It has not been easy for restaurants in recent months, coping with increased costs of inputs, shortages of various products and trying to find a balance between viability and over-pricing.
I have chatted to various restaurateurs in Harare and elsewhere and it seems those who managed to survive the chaotic days of 2007 and 2008 seem to have settled in relatively easily to the recent period of upheaval. Those who are new to the game have found it something of a shocker, and have had to learn very quickly how to chart a way through some very choppy waters and remain afloat.
At The Taj in Harare’s Gun Hill suburb, things have now settled in, but owner Tina Arora was very unsettled when the problem first arose and all manner of problems were thrown at her by suppliers and others.
This was all new to her, and who can blame anyone for a little panic when the Titanic hits the iceberg and all past operational models become redundant. One thing I have learned about restaurateurs is that they don’t really like to increase prices and that makes sense, since customers reel from increases and resistance creeps in. All too many people think restaurateurs hike prices left, right and centre whenever they can, but that, in my findings, is not the case.
As for the current round of prices increases: if you have been into a supermarket of late you will know exactly why meal prices have risen in restaurants.
Looking around at the restaurant scene I have seen a pattern, which reflects what the input costs are and also what products are in short supply, and I have also noted that when restaurateurs have been able to source inputs more cheaply they have in turn reduced their own prices; I have noted that several times this past fortnight. Also noticed of late is the disappearance of things like prawns and other seafood, as input costs are very high and some restaurateurs feel they will not sell at the prices they will need to charge.
The Taj has prawns and has managed to keep these to levels not too much higher than previously, but as time goes on this may change if supplier costs keep rising.
The Taj has always been a welcoming and enjoyable dining venue for me, and my most recent visit there was just as successful as before. I was delighted to see how much content is still on the menu, despite shortages and steep cost increases, and the meal my guest and I enjoyed was thoroughly satisfying.
The Taj opened originally just off Borrowdale Road, not far north of Sam Levy’s Village. It moved in 2017 to its permanent home in the Gun Hill area, also just off the Borrowdale Road. The restaurant’s décor theme is blue and black, and this is followed through in linen, waiters’ uniforms and other areas of décor.
It is a big venue and can handle 140 customers at a time in indoor, veranda and terrace seating areas. There are private dining rooms for guests who wish to have privacy or a place of their own.
The menu is extensive and I resisted the temptation to go for meals I have had before and which I enjoyed immensely. For starters my guest had Afghani chicken seekh, while I had the new tandoori fish tikka, and we each had a share of the other’s dish.
Beautifully presented, flavoursome and well portioned, these were delightful. For mains I had another dish new to the menu, a chilli dry lamb, while my guest had the mutton mughlai korma.
Accompanying these we had a rice pea pulau and a spicy rice, as well as garlic naan bread. It was a sumptuous feast and the mix of flavours was excellent, just as it should be.
The lamb was very much an Indo-Chinese style dish, with a certain sweet and sour essence to it, and the mutton was exceptionally tender.
These dishes are highly recommended. For dessert we each had a kulfi, the Indian-style ice cream that is always an aromatic and calming end to a spicy meal.
On what must now be my fourth official visit to The Taj, I continue to enjoy this stylish venue and its culinary offerings.
I have always described this as a fine dining venue, and was once challenged by a reader who said fine dining venues do not use paper napkins; there are now linen napkins, as well as the paper one, and I have to say that the paper ones seemed to me to be the more sensible ones to use after handling some of the food!
The restaurant has increased prices to remain viable, and is doing all it can to make sure the variety needed for an Indian restaurant is there for customers.
The food is tasty and satisfying, still with a pricing at the upper end of the middle range in the city. I recommend this as a must-do dining venue to all friends and colleagues and do likewise to readers today.