Positivity in the air at Meikles Hotel

In the current challenging economic environment restaurateurs and hoteliers are not finding it easy to source the inputs they need, whether food or beverages, so all praise to those who are getting on as best they can and providing the rest of us with good dining experiences.

A few weeks ago a plan was set to host a gathering of heads of travel and tourism businesses, giving them an informal platform to chat about issues of the day and build up social and networking contacts. At the time of setting this up the focus of the event was wide, but as events of the past fortnight developed, the gathering became focused on the whole issue of sourcing inputs, pricing and how to “steer the ships” of the travel and tourism sector through some very troubled waters.

An informal group of such leaders used to meet regularly, but this had fallen away, so Meikles Hospitality MD Carol White felt it was time to get them going again, and offered to host this week’s gathering in Harare’s five-star Meikles Hotel.

I was pleased to be able to join this meeting of minds this past Thursday in the Livingstone Room, the small but charming banqueting venue adjacent to La Fontaine Grillroom, the hotel’s flagship restaurant.

The guest list included heads of major hospitality groups, as well as of airlines flying into Zimbabwe, and it was an extremely positive group of people determined to remain positive in the face of a number of challenges, as we call problem areas these days.

The hotel’s executive chef, Bosco Govera, created a special table d’hote menu for this gathering of a dozen guests, and he certainly laid on an excellent selection of offerings, some of them from the new menu he has launched for La Fontaine in recent weeks.

As if that has not kept him busy enough, he has also released new menus for all other areas of the hotel’s food and beverage operations, including room service and banqueting, as well as The Pavilion restaurant, the Tanganda Lounge, Explorer’s Bar and Club dining room.

Our group could choose from two starters, four mains and three desserts, and between us I think we managed to select each of these offerings. I chose a prawn and shrimp starter, a delightful and attractive dish that used the flavours of chopped salad items, cleverly set in onion baskets, to really set off the simple flavour of the prawn meat.

The other starter was a tangy tomato soup, which one of the other guests said was enjoyable. One of the guests was able to take on either of these starters and so had a delicious off-menu mushroom soup, something that is very popular in La Fontaine all year round.

Main course offered choices between chicken breast, ostrich fillet, beef fillet in pepper sauce and an oriental-style vegetable stir fry. I went for the pepper steak, which was tender and tasty, and complemented by a lovely array of vegetables, including mashed potato, pumpkin and peas. There were a number of compliments about the ostrich fillet and Cresta Hotels country director Chipo Mandela, seated next to me, said it was one of the most tender and flavoursome meat dishes she had enjoyed in a long while. I don’t think any of our group went for the stir fry, mainly because we were a carnivorous bunch. All these dishes are on the new la Fontaine menu and can be enjoyed for lunch or dinner there.

Desserts offered chocolate mousse, crepes Suzette and fruit salad. I jumped at the chance for the crepes, always a treat in taste terms but also in visual terms, as it is prepared theatrically on the flambé trolley in front of guests. It was indeed a dish worth having and I can thoroughly recommend this for all La Fontaine guests.

On hand to prepare this was George Chindiya, La Fontaine’s maître d’hotel, a very competent and pleasant host whose good interpersonal skills are always evident. We finished with coffee, having also had a simple but good choice of a white and a red wine during the meal.

The superb meal and ease of service in classically relaxing surrounds made for a lunchtime treat for us all, and certainly helped make it an occasion for brainstorming and sharing thoughts, ideas and plans.

What characterised the event was the positive nature of all discussions, focusing not on the problems of the day or pointing fingers in any directions, but rather on how to survive, get round the problems and “make a plan” as we always say in this country.

There was a belief that an overall solution might be quicker in the making than many of us have been fearing; let’s hope this is son.

Clearly it is a very difficult time for all hospitality operators. There has been growing demand from customers, domestic and international, across the country and the last thing any operator needs is to have to disappoint because of lack of inputs or soaring prices.

As I said, I think we should admire and support all of those folks who are getting on with the business of staying in business.

I know some restaurants have closed temporarily because of inability to source inputs or pay substantially increased prices and one hopes they will be able to get up and running again soon.

However, I regret to say that among these are a number of people who would appear to be closing up to “make a statement” and I have to say this is disgraceful, and we the consumers should remember who they are when things get to normal and we have choices aplenty again.

I have been chatting with various restaurateurs about how they are getting on and in next week’s Epicurean column hope to share their thoughts and experiences. Let’s hope we do so in hindsight and not in the midst of continue such challenges!

This week’s luncheon at Meikles Hotel once again showed me that this remarkable hospitality operation has genuinely earned its place as one of Zimbabwe’s national treasures.

Staff are cheerful, efficient and charming, the venue looks as though it gets a refreshing spring clean on a twice-daily basis and there is always a sense of comfort in knowing how much thought goes into a menu there. Well done, Chef Bosco!

It was a very interesting lunch and showed me something else worth remembering: whether times are good or bad, the value of networking cannot be over-estimated. I would recommend similar kinds of chat groups and brainstorm sessions for all other groupings, especially at the moment.

Try out these and other dishes on the new La Fontaine menu, or the menus in the other dining areas. When going there always park in the Meikles Parkade adjacent to the hotel and get you parking voucher endorsed in the hotel for free parking. 

It’s a good idea to book ahead for La Fontaine, which is open daily for dinner and open for lunch Monday to Friday. Call (024) 2707721 to do so. The Herald.