Where are you going to celebrate Nairobi Restaurant Week?” Joe asked.
“Sunday lunch we will be at Mama Ashanti,” I said.
“Then make sure you go when you are very hungry,” he advised. “The portions are massive.”
I guess you have heard about the Nairobi Restaurant Week, organised by EatOut. This year’s event — the third in a row and running from January 28 to February 7 — was much talked about. Deservedly so. Over 60 of the city’s restaurants were
Each of the restaurants were offering a fixed-price menu for dinner — with prices ranging from Sh1,500 to Sh2,500 — and a few were also offering a lunchtime option. Many of the chefs had created menus especially for the occasion.
As Michelle Slater, the general manager of EatOut said in last month’s special edition of Yummy, there was no need to stick to your old favourite place. It was a great opportunity to experiment and try something new. So that’s what we did.
Last Sunday lunchtime, for the first time, we tried the West African dishes of Mama Ashanti in Lavington.
It’s down Muthangari Gardens, the gravel road that runs between Gitanga Road and Muthangari Road and leads to Lavington Shopping Centre. It’s a big plot, and tables are set out in the rear garden. Or you can sit on the verandah, nearer the bar and the
large-screen TV. Inside front, there is a smart black and white lounge, soon to be officially opened. Also, there are three small private dining rooms. Oh yes, on the right as you enter the car park, you can pamper yourself at the salon and barber shop.
But we went for the food. They say, don’t they, that if the locals frequent it, a restaurant must be good? Well, in this case, the locals are West Africans living in Nairobi.
PLENTY OF LOCALS
And, judging by the bulky physique of the guys and the bright dresses of the women, there were plenty of locals there that Sunday lunchtime.
Yes, Mama Ashanti was participating in the Restaurant Week. So there was a special menu on offer: a two-course lunch for Sh1,000, and three courses for Sh1,500.
The choice of starter was either Goat Pepper Soup or Chicken Wings. The choice of main course was much more extensive: Egusi Goat (which is a soup), Grilled Chicken, Okra Goat, Goat Stew, Beef Steak, Jolloff Rice, Beef Rice.
And the accompaniments were eba (made from cassava flour) or semolina, pounded yam, vegetable rice, plantain and white plain rice.
There was also a Sunday buffet, which seemed to be very popular with the number of family parties there that day.
But my son, Jan, was keen to eat Red Red — to bring back memories of when he worked on a shoestring budget as a volunteer in Ghana three years ago.
His girlfriend, Gabie, is vegetarian, and she was looking for non-meaty things. And I was remembering the excellent fish dishes from my own consultancy assignments in Ghana — not so much on a shoestring.
So, well advised by Kwame the general manager, we went for the à-la-carte menu. Jan found his Red Red in the Stewed Beans dish — black-eyed beans or peas cooked in palm nut oil and Ashanti sauce.
I went for the Whole Grilled Fish — tilapia marinated in Ashanti sauce and served with fresh kachumbari. Despite many times trying, I still can’t manage the bones in a whole fish, so I played safe with the boneless option. And Gabie chose fried plantains and shared Jan’s jolloff rice.
My friend, Joe, was right. When you go there, you need to go when hungry. The portions are plentiful and the food is well filling.
But the most striking things about West African cuisine are the variety of dishes and the piquancy of the flavours.
“To produce good West African food you need West African chefs,” said Kwame, “and that is what we have got. And this place is now so popular, especially with the many Nigerians living here these days.”
Despite his name, Kwame is Kenyan. But I was not surprised to learn that the owners of Mama Ashanti are a Ghanaian and a Nigerian. And that accounts for the many Ghanaian and Nigerian dishes on the very extensive menu.
Too late, Jan noticed that he had been so focused on his Red Red that he hadn’t seen the Kelewele on the menu — hot spiced deep-fried plantain.
“Oh, that’s a pity,” he said.
“No worry,” Gabie told him, “We will certainly be back, won’t we?”
And I have been writing as if the Nairobi Restaurant Week is over. But today is the 7th, isn’t it? So, if you are reading this on the Sunday morning, you still have time to catch it before it closes. Enjoy!
John Fox is the managing director of iDC