“I’m having a Tusker and listening to Reggae,’ said Brendan on his mobile.
“And thanks for the opening line!” I said to him when his call was over.
Brendan had just arrived early last Sunday morning after a flight from Istanbul to stay with us a few days before setting off to the Coast and then on to the Samburu National Park. Somehow, he had acquired a couple of tickets for the match at Kasarani between Kenya and Mauritius. But before the match my two sons and I took him along to J’s for one of their Sunday roasts – and to demonstrate to an American one of the joys of British cuisine.
J’s is the J’s Fresh Bar and Kitchen on Ngong Road — on the left, opposite St. Christopher’s Secondary School, not far beyond the crossing of the new Mombasa Road and Kikuyu bypass, and short of the Karen roundabout.
It is small but its style is big. But the best description comes, I think, from Johnnie McMillan himself, the owner: “What we are trying to do,” he said, “is create a place of high quality pub food in a hip atmosphere.”
High quality pub food? Yes, certainly. When Johnnie opened back in January, the menu was created by Julian Nicholls – an Executive Chef who has worked one year under Gordon Ramsey and then four with Mitch Tonks, an award winning chef with a number of high-class seafood restaurants in the UK.
On Sunday, we went for the special roast – succulent and thinly-sliced beef with, of course, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes and brown gravy. But let me give you a flavour of the standard menu.
The lead-off in the selection of “light bites” is the very tempting “J’s Rocking Sharing Board”, comprising char-grilled chilli squid, scotched quail eggs, smoked sailfish and avocado, paprika hummus and olives, mini fish cakes, beetroot and goats cheese meze, honey roasted chipolatas, and fish fingers with tartare sauce and fresh lemon. The price is Sh2,500 – but remember it is for sharing.
Now a couple of the “mains”:
Traditional British Fish and Chips – described as “J’s famous battered Red Snapper fillet, triple cooked chunky chips, minted pea puree, chunky tartare sauce, fresh lemon and chilled Sarson’s vinegar.” The price: Sh1,200. (And it’s that mention of vinegar that makes my mouth water, remembering my seaside holiday pavement walks as a kid, eating fish and chips from a paper wrapper made soggy with the vinegar.)
Chef Agne’s Famous Creamy Risotto – “creamy risotto with beetroot, ginger and grilled seasonal vegetables” at Sh950 (and that is the Executive Chef, Agne Costa).
Now two of J’s “puds”:
Sticky Toffee Pudding – with butterscotch sauce and ice cream (Sh650).
Banoffee Pie – the classic English banana and toffee pudding on a crumbled biscuit base (Sh650).
The wines are excellent, too – and with a good number sold by the glass.
As for the “J’Style” cocktails, the menu tells us that they have been created from scratch by the professional mixologist, Hunter Marrion, also a world record holder paraglider. And I like J’s humour: the menu lists “non-alcoholic/pointless cocktails” at Sh450.
And a hip atmosphere? Again, Yes. Johnnie pays a lot of attention to the music. A few of Kenya’s best known DJs are his friends. The Friday evening my two sons went to J’s the music was being provided by Akaash Patel, better known as Foozak. He has played in Bangalore in India, Ibiza in Spain, and in London at the famous Ministry of Sound nightclub.
Johnnie says that the music should be played loud enough for people to listen to, but not so loud that people can’t talk. Mind you, on Friday and Saturday nights, if the clientele is right for it, the volume goes up. Sometimes, people dance on the tables (My sons didn’t tell me about that, though).
The waitresses’ uniform is rather hip too: with their straw trilby hats set at a jaunty tilt. For Johnnie, when selecting staff, he says that a positive personality is more important than relevant experience.
Johnnie is something of a mixologist, too. Because his place attracts a very mixed clientele – but the core group is made up of youngish Kenyans. Especially at weekends, it’s a place people drive to from across town. Johnnie, it seems, has carved himself a rather special niche.
He has plans to expand the bar and dining areas. But, until he does, again especially at weekends, it’s as well to book a table. The reservation number is 0718-607197. Enjoy.