CHECKING my alphabetical list of restaurants due for a re-visit for this Zimbabwe Independent column, I didn’t get very far before reaching Arnaldo’s!
Eating Out with Dusty Miller
Time constraints dictated that that was the Kensington Shopping Centre branch of Arnaldo’s, where Taverna Athena operated before that iconic Greek restaurant sadly went bust; prior to that, years ago, it was Mateo’s.
The Arnaldo’s franchise (they are also at Graniteside) is run by the Taylor family of dispossessed Mutepatepa tobacco farmers. After the lunatic land invasions, they downsized into poultry at Harare South, operating FatSon (that’s father and son!) Chickens.
Running the restaurant side of the firm is daughter/sister Keitha Taylor.
“Bridgette” (no one seems to know her surname) who crafted the very remarkable colourful outdoor murals at Graniteside has also decorated Kensington, beautifully capturing the light and shade of the Mozambique coast and islands in several painting indoors and out.
There are also interesting cut-outs of marine items, shellfish, star-fish, jelly-fish and the like.
Décor is reminiscent of the best and most graceful of the former far-flung Portuguese empire: all graceful curves painted in matte aquamarine blues and whites. (Coals to Newcastle? I heard some time ago that Bridgette had been commissioned to decorate the Zimbabwean-owned and run Archipelago Resort at Vilankulos, Mozambique for the Reilly family!)
A raised deck indoor dining area at Kensington has been simply sanded down to bare wood: it reminded me of one of the beach restaurants at the fabulously pricey but gob-smackingly gorgeous Indigo Bay Resort on Bazaruto Island, off Vilankulos.
A daily special of home-made mushroom soup (a winner at the old Taverna Athena…did they pinch the menu or poach the chef?) proved dense and intensely flavoured at US$4. All other soups listed on the fairly compact menu are now marked N/A (not applicable or not available), which is a pity because the prawn soup and caldo verde were also remarkably good.
At US$7, the prawn cocktail eaten on a previous visit was an extremely worthwhile retro circa-1963 dining experience. They actually used prawns: plump, pink large queens or small kings, I’d say, whereas most of the opposition tends to serve tiny shrimps.
I can’t recall whether there were four or five crustaceans in the bowl, but they were totally delicious, atop the usual bed of shredded iceberg lettuce, the whole lot slathered in pink marie-rose (1 000 Islands) sauce.
I assume the best of FatSon’s poultry is sent to their restaurants and the half piri-piri chicken I ate at lunch on Monday was exemplary: soft, white, tender, plump, juicy, flesh nicely marinaded to “medium” piri-piri heat strength. Skin was crisped professionally.
Fighting a losing battle with the deep-fat fryer, I really wanted the huku served with Portuguese-style whole boiled potatoes; but the ubiquitous chips, or savoury rice, were the only starch available.
Candidly the chips were not to my palate, but I finished them all. Friends lunching much later had chips served exactly as I like them: crisp, dark, golden brown on the outside, floury within.
Whatever… they were proper hand-cut chips, tasting of real spuds and not those willowy, insipid, tasteless, mass-produced machine-sliced jobs which the British Press recently claimed could cause cancer; and they were served on a professionally piping hot plate, with lemon chunks, which helped cut the richness of a dish costing US$11.
Arnaldo’s offer a full range of poultry products, but also a wide choice of grilled well-hung steaks, chops and ribs for guys who graze and a few salads for the lovely ladies who lunch lightly and languidly.
A basket of still warm Continental-style soft-crumbed bread and butter, which, ideally, could have come out of the fridge a few minutes earlier to help it spread, came with starters and mains. I find it hard to resist good bread and butter which, to the horror of my daughter, I often sprinkle with sea-salt!
Choice of puddings has been “temporarily” restricted to ice-cream and chocolate sauce, ice-cream without chocolate sauce or chocolate mousse, US$3,50 or US$4 respectively for months.
Keitha has previously assured me the range would “soon” be extended, with trademark Portuguese crème caramels being immediately added. (It hasn’t yet.) The ubiquitous ice-cream and chocolate sauce was fine, but why price it at US$3,50, when there are virtually no coins in circulation in this country?
At Graniteside –– where industry is a shadow of its former self since government policies virtually destroyed manufacturing –– the sister outlet opens only on weekday lunchtimes, whereas the Kensington operation trades, allegedly, 8am-9:30pm Monday to Saturday, specialising in breakfasts and coffee and cake.
However, twice I’ve been just before 8:30pm to find the place in darkness. They fairly recently began opening for Sunday lunch.
Parking can be a problem at Kensington (where nobody ever seems to leave after grabbing a spot!) but I hear an improvement can possibly be expected. The large car-park is professionally guarded.
Bottom line: soup, mains, pudding, two Golden Pilsener Lagers at US$3 each (a bit steep, but offset by the fact that a cappuccino wasn’t charged for): US$24,50, rounded up –– I long for a restaurant where they occasionally round down! –– to US$25.
Arnaldo’s, Kensington SC. Family restaurant, sensibly priced. Child and handicapped friendly. Smoking/no smoking tables. Fully licensed. Comprehensive wine-list. Eating in an airy indoors restaurant with overhead fans in summer, outdoors or semi al-fresco. Telephone 0772 238 306/ 0772 729 306.
Opens Monday to Saturday “8am-9:30pm” and Sunday lunch.