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Food and Travel: Oasis in grim, gritty, Graniteside

IT was lucky I called at Arnaldo’s Portuguese Restaurant, Bessemer Crescent, Graniteside, because –– purely coincidentally — it was exactly a week after new management took over.

Distinctively blue-collar Arnaldo’s used to be bundled in a loose hospitality group –– perhaps with a degree of discomfort, I always felt –– with ultra-swish Imba Matomba private hotel atop a granite gomo in Glen Lorne, the nearly as up-market Gecko Gardens in the same suburb and Natureway Safaris.
Unbundled, the two fine Glen Lorne establishments were sold to Chinese investors who have also snapped up nearby Highlands Park Hotel (of fond 1970s memory) and award-winning Pangolin Lodge, Borrowdale: it served the best Sunday brunch in town.
Arnaldo’s was sold to the Taylor family, dispossessed Mtepatepa tobacco farmers, who now run a chicken farm off Beatrice Road.
Presumably the huku project’s prime poultry goes to Arnaldo’s, where traditional Portuguese piri-piri chicken is the trademark dish, as I’d no doubts at the time (since confirmed by comparing photos) the new folk offer bigger, better, chicken portions than most of their predecessors. But prices are the same.
Keitha Taylor (waiters confusingly referred to her as “Keith”, I expected a guy) has no formal training, nor experience in hospitality but, believe me, those farm gals can competently turn their hands to most things.
Nothing’s really broken, so the former Peterhouse Girls’ School pupil ain’t fixing much. But she’s innovative and the family (who kept all the old waiters and cooks) has introduced a punchy, rib-sticking Full Monty-style English breakfast fry-up, at a competitive $5, including hot drink and toast. This is proving a winner at early morning meetings between the grim, gritty industrial area’s go-getting gurus of industry.

Original homestead
Arnaldo’s, named after the first owner of the restaurant, who returned to his native Mozambique several years ago, is housed in the original homestead of the 3 000 acre Pioneer-grant farm named Graniteside. It is all whitewashed walls, creaking timber suspended floors and ill-fitting dark wooden doors and window frames indoors, but most people, nowadays, eat al fresco in all but the coldest weather.
This is in a gum-pole and thatched roof former courtyard, partly open to the elements. Perimeter walls have been whitewashed and painted with charmingly evocative slightly primitive-styled murals of Mozambican fishing villages, beaches and seascapes. In vibrant colours, they reminded me of happy days in Vilankulos and on Bazaruto Island.
The menu is also evocative of the once tragic, now booming –– notwithstanding the odd food riot –– country to the east of us!
Halloumi cheese with a sweet chili dipping sauce isn’t authentically Portuguese or Mozambican: it’s Greek!; but a fine starter at $4,  same price as Portuguese spiced beef kebab, spicy chicken livers with French bread or buffalo chicken wings.
These were on the previous management’s menu which Keitha is currently revising. Chicken giblets, also $4, were a blackboard special. I suggested soup be re-introduced, especially in winter; particularly the Portuguese speciality dish caldho verde (green soup) with spicy chouriço sausage.
Classic salads starring feta cheese and plump, unctuous green olives are enormous; the one served at $4 for two would possibly feed six as a side item.
Piri-piri chicken has been the popular eatery’s signature dish since opening and nothing’s changed. A quarter of a bird with Portuguese spice basting or lemon-and-garlic-sauce is $5; half-chicken $9.

Moist, meaty
I had half a generously portioned tender, mild, moist, meaty bird, which I ended up gnawing Henry VIII-style. (Meaning I enjoyed it!)
Mains are with chips, tomato rice, salads or sadza. I missed Lusitanian-style whole boiled potatoes, which I often feel need another minute or two on the rolling boil! Maybe they’ll make a comeback?
Guisada de galhina (chicken stew) was $6 on the menu; huku curry $8 on the blackboard.
It’s popular to pooh-pooh steak cooked in Portuguese eateries, sadly recalling the poor terrified beasts which used to appear, scared almost to death, but never killed by the bullfighter, in the dusty bullrings of the former Portuguese empire.
But when a former owner of the establishment is clearly seen hungrily tucking into T-bone ($12 on the blackboard), it speaks volumes for the quality of meat. Pepper steak is also $12, on special; sirloin $9,50, sirloin steak-egg-and-chips $10,50; beef stew $6;  prego fillet steak rolls $6,50: same as Portuguese rib burger.
Fish section choices were confined to Kariba bream ($8,50) and prawns (number, size unspecified) at $18.
The newly taken over restaurant had a pleasant fairly busy buzz on Tuesday and they obviously have a thriving takeaway trade.

Gross stupidity
On Tuesday, Zesa was reinstated there at exactly 2pm. It had been off since dawn. When I raised eyebrows at the gross stupidity of depriving a manufacturing area, big in exports, of power for more than half a working day, neighbours looked at me as if I were daft.
“This is every day!” they chorused.
Pudding was the ubiquitous ice-cream with either chocolate sauce or “crunchies” at $3,50.  I had the former: two large dollops with a grand thick, dark sauce.
No wine list, but a sensibly smallish range of South African bottled and “chateaux cardboard” keg wines are displayed; no corkage fee if you BYOB.
They open 8am to mid-afternoon Monday to Thursday, with the creac going on later on Fridays with bar entertainment.
Hokoyo, yawning potholes on roads approaching the restaurant; the area looks like something out of Flanders, circa 1917, after three years of constant Allied and German artillery stonkings!
Starter, mains, pudding and three local lagers cost $22,50.
Arnaldo’s, 7, Bessemer Crescent, Graniteside (off Kelvin Road South) Tel 773877; Keitha 012238306; Luckson 0912744669.


Dusty Miller

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