It was the Nairobi Restaurant Week last week: a chance for the restaurants of the city to showcase themselves.
Each participating establishment offered a set menu of either Sh1,250 or Sh1,750. It was the first time that Nairobi had joined this global event, with cities around the world taking part: London, New York, Cape Town and Tokyo.
In all, 55 restaurants participated. Among them were prominent ones you would expect to be there, like the dining rooms in some of the big hotels: the elegant Mandhari at the Serena, the authentically oriental Thai Chi at the Sarova Stanley, or the Italian-style Lucca at the Villa Rosa Kempinski.
Other Italian restaurants featured in the list; especially the three popular Mediterraneo places: at the Junction, Gigiri and Nine West. There was the leading Indian restaurant, the Haandi, at the Mall in Westlands.
And it was no surprise to see the restaurant that has raised the bar for style and service: the Seven Grill and Lounge at the Village Market, though I would have expected its older sister establishment to be included – the Seven Seafood and Grill at ABC Place along Waiyaki Way.
A few speciality places were included, such as the two excellent wine bars: the Wine Shop and Bar at the Junction (which now serves some very good-value business lunches), and the Brew Bistro’s Wine Shop on the ground floor of the Piedmont Plaza along the Ngong Road (which serves a very tasty selection of croissants).
The very different and atmospheric place along James Gichuru Road took the opportunity to advertise itself: Le Palanka, which offers what it calls a fusion of the traditional and innovative cuisine of Africa.
Then there were a few places further out from the city, such as the Tamambo Blixen Garden Restaurant along the Karen Road, as well as the Que Paso Bar and Bistro in Karen Dukas, which has the cosy atmosphere – but much better food – than a typical English village pub.
Best steaks in Kenya
The lively and informative Kenya Buzz got something a little wrong this time, though. It said that the Nairobi Restaurant Week featured “all of the city’s top diners”.
Not so. One of Nairobi’s longest-surviving, top-flight restaurants wasn’t there: Alan Bobbé’s Bistro, with its distinctively French cuisine. Though the inimitable Alan Bobbé isn’t with us any more, the restaurant he founded and nurtured over 50 years ago is – within the Andrews Apartments at the far end of Rhapta Road.
Another favourite restaurant of ours was missing: La Salumeria, tucked behind Valley Arcade – small, snug and always serving excellent Italian dishes. Another missing one was the new and plush Hemingways in Karen – with that very special oven that produces what must be the best steaks in the country.
However, we went to none of the above. We decided to try one of the ones on the list of 55 that we hadn’t visited before. We chose the Dari, which is a fairly new restaurant, along the Ngong Road, next to the African Wildlife Foundation and a kilometre or so short of the Karen roundabout.
The Dari is in an expansive, orange tiled house with a broad veranda, and set in an indigenous forest. When the sun is shining, you can eat out in the garden, with mature trees, blossoming shrubs, and a pool with fountains.
The sun was indeed shining last Sunday, so we sat out in the garden. Some music was playing as well as the fountains. First it was Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony – and then some very modern and cooling jazz.
Perhaps I should tell you about the day’s special Nairobi Restaurant Week menu, because that will give you a flavour of the place. For starters, there was a choice between triple-cooked pork belly, sticky mustard and soy sauce, fresh apple, bean sprouts, radish and sesame; roasted beetroot, wasabi raisins, balsamic, goat’s cheese and green leaves.
For main, it was fried tilapia served with sukuma purée, kachumbari and crispy arrow roots; braised ossubuco, cabbage and butternut; or open butternut squash ravioli, brown butter, rocket, nuts and parmesan cheese. And for the dessert, there was a mango tart with coconut ice cream.
How do you like that? And you could then walk it off in the woods.
On the following Monday, I walked across from our office to the new Lavington Curve, to see what the fast-food and listed Big Square was offering as a special.
It was pork spare ribs with chips and a milk shake. I had a white wine instead of the milk shake.
Since the only way to eat a well-sauced spare rib is with your soon-sticky fingers, somehow the glass of wine didn’t seem the right choice.
They cut trees down to make way for the Lavington Mall that will be opening soon in what was once a Green.
I hear that an Artcaffé is coming there. Now I think I would sacrifice one or two trees for an Artcaffé. I’m not so sure I would do the same for a Big Square.
John Fox is Managing Director of iDC