Whenever I have dined at Harare’s Taj restaurant, I have been impressed by three very important aspects of their operation: the welcome, the cuisine and the effort to create a fine dining venue for their customers.
The first time I enjoyed a meal at The Taj, the restaurant operated from premises just off Borrowdale Road, not far north of Sam Levy’s Village. It was moved last year to a new, permanent home on Borrowdale Road, in the Gun Hill area.
The first venue was pleasant but cramped, and owner-manager Tina Arora said she would not be able to achieve all she wished to there. The Gun Hill venue, a former residential home, has been given a major makeover and it is now attractive and stylish; driving past it at night, one cannot fail to be impressed by the wash of colours coming from the premises.
The restaurant’s décor theme is blue and black, followed through in linen, waiters’ uniforms and other areas of décor. Along with the furniture are new crockery, cutlery, glassware, as well as fascinating human effigies that are neither garish nor off-putting, but, in fact, complete the tone of the venue and add huge visual pleasure.
Tina and her husband, Nigel, have done a superb job in creating the setting of a fine dining restaurant. Have they achieved the same with their culinary preparations? Most certainly, yes.
The restaurant can handle 140 customers at a time, double the capacity at the previous site, and now has both outdoor, terrace and indoor seating areas, as well as private dining rooms for guests who wish to have privacy or a place of their own. There’s also a children’s playroom.
A new menu was introduced a few months ago, with a huge variety of dishes on it from all over India, reflecting the experience and know-how of the team of Indian chefs at the restaurant.
The theme, of course, is Indian, but there’s a section of the menu that is called Indo-Chinese, a fusion of various Chinese styles into the Indian.
My guest and I recently enjoyed a delightful lunch at The Taj and were pleased to be able to chat for a while with Tina, a great host who is insightful when it comes to Indian cuisine and what is needed to make The Taj stand out on its own in Harare’s surprisingly competitive dining-out market.
For starters, we shared a paneer tikka (cottage cheese marinated with yoghurt and cooked in a clay oven) and an ajwani fish tikka, delicately spiced and also flavoured to perfection by the clay oven.
With that we had a starter from the Indo-Chinese section: chilli honey potato chips, supremely tasty.
For mains I had a really pleasing chicken biriyani mughlai, which was very spicy and was served with lovely roti bread.
My guest enjoyed her rara gosht, a colourful mutton curry featuring tender mutton on the bone as well as mutton mince in a tomato-based sauce. She had peas pulau with that — spiced rice with peas that would make a great meal on its own.
Desserts were simple: the delightful frozen kulfi, a type of ice cream that really complements a curried meal with its own set of generous spices, with a dominant pistachio flavour. This meal for two cost about $50, good value indeed for portions that were generous and cuisine that was flavoursome and cooked mild to medium as we requested (we could have gone hotter if we had dared!).
This visit confirmed for me again that The Taj is a jewel in the crown of Harare’s restaurant trade, becoming a fine dining venue with great cuisine and excellent service.
The food is tasty and satisfying and price remains reasonable, at the upper end of the middle range in the city.
A friend challenged me a while ago that fine dining venues do not make use of paper napkins, and should use linen. This may well be true, but my own observation is that this must be the only departure from expectation in a venue like this; perhaps Tina and team will consider this feedback that linen napkins may top off the appeal to fine diners.
The Taj is at 157 Borrowdale Road, open daily except Mondays, from 11.30am. Call 0732110222 or 0732 11033 for enquiries and reservations. There’s a Facebook site and e-mails can go to [email protected] Feedback is welcome and news of experiences and ideas is encouraged by The Epicurean. E-mail [email protected]