A sparkling night for La Fontaine’s diamond dinner

Harare’s La Fontaine restaurant achieved a unique distinction this past week, clocking up a record 60 years’ continuous operational service to diners. It became only the second Zimbabwean restaurant to do so, with The Livingstone Room at The Victoria Falls Hotel — now marking 101 years of service — able to claim grater longevity.

La Fontaine is situated in the five-star Meikles Hotel, where management laid on a grand diamond anniversary celebration to mark the occasion on Saturday December 8.

Almost 100 invited guests were treated to a superb evening of culinary treasures, entertainment and a genuinely historic event. Executive chef Bosco Govera created a lavish smorgasbord, which was set up in the adjoining Livingstone Room (no relation to the restaurant at the Falls!), and it was impossible to try a little of everything, such was the size of the spread.

Meikles Hotel managing director Carol White told guests that the hotel opened back in 1958 when construction of what is now the north wing of Meikles Hotel was completed. The original Meikles, now the site of ZB Life Towers and the shopping mall at its feet, was opened in 1915 and in the 1950s it became necessary to expand.

Cheers from Carol White and La Fontaine staff, as well as guests

La Fontaine and the next-door Can Can cocktail bar were created on the first floor of the new wing and have been successful and operational ever since, bar a short closure or two for refurbishment from time to time. The restaurant is always regarded as one of Harare’s leading fine dining establishments and has played host to hundreds if not thousands of celebratory events over the past 60 years. A booklet outlining the history of La Fontaine was handed to guests and is also being placed in bedrooms and suites, preserving a colourful and exciting six decades for posterity. With this celebration now complete, management will focus on making sure La Fontaine remains in the sights and radar of all discerning diners, including folk who live in Harare, among whom are a great many people who don’t like going into the CBD and who miss out on so much as a result.

The smorgasbord offering included no fewer than eight “sparkling starters” and five “sensational salads” and I was so delighted with this offering I could have ended there had I not been careful with keeping my plate light to allow for mains and desserts. I really enjoyed the classic prawn and avocado cocktail, as well as the figs with ham and blue cheese, taste treats that really were delicious.

The mains sections were labelled “Chef Bosco’s international selection” and including dishes that had elements of Mexica, Asian, European, Nigerian and Zimbabwean cuisine, along with an extensive set of carveries and a vegetarian offering. Out of this vast choice, I most enjoyed bites of a seafood risotto, a lamb curry and braised oxtail. The wow factor was high.

“Just desserts” seemed impossible to contemplate, but they were irresistible and with 14 offerings one could only skim the surface; I so enjoyed my choices of sherry and cherry trifle, along with a white chocolate panacotta with berries. We ended with lovely cheeses, compote and chef’s own chutney, followed by a lovely espresso. It was a culinary triumph for executive chef Bosco Govera and his team and he was warmly applauded when introduced to the assembled gathering after the meal.

Summer Breeze band, which plays two or three nights each week in La Fontaine, gave us a dinner and dance selection of local and international music of the past 60 years, manager Grass Kapfunde having made sure the line-up included several themed songs: “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” and Rihanna’s “Like A Diamond”. Having the band brought back memories for many guests, this restaurant having always had an emphasis on dinner and dance music, whether for casual dining or special occasions. Matthew and Ben Gillam, two pipers from the St John’s College Pipe Band, were brought down by bandmaster Jonathan Kalonga to play during the evening, keeping alive Thomas Meikle’s instruction to infuse a Scots flavour on special occasions.

A celebratory cheeseboard selection

Meikles management selected seven good wines from its new wine list for accompaniment to our meal, including a super sparkling, two whites, two reds (of which a Peter Falke pinot noir was outstanding), and ending with South African port-style and a sherry-style treats over the cheeseboard. The port-style drink was an Overgaauw 1995 and it was excellent.

La Fontaine now focuses on the festive season, the climax of which will be Christmas Day lunch and new year’s eve dinner. The hotel is also creating events in the Stewart Rooms and The Pavilion restaurant for those special occasions, and the menus for these lunches and dinners look like an exciting mix of Christmas and celebratory cuisine. Food and beverage manager told the food writers attending the diamond dinner that entertainment during the festive season meals will include The Rusike Brothers, Summer Breeze, Men In Black (the long-standing Sidwell father and son disco) and, in The Pavilion, the hotel’s own DJ. The St John’s College Pipe Band will also be in attendance, as they have been for most of the past two decades.

Those of us present for this magnificent celebration of La Fontaine’s diamond anniversary were treated to a genuine feast. The venue was beautifully decorated and every effort had been made to give us an historic and exciting event.

In her speech, Carol White spoke of the unique place the restaurant has in the Harare culinary set and this was echoed by messages that came in from folks across the world and from management of the past. The entire gathering joined Carol and her lined-up staff with a warm “cheers” to the past, present and future of La Fontaine, accompanied by a glass of the lovely Integer MCC, a birthday gift for the occasion from Danai Wines’ Albert Nhau. Also of special note was a photo booth created in the Can Can bar; at the end of the evening we each took home a framed copy of the photo taken in the booth — what a lovely touch! La Fontaine restaurant is a national treasure, and lunch or dinner there is always strongly recommended, especially for celebratory occasions.

It is open for lunch each weekday and for dinner every night of the week. When the band is not playing, one of the resident pianists performs for guests. A new menu has been launched by Chef Bosco, along with the new wine list, and during the festive season there is a dedicated Christmas menu for people wanting a festive meal.

source: the herald

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