Twenty years ago, when there was not much variety in the eating out scene in Nairobi, Stavrose was a popular restaurant, so much so that getting a table without a reservation on a weekend was as probable as winning the lottery. That was then, when the city centre was the hub of restaurant, and general entertainment.
Now, the very thought of going to the city centre after dark is foreboding; lack of security, menace of parking boys, and general gloom thwart heavy patronage of restaurants. Many have shut down or moved away from the city centre.
Stavrose has stayed put. Fortunately, its location has had a bit of a cleaning up recently. Straddling two streets, Banda Street and Market Lane, the latter had become a garbage dump, with mountains of rotting rubbish.
The ambience inside Stavrose has also remained unchanged. Walls of maji ya chumvi slabs are varnished to a high gloss, but lend a dark air to the place. An imaginative stained glass partition separates the dining area from the bar.
The chairs and tables, though old, are comfortable. The most interesting piece in the entire restaurant is a traditional handcart, bearing bowls of salad. Stavrose is one of the few restaurants in Nairobi that serve a complimentary salad.
It is not just a small side plate of a few lettuce leaves with carrots and tomatoes; they actually give you a small dish to help yourself to at the salad bar, which has at least half a dozen varieties of salads ranging from green, potato, pasta salads, to fresh coconut strips.
Overtones of spice
The cuisine at Stavrose is not Indian, though it does have overtones of spice in almost every dish. If I am not mistaken, this is where the Poussin Pili Pili originated, that dish particular to Nairobi — deep fried chicken baked with butter and dipped in red chilli powder.
This dish comes in three levels of hotness — mild, medium, and hot — and I am happy to report, it is still as good as it used to be. The Fish Pepito is a grilled (or baked, I could not quite tell) and covered in a spicy tomato paste, and is very fresh.
The Steak Akbar is again a tender steak cooked to your requirements but spicy, different, yet tasty. A most unusual starter was a dish of mushrooms cooked in piquant, garlic sauce and served in a platter traditionally used for snails.
They also serve non-spicy and vegetarian dishes .
They have maintained their old serving staff, who seem expert in ascertaining the tastes of their clients and recommend alternatives from the menu. Old is gold, but a Stavrose needs polishing or relocation.