Silvino Simões opened Coimbra in 1984, “legitimately,” says his nephew, the current owner of the Portuguese restaurant, and he winks. Before the restaurant opened, Coimbra was a pension, or guest house, renting rooms long term to the Portuguese community. The restaurant where we sit used to be the garden. Unfortunately Silvino didn’t have a liquor license and, becoming tired of the consistent police raids, he opened up a full licensed restaurant in 1984- and so Coimbra was established in the community.
Soon the eatery took over the guest house and now it can comfortably sit 200 people for lunch or dinner- 250 at a squeeze. The decor is charmingly rustic, basic plates, charming carafes of sauces, paper napkins and white tablecloths. You would be remiss, however, to think that Coimbra is anything but simple – for a restaurant to last 32 years in Harare it has to be more than just a straightforward Portuguese café churning out peri -peri chicken.
“Obviously it had to pass to family,” explains Toni Simões, in his endearing Portuguese accent that still has a Mediterranean warmth to it. Although he had only visited Zimbabwe a few times before (to visit his Uncle), upon his death he was asked by his father to go to Harare and organise things. Toni agreed and booked a two week trip to Zimbabwe. That was in 1993. 23 years later I ask does he enjoy it and he responds carefully, it has been “a pleasant challenge.” He is a humble and easy-going restaurateur, although, he says firmly, he hadn’t been in the food industry until he took over Coimbra.
Perhaps due to this lack of knowledge about food, or purely the popularity of the restaurant, the menu hasn’t changed since 1984 and as I look around me I notice that really isn’t a problem – it is Thursday lunchtime and the restaurant is full.
To find out more about this lovely restaurant, please purchase Issue 2 of our Nzira travel magazine.