Zimbabwe: History of the Mystery Mirror!

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I'll start this week telling you not about somewhere I've been....but outlining an event I hope to attend.

Meikles Hotel, in conjunction with the Indian Embassy and the India Tourism Board, is bringing over a talented young chef, Montu Saini, from the five-star, de-luxe Ashok Hotel in New Delhi. He is taking over The Pavilion Restaurant for a four-day Festival of India celebration next week.

Montu has cooked for Indian premiers and the King and Queen of Spain. (Their Royal Highnesses also ate here in Harare at L'Escargot Restaurant at Courteney Hotel: the leather chairs which couched the royal bums now have copper plaques marking that occasion.

Coincidentally, L'Escargot has recently started specialising in Indian graze).

From Thursday November 22 until Saturday November 25, chef Montu, who left hotel training school in 2005, will cook a wide range of Indian dishes served on a buffet which costs US$28 a head.

There may have been some glit-ches transliterating Hindi script to English, because neither Dr Google nor Professor Yahoo can find any trace of "qaliyas", which apparently we can look forward to.

I have assumed that "quarmas"are the usual khormas, most people familiar with sub-continental cooking know. Search engines also drew a blank on "salanis" -- other than a restaurant of that name in Maryland.

I am happy with biryanis and pulaos, which will also be on the buffet. I have been eating them for the thick end of six decades in curry houses from Blantyre (Malawi and South Lanarkshire) to Bradford, British West Yorkshire!

Booking is absolutely essential for this event. (Tel 707721/29)...see you there.

Meikles usually do these functions very well. I recall an Australian Fortnight in the former Mirabelle Restaurant where revellers were introduced to Australian freshwater crayfish or "yabbies". They were totally delicious with a sauce of your choice.

Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife refused to allow them to be imported here to stock farmers' dams (in the days when we had farmers!), but they did get to Zambia and escaped over the years into the river system and are now busily taking over much of the Eastern Basin of Kariba, including "our" side.

As they produce hundreds of eggs at a time, have no natural predators (some fish and birds are eating them) and, in Oz, they're notorious for digging into behind and subsequently collapsing, dam walls, this is a potential Doomsday scenario.

I've been looking for some excuse to publish my picture of the rather impressive, if now somewhat "distressed" (as antique dealers say) advertising mirror hanging for decades in the Red Lion Bar at Harare Sports Club.

For those of you reading this on line, it's a massive item plugging Dewar's "Imperial Institute" Scotch Whisky.

If it didn't read "By Royal Warrant to The King" I'd be tempted to describe it as typically Victorian. As -- unusually -- it doesn't specify which King bought the hooch, I'm assuming it was Edward VII.

Apparently, it once hung in a mess of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. Why, or which one of the Gunners brought it to Central Africa is a mystery, but it's been a talking point with thousands of visitors over the many years I've propped up the bar at HSC.

When I asked about Imperial Institute whisky in various pubs in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Dundee, Dumfries and Glasgow, which boast of their knowledge of "Presbyterian Altar Wine", many, many barmen and proprietors claimed it rang a bell and often suggested somewhere else where I might try a dram... but I drew blanks. And they claimed to have no knowledge of the brand at the Whisky Museum by Edinburgh Castle. (This search added some sense of real purpose to sundry otherwise apparently purposeless pub crawls with my son Rhoderick -- himself no slouch on the subject -- before he moved to Australia!)

At Harare Sports Club last weekend watching the Ireland v South Africa game, folk were peckish by halftime and calls were made for the next door Maiden Public House to send round waitresses and menus.

Sharing platters was popular, but I ordered a "piping hot" beef lasagna (US$10), which took ages to be served (the platters came in minutes).

When it finally came, it certainly was piping hot...so much so it was impossible to start eating the grand minced beefsteak and gooey cheese for several moments. I thought the dish delicious but a friend, a visiting Irishman, (uninvited) stuck a spoon in and declared it far too salty for his taste.

As I'd given myself a very rare full day off from journalistic duties, I wasn't carrying a camera so didn't get a picture for you...sorry. However I'll reproduce a couple of photographs of the food I ate at The Maiden (formerly Keg and The Maiden) recently.

My Irish pal's wife was sitting on the terrace of The Maiden downloading e-mail on a hot, cloudless day. She overlooked one of the world's most attractive cricket ovals (sadly we haven't got a team to match it!), finished a plate of sandwiches and drank the last of a pot of good coffee.

That wonderful character-filled waitress "Big Ange" asked if she would like anything else to eat...more coffee... or perhaps it was time for gin-and-tonic with ice and lots of lemon?

G&T it was! Awaiting a reply from a son back in Ireland, she picked up a newspaper she'd been given on the plane here which claimed Harare was the world's fourth worst capital city in which to live!

(Eh? Surely someone's either joking or has never been here?)

Personally, I really love Ha-ha-ha-rare (Africa's fun capital!), even with its putrid, poisonous water (when there is any), crater like potholes and crumbling, decaying infrastructure.

And I've seen some real dumps!

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