It’s the furthest thing from a palace you’ll ever see.
But I suppose, if one considers the view, it’s pretty palatial after all.
Alfred’s Ocean Palace, on the famous Seven Mile Beach in Negril, Jamaica, is not the sort of place I’d usually be drawn to, at least at first glance. It has concrete floors, as well as square, plain and not terribly comfortable wooden chairs. And for a princess like me who really likes her creature comforts, it’s the antithesis of elegant.
Regardless, I’ve been eating there regularly for two solid weeks each year for the past five years. And here’s why:
The food is great (more on that in a minute), and very reasonably priced. The wine is decent and VERY reasonably priced. The Red Stripe is ice cold. The service, although not always rapid (nothing is in Jamaica, but no problem, mon!) is friendly and efficient.
And for all those reasons, with emphasis on the second one, I felt compelled to share my Alfred’s stories with the readers of this column.
As indicated in the last two Vine Lines installments (and I promise this is the last one for this year), my husband and I have found paradise — at least for the Christmas break — in Negril. Since I like to sleep late and my husband gets up only slightly earlier than I do, we’ve compromised for years and had breakfast (which they serve until noon, and if they’re not busy and you really want an omelette, or banana pancakes and bacon, they’ll usually push that timeline a bit) or lunch at Alfred’s nearly every day of our vacation. It’s close to our hotel, the price, again, is unbeatable, and the food is delicious.
But this trip, we had most of our suppers — five out of seven the first week — at Alfred’s as well.
As we were flying in on good old WestJet (please come to Brandon, WestJet — please, please, PLEASE!), my husband said to me, "Where should we go for supper tonight? Kuyaba?"
I love Kuyaba. It’s elegant, stylish, and the food is very good. And the wine list is much more extensive than Alfred’s, which serves just red or white. But I felt grungy after five hours of flying and an hour spent going through customs and a 45-minute wait for our bus to depart Montego Bay and a 90-minute bus ride from Mo’ Bay to Negril. And I was exhausted. I didn’t feel like anything fancy. I just wanted to get my feet in the water.
So I said, "You know, Marc and Bella (our friends from Ontario who we met in Negril three trips ago and who joined us again this year for the latter of our two weeks there) always go to Alfred’s for supper. And we’ve never done that. Let’s just go there."
I have to confess that for suppers, I like things a little more high-on-the-hog than I thought Alfred’s could deliver. I mean, the lunch menu and the dinner menu are one and the same. And I couldn’t remember seeing much that I thought I’d want for supper.
But there’s nothing like familiar territory when one is tired and hungry, and Alfred’s provided just that, at only a few hundred paces from our room.
So off we went. And it was so great, we went, as I’ve already said, the next four nights as well.
Imagine this: salad to start (cabbage, lettuce and tomatoes), a main course of generous portions of blackened chicken and blackened mahi mahi (cooked to perfection) — each accompanied by potatoes, rice with beans (called peas and rice in the Caribbean) and a melange of vegetables — the local squash (the name of which I’ve never been able to discover), carrots and callaloo (very much like spinach). We shared a bottle of wine — Gato Negro Chardonnay from Chile, not a high-end product by any stretch of the imagination, but one that showcases aromas of peach and tropical fruit with a hint of vanilla on the finish. Reasonable acidity balances the fruitiness, and it’s a great deal for the Jamaican price — $9 in the grocery store — and Alfred’s only charged us $12! I had an extra glass of wine — a most generous one for $3 — and my hubby had a Red Stripe, THE beer of Jamaica. Since we only had to walk a few steps along the beach to get back to our room, we decided to celebrate our first night "home" with a Rum Cream liqueur.
Imagine this: All that tallied, tax and tip included, for $56! (We left an additional few dollars for the tip because we were so pleased and impressed.) This is one of those rare cases where if it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t!
Anyway, deals like this don’t come along all the time, so I wanted to make sure folks knew if they were ever, EVER in Negril — and I highly recommend going there — Alfred’s is a must.
I arranged for a brief interview with the man himself — he’s quite a legend in those parts — successful business owner, all-round handyman and the community’s go-to guy for all things to do with marine activity.
Alfred Arthurs and his wife built their establishment, which also includes rooms (check out the website at alfreds.com), from the ground up 32 years ago. The name was their attempt to continue a beach legacy — a little restaurant named The Palace had closed down, and they decided to name their place partially in honour of what had been. But they added the "ocean" element just to differentiate their business from its predecessor.
In addition to employing lots of locals, Alfred’s also supports the Jamaican music scene, hosting live concerts Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays that feature established roots, reggae, rock, and jazz performers.
"People are great and if you help them eat, drink and be merry, you’re happy," a smiling Alfred said while relaxing in a hammock in front of his home which is behind the restaurant. "(I'm) very much a proud Jamaican and we’re very much open to sharing with all the rest of the world.
"So if anybody feel like they want a little stress-free vacation where they can open up and do whatever they want and be whatever they want, come join us!"
I couldn't have said it better myself! See you at the beach, Alfred, glass in hand.
And next week, more on some convenient items to put IN that hand, by the sea or anywhere else.