Food & Travel: Bye-bye (briefly) to Alo Alo

I THINK it’s maybe because I gave the restaurant trade a universal rollicking in one of these columns recently for often simply shutting up shop, unannounced and sometimes for an open-ended period of time, that several proprietors have gone out of their way, since, to let me know what they’re up to.

It’s well known to me (and other foodies worth the name) Alo Alo traditionally shuts for up to a fortnight from late July, overlapping the Bank Holiday but owners Adrian and Lesley Orford, whose initials explain the restaurant’s name, came to us at a recent Wine and Food Festival at Flying Frog in Arcturus Road, re-stating the fact.

And when we visited Alo Alo on Wednesday for a memorably good lunch, it was plastered with A4 flyers confirming they were closing after their usual late lunch service last Sunday until breakfast on August 12.

And well done, guys, you deserve a well-earned rest at Jeff and Jane Reilly’s fabulous ocean-front Archipelago Resort in Vilankulos, Mozambique to charge up the batteries for another year of hands-on openings at the cottage-like eatery next to Alliance Francaise, opposite David Livingstone School, in what was Rhodes Avenue.

And it is hands-on. Tall, amiable, affable Adrian meets, greets and seats, chats up the punters without being in their face. (At a supposedly top class outlet in Harare recently I was asked no fewer than 17 times by at least five different staff was “Everything OK, sir?” As few folk tell the truth in these circumstances, an annoying exercise in futility!)

Adrian will ask similar questions a couple of times and the answer is invariably (and candidly) “Yes, fine thanks,” as I’ve not heard a word of complaint about his missus’ cooking or presentation. He will also ensure each cover has a genuinely warm farewell, with a wish for a safe journey.

Thinking about it, I do know someone who constantly moans about Lesley’s food presentation! My pal Brian Clipston grouses over the lovely salads and greenery which accompany all savoury courses (even soup) muttering something about “Kew Gardens” as he looks around for someone to give the still-life quality rabbit food. He eats there frequently… but loves to bellyache.

I took pert, sparkling blonde insurance brokerage director Sally Rugg for lunch there and we did remarkably well ploughing our way through Lesley’s simply enormous, but equally delicious, portions, starting sharing hot hors d’oevres, which could equally well be labelled tapas or meze, being several items each of bacon-wrapped hot chicken livers, deep-fried crumbed haloumi cheese, fish fingers (that’s what the menu says, goujons, really: these owed nothing to Captain Birds’-Eye!) and crumbed mushrooms all surrounded by an attractive gastro-salad of which, writing this, due to pressure of work three days later, only crisp lettuce, rocket, sweet cherry tomatoes and slivers of beetroot chips stand out from a delectable whole.

This starter for two (it would easily feed three and possibly four) was US$15, other appetisers jotted down were soup, always exemplary at US$6, Italian mozzarella cheese and tomato salad with vinaigrette (caprese?) same price; crumbed prawns US$10 and beef carpaccio, US$8.

Prior to starters arriving, trays of deliciously warm, home-baked herbed breads and butter circulated, so more-ish that I had to threaten the waiter with his life if he brought the stuff within sight or smelling distance of our table again. One more slice and I’d be the size of a barrage balloon.
Sally also tucked into the carbs, but she must usually eat far more conservatively, as I’ve seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil than on her trim figure, also kept that way by daily visits to a gym.

Neither of us knew where to start on a scrumptious-sounding main course list.

From previous visits I know the curries are superb: lamb, beef, chicken or prawn at US$18/15/15/20 and seafood-filled home-made pasta’s to die for at US$12. Mozambican in-shell prawns, pan-fried in garlic butter with extra crispy garlic on the side and savoury saffron fried rice sounded tempting at US$24. A millefeuille of Kariba bream (pan-fried, served in layers of puff pastry) with mushrooms at US$12 will probably be sampled next time; a signature dish of stacked braised oxtail with herbed dumplings at US$18 is a must for carnivores.

Lesley ambushed me by suggesting a lovely, slowly and long-braised lamb shank, just dripping with flavour; melt-in-the mouth, cut-with-a-blunt spoon texture. This was granny-knows-best goodness personified. Rich lamb which had grazed well on some grassy hill, well-hung, I thought, was very reasonable at US$10 with a big, steaming, floury baked potato, seasonal vegetables in cheese sauce and yet another stack of toothsome salad.

Sally went for a crumbed pork fillet cordon-bleu, meaning it was as rich as a parastatal manager, stuffed with ham and melted cheese on a bed of creamy mash with, she said, a mere hint of garlic folded in… seasonal vegetables, more salad. At US$16, the dish was almost as big as wee Sally!
Neither of us got anywhere near finishing our choices, so granny may well have denied me the pretty brandy snifter filled with vanilla ice-cream, meringue,  home-made chocolate sauce and exotically spun toffee (the latter donated to Sally’s kids!) I wolfed but she declined.
lOpen daily, but no service Sunday or Monday supper. Booking recommended. Tel: 734947-7; 011 602; 011 602 242.
dustym@zimind.co.zw

Dusty Miller

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