A tale of two Crestas

The Epicurean
I have many times been told by people that they think buffet meals are boring and unimaginative, and they avoid them unless driven by necessity or no choice, such as when attending corporate events. My own experience with buffets has been a mixed bag, but I have to say that some of the most enjoyable meals I have enjoyed have come from these servings.

What is true is that if a chef can extend his or her imagination beyond the standard offering, there is no reason why a buffet meal should not be a treat for the eye and palate.

I have had two such experiences this week, both linked to the Cresta Hotels group. At Harare’s Chatters restaurant, the lunchtime buffet has always been a pleasing experience for me, and I have sampled it on about six occasions in the past 12 months.

What really stands out for me, reinforced by my visit earlier this week, is a superb selection of beautifully presented and very tasty salad servings, as well as excellent standards of main course content. Chatters is the restaurant serving guests of Cresta Lodge on Samora Machel Avenue East, a hotel this year celebrating its 25th anniversary.

The other buffet experience this week was a reasonably different one in terms of style. A number of restaurants around Harare lay claim to being the best venue at which to sample traditional Zimbabwean cuisine, and while I have not been to all of them myself and therefore cannot accurately offer the best venue accolade, my own experience to date is that Café Afrique in Harare’s Cresta Oasis Hotel and Apartments venue offers an exceptionally good traditional serving, with high standards of presentation and cuisine.

I have eaten at Café Afrique perhaps a dozen times in the past couple of years, mainly for the buffet lunches, and each time I have been there, staff have been welcoming, the food has been of a high standard and there has been a pleasing ambience.

Sadly, all too few folk from Harare’s northern suburbs choose to dine here, custom mainly coming from in-house guests or delegates at the many conferences hosted by the hotel. After yet another delightful lunch at Café Afrique I urge folk to give it a go.

The theme at Café Afrique is African, mainly Zimbabwean, but with occasional forays into the culinary treats of countries across the continent, especially linked to national days. For example, special cuisine weeks in recent years have featured the food styles of Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia.

At Chatters in Cresta Lodge, many people from surrounding suburbs go there for the Sunday roast buffet, an amazing bargain at $12 per person. But, as with Café Afrique in Cresta Oasis, all too few do not know it as a regular dining venue and I say here that they are missing out on a lovely venue with a great offering for all manner of diners. It was completely refurbished a couple of years ago as part of the major renovation project in Cresta Lodge, and has a pleasing ambience, especially when busy and buzzy.

Cresta Oasis is also in the throes of refurbishment, an initiative already under way and likely to be finished by year end. This will affect all bedrooms, long-stay apartments, public areas, conference rooms, car parks and the reception. It’s a $2,5 million investment that Cresta Country Director Chipo Mandela told me was a sign of confidence in Cresta, in Harare and in Zimbabwe.

I was joined for these lunches by an elderly lady, who delighted in the style and quality of the buffets. In both cases, we got there early to avoid being caught up in the busy lines of people coming out of in-house conferences, people who make the mainstay of business on weekday lunchtimes.

At Chatters on Monday we enjoyed a selection of treats from the salads section, well laid out and carefully created to appeal to the eye as much as to the palate. I could have gone back for seconds and done without the mains, but the mains themselves looked so attractive we could not follow through on this. Main courses that day included lightly curried chicken and a very tender slices of beef.

On offer in the sweets section were trifle, strawberry panacotta, apple pie and fruit salad, so we had a little of each. At $20, this all-you-can-eat offering is value for money. Sometimes, an a la carte offering is also made to diners.

Café Afrique is the in-house restaurant for guests staying at the busy Cresta Oasis in Harare’s CBD, including the long-stay guests in the Apartments block; there is, therefore, breakfast, lunch and dinner on offer. Outside the restaurant, around the pooldeck terrace, lunchtimes can be extremely busy as there is a traditional lunch special offered here at only $4 or $5 per person … and the guest numbers go well over 100 every day, apparently. A good a la carte menu is also offered for lunch and dinner (not traditional food but general international dishes), but what I would really recommend is the extensive buffet offering. Sometimes the buffet is not laid on when there is no conferencing happening, but a reservations check will confirm this.

When my guest and I dined there on Tuesday, for starters she had a vegetable soup, while I went straight for mains, satisfying and tasty.

We had a selection of chicken pieces, beef steak, pork slices off a roast of the day, along with vegetables and a choice of sadza, rice and potatoes. The flavours were very good and the meal was most enjoyable. Desserts, not really a traditional food style, were served from a separate buffet station, and we chose a mix of cake, mousse, fruit salad and eclairs. The cost here is also $20, well worth it for an extensive meal.

Chatters offers pizza nights on Wednesdays and a braai on Friday nights, while the Sunday roast luncheon is popular and must be booked for. Café Afrique has occasional theme weeks and a check on what is happening there can be made from time to time with the hotel or through their social media sites. Parking at both venues is good.

Cresta Lodge is on Samora Machel Avenue East, corner Robert Mugabe Road, close to Greendale, Highlands and Msasa. It can be reached on (0242) 487006. Café Afrique is found in Cresta Oasis Hotel and Apartments, Nelson Mandela Avenue, between fourth and fifth streets. Call (04) 790881-4 for reservations.

What is your favourite restaurant in Zimbabwe? What food do you like? Where have you been given a good time? Where have you suffered at the hands of idiots and incompetents? Let me know by e-mailing aquarius@iwayafrica.co.zw. All feedback welcome. Next week, I shall give a sample of some of the feedback coming in over the past few weeks, to stimulate some debate and discussion.

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