Over the years the people of Harare have enjoyed access to a selection of smaller coffee shops and restaurants, sometimes located off the beaten track, as it were, and sometimes with an unusual mix of offerings.
Some have come and gone in a flash, while others have lingered longer.
Such a place at the present time is Café de Paris, a delightful and stylish venue on Churchill Avenue in Alexandra Park. It’s fairly new and is situated in a small business and retail complex that was once a residential property, and is quite different to what we normally see in Harare.
I remember a couple of decades ago a small coffee shop on the ground floor of the Kwame Nkrumah Avenue parkade, called Le Paris, but this is no relation of that one (although someone, clearly uninformed, did try to persuade me otherwise!).
One often thinks of a traditional café as being a sidewalk-style venue, from where one can watch the passing parade of people and vehicles, usually in a busy urban setting. Café de Paris, however, is in a relaxing and pleasant suburban setting, a building that was spruced up several years ago and is perhaps often called ‘the grey house’ these days, with its attractive modern grey finish.
The signage tells you that content includes “Viennoiserie”. This term — Austrian in origin, of course — usually refers to baked items made from a yeast-leavened dough in a manner similar to bread, or from puff pastry, but with added ingredients giving them a richer, sweeter character, approaching that of pastry.
The owner-manager is Marc Danville, a Frenchman with a flair for running a busy and friendly café with an emphasis on a French-style offering. Seating is outdoors on a deck behind the main building and it is charming and welcoming.
I have been twice of late, both on a Wednesday and therefore able to take advantage of a special mid-week visit by chef Raphael Montagny, who prepares a bright selection of crepes and galettes to add to the standard fare of the venue.
The crepe is well known to us all: pancakes with thin pastry and usually with sweet flavour or accompaniments. The galette is a lesser-known expression here in Zimbabwe, perhaps; it can be a flat round or freeform crusty cake, or it can be a Breton galette, which is as in the case of the ones at Café de Paris — a flat pancake made with buckwheat flour and presented with a savoury filling or accompaniment.
Café de Paris is a patisserie as well as a café, and there is a steady flow of folk coming to buy the treats on offer, from pies and pastries to baguettes and macaroons. These can also be enjoyed on site, with a delightful cup of coffee, and both times I have visited there has been a fair sprinkling of guests doing just that.
The first time we ate there I had a galette with brie and mushrooms, while my guest had a very filling crepe with sugar and lemon. For taking away we also bought a chicken and mushroom pie and an apple tart.
This week, just before the cold snap, my guest had a chicken and mushroom pie at my recommendation and I had another galette, this time with a butternut, brie and pecan content. Both times we accompanied the food with plentiful cappuccino.
The selection of crepes is available for between $2.50 and $5, while the galettes are priced from $6 to $10. The pie was $5, a reasonable price for a superb product that featured pastry made exclusively with butter.
Next time I think I might go for a sweeter option and try the tantalising-sounding crepes with Belgian dark or milk chocolate, topped off with orange zest and almonds. Inside the reception is an attractive display of the other pastries and treats.
Marc is a charming host, and he seems to be pleased to chat to his customers, of whom there is an interesting mix of people, including a lot of diplomats and expats who clearly enjoy the products to take home.
On the most recent visit, there was a sourdough baguette that was proving very popular.
Around the venue is a selection of other businesses, ranging from an estate agency to a dental practice, and immediately adjacent to the café is a well-stocked picture and framing shop, so I should think many of the folks who go to these venues pop into Café de Paris for a coffee and chat before or after their business.
Being on Churchill Avenue, the venue is easily accessible to people from various parts of Harare, and this is quite important as more and more people find the distressing standards of driving in the city put them off going too far.
It’s open between Monday and Friday from 7am to 5pm and on Saturday from 7am to 1pm, closed only on Sunday. Chef Montagny is there each Wednesday from 11am to 4pm.
Café de Paris is a charming and friendly coffee shop and bakery, and is at 47 Churchill Avenue, Alexandra Park. Call 0778 078801 for information and orders.