We were having dinner at one of our favourite restaurants – the Mediterraneo at the Junction – and Giuliano Zanette, the owner and master chef, stopped by our table for a chat.
We asked him about his new place in Westlands.
‘It’s open, now,” he said. “The main menu is the same, but the decor is very different – and we also serve breakfast from 7.30 in the morning.”
So we decided to give it a try.
I can well imagine the market for a smart breakfast in Westlands. Some of those guys who leave home at an ungodly hour to beat the traffic jams and get to their offices so early these days, I guess they will welcome a meal and a break before they get down to the day’s work.
But we cheated a bit, my son and I, by choosing the jam-free May Day for the drive into town. And it was rather later than 7.30 am!
Now, my idea of a good breakfast is a full English one – the best thing the English have bequeathed to the world – the sort of breakfast on offer in all swanky hotels. You know: a choice of fruit juices, cereals, coffee or tea, and then the core of it – bacon, eggs, sausage, fried tomatoes and baked beans.
I should have known better, but that was that kind of breakfast I was thinking about as we drove to the Mediterraneo that morning. And there was nothing like that on the menu. Instead, there were a variety of focaccio items: that flat oven-baked bread, often topped with herbs and seasoned with olive oil – and obviously much favoured by Italians.
Let me give you a couple of examples, our own choices:
Diavola: rosemary focaccio, with Emmental cheese, spicy calabrese salami, fresh tomato, eggplants and cocktail sauce.
Contadina: rosemary focaccio, with roast turkey, red pepper, bacon, fried eggs, provolone cheese and pesto spread.
Both dishes had a bed of crispy lettuce – the first time I had eaten lettuce for breakfast. But we thoroughly enjoyed our choices, as well as the fresh and strong coffees.
There were plenty of other items on the menu: such as the roast beef panini (in a baguette, with rucola and parmesan flakes); ciabatta vegetarian (olive oil and oregano ciabatta bread, with grilled vegetables, fontana and pesto sauce).
All the above and similar items are in the Sh600 to Sh700 range. For lighter and cheaper options (Sh200 range) there are such as croissants (plain and chocolate), Italian brioche, Italian doughnuts with custard, French toast and apple turnovers.
So the food is excellent and the decor, as Giuliano said, is different – very different from his other places at the Junction and Gigiri. Where those are rustic Italian, the Westlands’ restaurant is urban Italian. The pizza oven in the corner of the main dining room is a striking feature, with its dome of glazed tiles.
There is a high and square pillar alongside the bar, with wine bottles in horizontal slots. Hanging on the walls there are two shiny Vespa scooters.
In contrast, the outside seating area is rather bland and boring. It could be enlivened with some greenery. You don’t even get a clear view of the surroundings – the burgeoning Westlands with its new acquisitions like the Sankara Hotel and the Delta Building.
The Mediterraneo is in a very new and smart building, too: the curved 9 West at the Sarit Centre roundabout, at the Parklands Road corner, and towering over the kiosks of the craft market. It is in the middle of a very busy area – both by day and by night.
So, with all this new development surrounding the Mediterraneo – especially the prestigious offices – you would expect that its dining room would be quite full at breakfast time. When we were there, only one other table was occupied.
But it was the May Day holiday, so it was not at all a fair test. But the manager did tell us that, though lunches are doing very well and you certainly have to book to be sure of a table for dinner, the breakfasts are having a slower take-off.
Perhaps early morning drivers having a meal are still sticking to the more familiar fare at the Art Café in the nearby Westgate. But, if they give the 9 West breakfasts a try, I reckon they will be back for more.
John Fox is Managing Director iDC