A question I am asked often, usually by visitors and foreigners living in Kenya, is where to go for a fine dining experience with local flavour.
From my nearly 10 years’ experience in restaurant reviews and even longer as an avid restaurant goer in Nairobi, I don’t think there is a single restaurant that combines the two: the luxury of fine dining with Kenyan cuisine.
There are however many restaurants that serve very good local cuisine in moderate surroundings.
It is worth noting that nyama choma does not make up Kenyan cuisine as a lot of outsiders seem to think.
It is certainly a type of cuisine, barbecued dishes, favoured by a lot of people and conducive to eating out in open places and relaxed atmospheres, but it is just a small part of local fare.
Kosewe has been around for a long time but when they were situated on Kenyatta Avenue I couldn’t stand the grubby atmosphere no matter how good the food.
Their position next to Nation Centre has seen a much bigger intake of customers, so much so that they are almost always full, day and night.
It is a vast place and much cleaner than its previous location, but despite the vastness it could be difficult to get a place if you turn up at the peak half hour of lunch time (1-1.30 pm).
It is not so much the ambience of the place that is drawing the crowds (white and blue collar workers, and I have heard that it is also frequented by the Prime Minister), but the quality and choice of very good food.
The main dining area is vast, with a well-stocked bar at one end. Smokers must sit outside and even then at the edge. The outside is like a veranda with parasols to protect from the sun or rain.
There is another distinct area across the threshold where the band plays at night. The music is extremely loud so go with the knowledge that you can only drink and dance, not talk.
The toilets and wash basins (almost everyone here eats with the hands) are well maintained. I was touched to see that in the hour we were there, someone poured hot water with disinfectant in the wash basin twice, ensuring a germ-free environment.
For those who have never been to Kosewe, don’t expect a printed menu and don’t sit down expecting to order food as you would in other restaurants.
Start by queuing at the cashiers’ counters. Here you will be given vouchers for your dish, be it beef, chicken or fish, all of which come with a choice of rice, ugali or chapatti and a side serving of kachumbari.
If you want extras like sukuma wiki, kunde or osuga then you have to pay for them. Do not expect bread, chips or potatoes of any kind; they are not served here.
To get a glimpse of what is available, they have Spare ribs, Special Mix (Chicken Special), Fish in Coconut Stew, Smoked Tilapia, Fried Whole Tilapia, Kamongo (Dried Mud Fish), Kuku Choma, Chicken Stew, Boiled Beef, Roasted Beef Stew (Athola), Fried Beef, Fried Liver, Gizzards, Fresh Tilapia, Matumbo, Osuga, Sukuma Mixed with Spinach and Kunde.
Not all dishes are available at the same time, and usually the lunch time dishes are different from the evening ones.
My favourite has been fish in coconut and when we visited last week I asked and paid for fish, only to find they only had fried fish.
I only started eating cooked fish three years ago so a whole (with head and gills still attached) fried fish and a strong tasting one like Tilapia at that is enough for me to put off.
However, I persevered as it had already been ordered, and upon the first bite I was blown away at how fresh, delicate and delicious it was.
Kosewe is an unpretentious place with an unpretentious ambience, but one of the best Kenyan cuisine ensembles in the country. What’s more, it is cheap, service is fairly fast and it is fairly central to get to (parking is a nightmare day or night).