Melissa Nazareth experienced a riot of colours and flavours at Aló – Taste of Latin America.

There are few restaurants in Bahrain dedicated solely to Latin American cuisine so, when I found out about Aló – Taste of Latin America, I was excited to try it, as were my companions. It was a pleasant drive to District 1 in Janabiya, with windows rolled down in this lovely weather. On entering, we were met with a riot of colours, quite characteristic of this culture; instantly, I painted a mental picture of Spanish-style fiestas, Panamanian polleros, colourful Cuban buildings, Native American regalia… we all fell in love with the life-sized mural of Frida Kahlo!

We sank into the deep emerald-hued velvet booth in a corner. Browsing through the menu, we discovered that it’s short and sweet, not unlike the space itself, which is cosy with limited seating – great things come in small packages, right? The menu though concise features all the trappings of a scrumptious Latin American spread, as we soon found out.

We waited for our starters, enjoying the instrumental music playing in the background – I suspect it was Latin jazz – very catchy. I caught myself swaying from the waist up on more than one occasion. We learned that guests can expect live musical entertainment too and that the vibe of the place transforms after sunset. I made a mental note to return one of these days for dinner but for the moment lunch was great to get acquainted.

First, the Salmon Ceviche was presented to us. Aló’s penchant for vibrant colours has made its way into their food as well; a disc of soft coral-hued, citrus-cured salmon sat on a mat of crimson grilled pimento pepper and was garnished with fresh garden greens. Offering the slightest tanginess, this dish refreshed our palate.

Next, came the Empanadas – moreish crescents made with warm, buttery pastry and savoury filling. A tantalising contrast of temperatures and textures from their predecessor. The beef and chicken filling laced with herby basil pesto was great on its own but, when combined with the chimichurri dip, caused our taste buds to levitate. The freshness of the olive oil came through in the dip. I suspected a hint of the local black lemon. Later, I learned it is indeed one of the ingredients – love the subtle local touch without losing the essence of Latin America!

The flavour fiesta continued with the Spiced Smoked Beef Brisket Tacos. Gingerly, I took a bite of the soft taco, careful not to let the juices of the luscious, tender brisket escape. Beautiful earthy spices faintly echoed in the background, allowing the smoked BBQ sauce to hit the top notes.

Our appetites whetted, we moved on to mains, the first of which was Peri-Peri Baby Chicken. The golden, glazed bird was visually appealing. We effortlessly carved our way through skin, bone and flesh. Such was the precision level of the cooking. The chicken, we learned, is marinaded overnight with peri-peri sauce and other harmonious aromatics and spices. The accompanying roast baby potatoes, skins on, completed the dish and the side of peri-peri sauce echoed the flavours of the marinade: sharp and tangy, with a powerful kick.

Balancing the meat dishes was a portion of grilled tiger prawns. They were huge and presented with the shell on so, I almost mistook them for lobster! Juicy, springy and perfectly cooked, the sear on the crustacean lent it a smoky flavour, which complemented its inherent sweetness. Offering the perfect interlude to this symphony was the garlic and herb butter dip. I particularly enjoyed the side of grilled vegetables: zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes.

You can’t imagine Latin American cuisine without a hearty steak. Most of the meat at Aló is imported from Argentina and some from the US. Our Angus beef ribeye was succulent, packed with rich flavour and cooked to our liking. You can choose from other cuts – tenderloin, tomahawk, sirloin or T-bone – all of which are served with a side of creamy mashed potatoes, grilled zucchini and either a green peppercorn or mushroom sauce. The sauces are prepared in-house, using bone broth and other aromatics, and then reduced to a demi-glace.

Aló is a master when it comes to slow cooking, as we discovered along the way, especially with the last dish – Beef Cheek Assada (roast), which is simmered for five to six hours. This creation honestly redefines melt-in-your-mouth! When I cut the meat, I could clearly see texture. However, when I took a bite, the flesh seemed to sublimate without a trace. Well, not exactly. It leaves an aftertaste that makes it hard to resist another bite. It was served with rice cooked al dente, and a robust, tomato-based gravy.

There’s always room for dessert so, we ended our luncheon with Brigadeiro com Sorvete de Baunilha, which sounds intimidating but was simple and ‘sweet’; brigadeiro is a Brazilian truffle-like chocolate confection. We enjoyed Aló’s rendition of this traditional sweetie, served with vanilla ice cream and green grape compote, and garnished with sugar brittle. With happy hearts and satiated stomachs, we sat outside for a while, making the most of winter in Bahrain. I’ll definitely be returning to try out new dishes. Perhaps, even to repeat some of my favourites from this time. ✤