Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Restaurant and Hotel AKOA – An Oasis of Tranquility in the Buzzing Third World City Antananarivo in Madagascar

Pictures: Christian G.E.Schiller with Martine Pless at AKOA in Ivandry in Antananarivo, Madagascar

The food in Madagascar is mainly French-Malagasy. French food ranges from basic bistro food to high-end restaurant food. If you like French food, you are just right in Madagascar. You can eat in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, just as well as in Paris, but at considerably lower prices.

The traditional Malagasy food is rice 3 times a day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a bit of meat or fish, and Analamao (bok choy-type greens). The Malagasy eat this with a spoon and a fork - no knife.

Turning to wine, Madagascar produces wine. This is not well known outside the country. The vineyards are in the Betsileo area in the highlands and total about 800 hectares. This compares with 100.000 hectares in Germany or South Africa. I always try to drink Malagasy wine. The wine tends to be of good quality, but does not reach a level that it could be marketed internationally.

For imported wines, practically nothing was available in the 1980s, when I first set foot on the red island. That changed in the following years and French wine became readily available in supermarkets and restaurants. The most recent development is the influx of South African wine, which began perhaps a decade ago.

I lived in Antananarivo from 1989 to 1992 and have visited Antananarivo since then on average every other year. My last visit was in 2010. Since the days of my first visit, the restaurant scene in Antananarivo has changed dramatically. As the country has opened up to the rest of the world and has become more flexible vis a vis foreign capital and know-how, a sizable number of new restaurants has emerged in Antananarivo. At the same time, many of the old-style restaurants are still around.

Generally, one can eat exceptionally well in Antananarivo, at very, very reasonable prices. At the time of my last visit, in September 2010, the exchange rates were Euro 1 = Ariary 2750 and US$ 1 = Ariary 2000. I have posted my private list of the restaurants in Antananarivo here, rating them on a scale from 1 to 5 stars. Below is a review of AKOA, a hotel and restaurant in Ivandry, one of the more quiet suburbs in the hectic city of Antananarivo in Madagascar. AKOA is like an oasis of tranquility in this buzzing big third world city.

The Place

Beautiful tropical foliage with a huge lychee tree, ravinalas, banana trees, with Jasmine fragrance tickling your nose and a Buddha sitting in the middle of it.

The garden restaurant around the pool area is just breathtaking. You can have lunch there all year around, and lunch and dinner in the Malagasy summer period, which runs from October to March.

The indoor restaurant is in a large concentric room with a wood beam supported cathedral ceiling, constructed in old Malagasy tradition. With the cosy fireplace in the evening during winter, it reminded me of a bit of ski chalet in Switzerland with a Malagasy touch. The tasteful interior design is accentuated by plum color curtains and wall papers. Interestingly, trees were incorporated into the structure of the building.

Pictures: Indoor and outdoor restaurants at AKOA

While the restaurant is very fancy, the 11 rooms are modest, but perfectly sufficient. The breakfast in the morning along the pool is a real treat. The bar is well stocked for a drink in the evening. The free WiFi works well everywhere in the hotel and the restaurant. There is also a separate building with one large room for seminars and other events. The owners and the staff do all the possible to make their guest comfortable.

Given its location in Ivandry, a chic residential suburb of Tana, with a strong American presence, including the American School of Antanananarivo, you have a lot of English speaking people among the guests and the waiters speak a bit of English, which is not the rule in this former French colony.

The Food

The menu is strictly French brasserie and restaurant food. There are no Malagasy dishes on the menu. The menu is structured in an innovative way: Entrees, Plats, Brasserie, Salades, Desserts, followed by a diatery menu for: Entrees, Plats and Salades, with the amount of calories indicated on the side. The Menu is in French and English.

Pictures: The Food at AKOA

The Entrees include French standards like Tartare de Crevette and Terrine de Canard; among the Plats I liked in particular the Camarons Epices, the Pave de Zebu Poele and the Filets de Sole. All Entrees are in the Ariary 15.000 to 17.000 range.

The dishes on the Brasserie page cost less, all Ariary 13.000 and include items like Steak Frites and other typical brasserie food.

The Wines

As in most Malagasy restaurant at this level, you find only imported wines at AKOA. I regret this, but most expatriates as well as the upper class Malagasy tend to stay away from the Malagasy wines, which tend to be non-vintage, simple table wines. Reflecting the international clientele of the Akoa, the wine list is more international than in other Tana restaurants, where you sometimes find only French wines. The wine list consist of one page of French and other imported wines in the Ariary 30.000 to 100.000 range and on page with a good selection of Bordeauxs, from an ordinary AC for Ariary 30.000 to Ariary 165.000

The Owners and Managers

AKOA is managed and owned by Mrs. Martine Pless and her partner Claude. They arrived here two years ago, just at the time, when former President Ravalomanana was toppled and the ongoing period of political crisis started. She came because of her son, Johannes Press, the owner of the chic Kudeda restaurant Isoraka, Kudeta opened 8 years ago. It was one of the first of the wave of chic modern restaurants that has swept over Antananarivo in the past decade. Martine followed her son 2 years ago and opened this outstanding place.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Christian G.E. Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo

The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

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