Dinner for two at the elegant Kempinski

Saturday January 30 2016

We chose the Lucca, not because of its generous

We chose the Lucca, not because of its generous portions but because I like Italian cuisine — and my wife is vegetarian and Italian menus usually offer a good range of non-meat dishes in their salads, pastas and pizzas. PHOTO| JOHN FOX 

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I wasn’t very complimentary when I wrote about the Villa Rosa Kempinski just after it opened along the Chiromo Road, Nairobi, back in August 2013.

I’m not at all fond of the heavy eastern European-style furniture and décor, and I especially find the repro furniture tasteless — like the chairs that have been produced to look as if they have been scratched and faded through the ages.

But I had received a complimentary voucher for a dinner for two, so it was a good incentive to return and re-assess. I went to the website and read about Kempinski’s four restaurants offering, as the site says, “different taste from the globe from Italian

flavours, Pan Asian cuisine, to Levantine dishes”.

I read about the Café Villa Rosa, with its “elegant all-day dining with plenty of local traditions”; the Lucca, with its “authentic Italian cuisine in generous portions”; the Tambourine, the Levant style rooftop lounge delivering “an intimate and relaxed

atmosphere, with an amazing menu to match”; the 88 Lounge and Restaurant that promises a “cavalcade of flavours across Japanese, Thai, Chinese and Indonesian cuisine”.

We chose the Lucca, not because of its generous portions but because I like Italian cuisine — and my wife is vegetarian and Italian menus usually offer a good range of non-meat dishes in their salads, pastas and pizzas. (By the way, have you heard the one

about the vegetarian who said, “I’m a vegetarian not because I love animals — it’s just that I hate vegetables so much”?)

For starters, we shared a vegetable and cheese platter, the Antipasto Vegetariano; my wife had the vegetables and I nibbled at the cheeses. It was certainly a generous portion and, even though sharing, if we had cleaned the platter we wouldn’t have done

justice to the main courses.

For the mains, my wife chose the Risotto Dante, with asparagus, zucchini (courgettes), pumpkin and porcino (woodland) mushrooms. I went for the Italian traditional Tagliata di Manzo, a beef fillet with slow cooked tomatoes, rocket salad, Parmesan

shavings and fried new potatoes.

We have no idea why the risotto was named after the medieval Italian poet, best known for his Divine Comedy. I asked my wife if her choice (which looked quite bland to me) was divine or comic, but she just laughed and said it was “OK” and “tasty”.

My medium-done steak was, to use the nice Kenyan phrase, very OK. The sliced portions of beef had a pleasing crust on the outside and they were quite succulent on the inside. The accompaniments of skewered small fried potatoes, tomatoes, and cheese

shavings, all on the bed of green rocket — they were also very OK.


With the complimentary voucher in my pocket, we decided to indulge ourselves and, after a suitable pause, we went on to the desserts. I was disappointed to be told by Peter, our very solicitous waiter, that the two most tempting items on the menu — the

Baba Amarula and the Orange Pistachio Profiteroles — were not available that evening.

(I have fond memories of finishing off our roadside fresh bread and cheese lunches with Rum Baba as we drove down through France, taking youth club members for a climbing expedition in the Pyrenees. My co-leader and I were in our element, but our

English youths from rural Lincolnshire couldn’t wait to get back to their sausages and mash.)

Anyway, at the Lucca that Friday evening, we made do with a Tiramisu and a Semifreddo alle Mandorle. The Tiramisu, layered coffee-flavoured sponge and whipped cream, was described on the menu as a ‘traditional classic’ — can it really be both?  It was

certainly typical of the Italian favourite.   

My Semifreddo (a half-frozen mousse with toasted almonds and chocolate sauce) sounded good and tasted good, too — but I was still thinking too much about missing especially the Baba Amarula.

Nevertheless, feeling well-indulged and happy, we asked for the bill. When the restaurant manager brought it, I produced my voucher, valued at Sh7,000. “Oh no,” the manager said. “This is valid — as it says — only at our Café Villa Rosa”.

“That will teach me to read the small print,” I said to my wife. But, actually, the print about the Café Villa Rosa wasn’t at all small. Anyway, we had a good laugh at ourselves. And we still have another Kempinski meal to look forward to.

Before leaving, we did a wander around the ground floor and admired the opulence of the place, even more impressive in the warm glow of the lights. Way above us on the top floor, there is the four-bedroom presidential suite. The hotel’s website says it is

“fit for royalty”, and that it has “exquisite European flair”. We wondered what President Obama made of that when he spent two nights there last July on his only second official visit to Africa. At least he wouldn’t have had problems with a complimentary



John Fox is the managing director of iDC