The old Alo, Alo had a legion of enthusiastic fans, many of whom bombarded me with requests for “sit-reps” on what was happening to their favourite establishment during the many weeks it disappeared off the radar screen.
Having shut their chintzy, cottagey, bijou eatery at Alliance Francaise’s premises at the end of last year, the story was they would re-open a spectacular new outlet behind the Arundel shopping complex early in 2012.
Well January and February went with no hard news on progress; March was almost over before I got the nod that a soft opening had come and gone successfully; most teething troubles had been dealt with, the new, sparkling, much enlarged Alo, Alo was fully ready for public scrutiny.
I went on Friday for lunch and so did the occupants of another six packed tables outdoors in a delightful, tranquil manicured garden setting, a couple of tables indoors and a few likely lads at the pub. And it seemed to me that most of the cognoscenti knew each other…as is often the case in this over-blown dorp called Ha-ha-ha-rare.
Certainly I was on first name terms with at least a dozen and a half punters, the management team and waiters who went on to provide immaculately attentive service. It was warm civility, not cloying servility, as splendid food rolled out of the magnificent, large, spotlessly hygienic, well-designed working kitchen I’d been privileged to have been shown around earlier.
The cooks, kitchen hands, waiters and bar-men have all worked together as a team for years at the Herbert Chitepo outlet and when proprietors Adrian and Lesley Orford (check their initials: ALO, geddit? Alo, Alo?) ran the kitchen at Borrowdale Brooke Golf Club.
Lesley is chef-patron, always perfectly groomed even after long hours in a hot, noisy kitchen, and does virtually all the cooking in this gourmet establishment; her daughter, Caroline Abrami, recently back from the UK, is on the staff and Lesley’s husband, Adrian meets, greets and seats ultra-efficiently.
They open from 9am-2:30pm Sunday and Monday and 9am-9pm (ish!!) Tuesday to Saturday, serving breakfast, toasted sandwiches, cakes, hot and cool drinks and light meals before lunch and similar fare between the end of the mid-day meal and start of supper.
I sat at an attractive well-stocked bar, sipping a refreshingly chilled item of a moderately alcoholic nature and listening to great music of the 60s and 70s played at an agreeable sound level, perusing various menus and a lovely wine list.
The restaurant is light and airy, despite a preponderance of bare rustic brick and timber featuring in the décor. Every flat surface seems to hold a priceless antique or piece of collectible memorabilia. Some you will recall from Alliance Francaise days, but bearing in mind the previous restaurant catered for a maximum of 60 covers and the new one has 28 seats outdoors, 74 indoor proper and room for another 16 or 18 for light meals at the pub, someone’s been busy putting this astounding array together.
Best meal value is probably the fixed price two-course lunch special, at US$16, which features a salad of rocket or avocado pear with Parmesan cheese and balsamic, or crumbed haloumi cheese with fig preserves or crispy piri-piri chicken wings as starters.
The two-course menu changes about every 10 days; mains when I visited were spicy beef curry and rice with poppadum and sambals; piri-piri chicken with chips or rice; crumbed Kariba bream with tartare sauce or lemon butter; pork chops topped with crispy bacon and melted cheese or vegetable pancakes with a cheese sauce.
From the a la carte menu, I had wonderfully flavoursome fairly coarsely constructed Thai-style fishcakes which actually tasted of the fish it’s often so difficult to find in this dish. They were crisp on the outside and soft, yielding, flaky within and came with a substantial side salad and a tangy sweet chili sauce (US$7).
Artisanal breads have always been a feature of Alo, Alo and from a large wicker basket I chose one of each: beer-bread, butternut and vegetable-bread, full of taste, nicely loose-crumbed with great butter.
It was Friday, fish-day, and I opted for a US$27 prawn curry (mild-to-medium), which had tang and taste but didn’t mask the delicate flavour of the generous serving of plump, pink crustaceans in a delightful sauce on saffron rice with — again –– loads of lovely salad, poppadums, crunchy golden onion rings, desiccated coconut, sliced bananas and a pleasant chutney with a slight tingly after-burn.
Lesley’s puddings are works of art, veritable still-lifes: a crime to eat and a sin not to! Her light-as-air, super citrusy, lemon meringue pie was an exemplar, which I thoroughly enjoyed, before ending a remarkably good meal in splendid company and restful surroundings, with safe parking only metres away with a good, strong filter coffee.
Dusty Miller rating 4,75 Stars March 2012.
Alo, Alo. Now at 10 Forest Road, Arundel (behind the shopping mall). Telephone 369198. Adjoining parking. Handicapped friendly. Smoking/non-smoking. Indoor/outdoor dining. Bar/background music. Guarded