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Saturday, August 23, 2008

La Fontaine Grillroom – a New Menu – Another Success

When the La Fontaine Grillroom opened in 1958 few people would have expected it to retain its opulence and identity for fifty years. The menu and décor have changed over the years but the standard of food and service has never been anything but the best.

Named after the fountains in Africa Unity Square, which it overlooks, it has retained elegance and quiet dignity throughout the years.

I cannot remember partaking of a meal that did not hold some special memory, whether it was for a magnificent dish or some special act of service by the staff.

I was thrilled to be invited to the Chef’s Table to sample the new menu launched this month. Not only to sample the dishes but to actually dine in the kitchen as a guest of Executive Chef Chris Gonzo.

Any restaurant willing to show off its kitchens must be proud of them and La Fontaine can certainly be proud. They are spotless and the unhurried and efficient way the staff go about their business show how well the Executive Chef runs his operation.

We were met in the Can Can Bar (what a pity it is no longer decorated in red!) and a drink or two preceded our first sampling. Meikles still manages to provide a wide selection of pre-lunch and pre-dinner drinks.

A selection of hot appetizers was presented to us arranged in napkin swans.

The selection comprised Cheese Croquettes served with compote of mixed fruits (tasty and melt in the mouth), Eastern Fish Cakes with a sweet chilli sauce and Savoury Meat Balls flavoured with mint (I found the mint flavouring very subtle).

To my mind the Fish Cakes were the best offering. They were tasty but not fishy and the combination of the fish with the sweet and sour sauce was perfect.

Hot appetisers which also appear on the menu include Sautéed Chicken Livers, and Chicken Gizzards Flambé. We were served the latter as an accompaniment to our soup course.

Having made short work of these appetizers we were escorted to our table in the spacious kitchens where we tasted the wines to be served with the meal. There was a Merlot and a Chardonnay – both from KWV. The Merlot is excellent and the Chardonnay unusual with a slight Perle quality.

Plates arrived with a selection of cold appetisers from the menu. These included Chunks of Tuna with an appealing onion marmalade and a Citrus Fish Terrene garnished with prawns (the terrene was delicate in texture and flavour). There was Smoked Chicken Salad that burst with flavour and Beef Carpaccio garnished with shavings of parmesan cheese. This was my favoured selection. La Fontaine Salad and an Assorted Hors d' oeuvres Platter are also available.

Next came the soup course. One has a choice between Butternut Soup, Mushroom Soup and a Seafood Bisque with Aioli. The soup chosen for us was a Cappuccino of Butternut Soup – rich, creamy and flavoursome. This was accompanied by the chicken gizzards on the hot appetiser menu – and the combination was excellent. I do not normally eat chicken gizzards but these had a flavour and texture that suited even my taste. Flamed in brandy and finished with cream and red wine they had a soft and tempting texture – defiantly to be recommended.

Entrees and grills have always been well prepared and presented at La Fontaine and this menu is no exception.

Crepes Balmoral (Fish Stew served in a pancake wrap), Fish of the Day, Seafood Kebabs and Kingclip Glenobloise are the seafood offerings. We sampled the Kingclip which is served with lemon segments and a caper butter sauce which I found somewhat masked the flavour of the fish which had been cooked to perfection.

A Coq au Vin, Beef Stroganoff, Asian Stir Fry are offered together with a Crusted Chicken Breast, Pork Schnitzel and Zimbabwe Prime Steak. La Fontaine has always produced a good steak and this was no exception – perfectly cooked, tender and served with either mushroom or pepper sauce (we sampled the pepper variety). This was without a doubt the best steak I have eaten for a long time. The chicken and pork were also succulent and almost melted in your mouth. All entrees are accompanied by vegetables in season and a choice of rice or potatoes in a variety of guises. We were treated to the Potato Croquette (which the restaurant does so well I could almost make a meal of them!).

The ever popular Meikles Mixed Grill, Aromatic Curry and the Chef’s Daily Special are also available.

We did not sample the Vegetarian offerings. These I nearly always find lacking in imagination when they appear on hotel menus. There is a Warm Vegetable Pasta, Eggs Florentine and a Vegetable Omelette on offer. I am certain that these are given the same care in preparation and presentation as the rest of the menu and I am sure they should meet the needs of those who do not eat meat or fish.

There are three scrumptious deserts to choose from as well as the well stocked Dessert Trolley. We tried the Omelette of Fresh Fruits with ice cream and chocolate sauce which not only looked spectacular but tasted fantastic. The other offerings are Chocolate Delight and Crepes Suzette (La Fontaine would not be La Fontaine without Crepe Suzette).

Dessert was followed by a cheese board which included both local and imported cheeses and lovely crisp biscuits.

As the ideal end to a wonderful taste experience we were served coffee. There is a choice of coffees, teas and special after dinner drinks. Complimentary petit fours are served at the end of the meal.

Another triumph for Meikles and Executive Chef Chris Gonzo!

A bit of background on Chef Gonzo – he joined Meikles as Sous Chef in the Bagatelle Restaurant in 1993. In 1999 he became Executive Sous Chef at the hotel and in 2000 he left to go to the Victoria Falls Hotel as Executive Chef. He returned to Meikles in 2005 to become Executive Chef - the post he holds today.

His experience and skill can be seen in the variety and standard of the menu offerings at La Fontaine.

The Cyberchef – Harare - Zimbabwe
August 5, 2008

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