high level of fitness, five-a-side football is a great way to let off steam with friends at the weekend. Although no game was in progress, the restaurant was packed with a young and sporty-looking crowd. A wood-fired pizza oven was blazing, ready to turn out crunchy thin-crust pizzas with a variety of toppings.

Neither Azzurri or Fishmonger seemed concerned about social distancing, and Zimbabweans in general seem to have put any fears of Covid-19 infection behind them. Judging by the response to The Fishmonger’s ‘long-awaited re-opening’ any teething problems should soon be resolved and management can prepare for a busy festive season.  A Matter of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff

 

Comments to: cmalakoff@gmail.com