Sensational Xmas pud as military surrounds city.

Last Tuesday, as I passed the Celebration Centre en route to Meikles Hotel to sample Chef Gonzo's Christmas menu, I drove into heavy rain and a fierce hail storm. Just before State House the rain lifted and the sky was clear. With hindsight, the storm seems to have been a portent for the momentous events about to unfold later that afternoon.

There was a buzz in the Can Can Bar at Meikles Hotel, where an unusual group of bloggers, journalists, entrepreneurs, diplomats and airline personnel had gathered to experience the annual Chef's Table, when Chef Gonzo and his team pull out all the stops in preparation for a five course Christmas meal. Six courses, if you include cheese board, mince pies and 'Christmas delights'.

 

Immaculate and smartly groomed waiters handed out dayglo-coloured drinks both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as Commercial Director Tham Mpofu welcomed us with his usual bonhomie and humour, warning that failure to pass a written gastronomic test after lunch would incur washing up duties in the kitchen.

The sophisticated starter, described as a 'festive hors d'ouevre', was a grilled prawn on a fan of avocado, with micro greens, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and fresh basil pesto. Crumbed brie on the side was the final flavour hit in this insanely delicious creation. Paired with a glass of chilled DMZ chardonnay from De Morgenzon Estate in Stellenbosch, the festive offerings were off to a good start.

A small coffee cup of hot pea and ham soup, described as a 'celebratory cappuccino' brought everyone down to earth again with its homely flavour, but Chef Gonzo soon elevated us to another level with an intermediate course of broiled Scottish salmon with pecan nut coating, baby spinach, cauliflower mash and citrus and herb sauce veloute.

By the time the Feast (main course) had arrived, the mood and conversation among the diners had imperceptibly changed from sociable, humorous, mildly flirtatious chit chat to puzzlement and excitement. Bloggers and journalists exchanged information from their cell phones as social media went into overdrive with images of military vehicles circling the outskirts of Harare. Was the change anticipated in a recent 'A Matter of Taste' about to come?

In addition to home style roast turkey with glazed gammon ham, 'yule tide trimmings' and 'fresh Santa vegetables' the main course included a generous slice of oven seared organic beef fillet. The vegetarian option to Christmas turkey was a delicious sounding Mediterranean vegetable strudel served with Greek salad and warm asparagus. Pinot Noir 2015 from Peter Falke Wines on Groenvlei Farm in Stellenbosch was our sommelier's choice for this course.

Unnerved by the events unfolding on the streets of Harare, in spite of the soft lingering tannins of the Pinot Noir, a handful of guests thanked our generous hosts and sped back to their desks to monitor developments and to assess potential political turmoil.

Diehard foodies remained to enjoy warm Christmas pudding with home made pistachio ice cream (another of Chef Gonzo's specialities). If your experience of Christmas pudding up until now has resembled a slice of dry fruit cake, Gonzo's sensational pudding, steeped in brandy, is too good to miss.

A cheese board with Camembert, blue cheese and a variety of crackers was followed by meltingly light Christmas mince pies and fragrant filter coffee.

I lingered over some bright pink and green friandises, described on the menu as Christmas Delights, before thanking our generous hosts and starting the journey home. The skies remained clear, and although I encountered no road blocks or armoured vehicles on the busy roads, this was only the beginning.

Author:-  Charlotte Malakoff