Ristorante da Guido rises from the ashes.
BEING short of magetsi in the early 1950s, Zimbabwe and Zambia (then known as Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia), decided to build a dam to harness the power of the mighty Zambesi, thus creating a cheap source of hydroelectric energy.
Designed by Andre Coyne, a French engineer and authority on arch dams made of concrete, construction work was carried out by Impresit, an Italian form based in Turin. Among the many Italian artisans who stayed on when the project was completed, was Guido Naldi, a specialist in the mixing of cement.
Not only did Guido Naldi have a flair for mixing cement – he also possessed a magic touch when it came to food preparation. On completion of his contract with Kariba in 1956, he opened Ristorante e Pensione da Guido in Moffat Street (now Leopold Takawira Street) in Salisbury (now Harare). Primarily intended as a boarding house and restaurant for his Italian colleagues visiting on weekend breaks from Kariba, da Guido became one of the most popular restaurants in town, famous for its seafood linguine and steak pizzaiola.
When his lease ran out and developers put up a high-rise, Guido sold his restaurant and retired to South Africa. Ownership passed on to Mrs Eros Cortini in the late 1970s, who moved da Guido Ristorante to Montague Avenue Shopping Centre. People compared the rustic charm of the Moffat Street ristorante to the sterile surroundings of Montague Avenue, and said it wouldn’t work. But Eros’s cooking skills and welcoming personality hit the spot, and there were frequently queues of hungry patrons waiting outside for a free table.
In 1989, the Cortinis went home to Forli in Italy, and Francesco and Paola Oliviero became the new owners of da Guido Ristorante. They continued the tradition of warm, rich Italian cuisine until 2006, when new owners took over. Tragically, Guido’s burned down to the ground shortly afterwards, and one of Harare’s best-loved restaurants was reduced to a pile of ashes.
Good news spreads fast, and there was great rejoicing among baby boomers, generation X-ers and millennials alike, when Francesco and Paola, having returned from their travels, accompanied by their son Sacha, announced the re-opening of Ristorante da Guido at 100 Golden Stairs Road. So we booked for Sunday lunch, and in the company of foodie friends, settled down on the shady verandah, and sipped a glass of LaMura Nero d’Avola, a smooth, yet intense red wine from Sicily.
After snacking on some tomato bruschetta (more garlic and salt needed), George and I shared a plate of crumbed mushrooms. The mushrooms were nice-sized, plump and juicy, but also lacking in seasoning.
Lasagna, a traditional Italian feast dish, is an excellent source for dietary protein and fat. If well-made, it is delicious, and a repast I could eat every day. Chef Sacha Oliviero’s lasagne, layered with a luscious beef ragu and redolent with mozzarella and parmigiana, did not disappoint.
None of us ordered pizza, but after seeing several exceptionally attractive pizzas being borne aloft to other tables, I realised that we would need to visit again to try them out.
Mulberry crostata, (mulberry pie) served with vanilla ice cream for dessert, was a delight. Sweet short crust pastry, piled high with mulberries mellowed to a jam with sugar, butter and corn flour, was baked until crisp and tender, the perfect finale to the meal.
Honing his culinary skills, Chef Sacha spent a year at A Tavola Con lo Chef (At Table With the Chef), a cookery school in Rome. He then moved on to Ostia, an ancient port city outside Rome. Once a favourite sea resort with beautiful beaches, with the arrival in the 1950s of a mafia organisation known as the Spada, Ostia became less popular. Nevertheless, Ostia is home to Scuola Italiana Pizzaioli, a professional pizza school, and it is here that Sacha perfected the art of pizza making, and became World Champion Pizzaiolo Aerobatic Pizza.
Pizza acrobatics or pizza freestyle, invented by creative pizza chefs in the 80s, is the art of throwing pizza dough into the air, and allowing centrifugal force stretch it into the perfect shape.
There is food for thought in the fact that Ristorante da Guido, opened in 1956 by Guido Naldi, a specialist in the mixing of cement, is now in the capable hands of Sacha Oliviero, acrobatic pizza champion of the world.