I got an invitation to sample the new brunch menu at the Terrace of the Norfolk. I hesitated at first because, as some of you might remember, I wasn’t very complimentary when I wrote about the way Fairmont Hotels changed the place after they took over the management back in 2005.
As Stephen Mills says in his excellent book on the Norfolk, the hotel has been “totally and inescapably an integral part of the country’s history”.
It first opened in 1904. I don’t go back that far, but when I first came to Kenya in 1967 for my two years’ secondment, teaching at the University of Nairobi, the Lord Delamere Terrace was my favourite meeting place.
Yes, in its architecture and its decor, the Norfolk was of a colonial style. But there was nothing colonial about its spirit. It was just as much a part of the independent Kenya as the University of Nairobi campus and the Kenya National Theatre across the road. The Terrace was open to them and also to passers-by on the pavement.
So I was disappointed that the Terrace had been screened off; I was sorry that the very popular bar at the end of the Terrace — the bar with its historic paintings of early Nairobi — had disappeared.
And, arriving there last Sunday morning, I was amazed to see that the whole front of the building was caged with metal bars. I was at a loss, at first, to know how to gain entry. But this emphasis on security, however much a pity, is understandable isn’t it? After all, on the New Year’s Eve of 1980, the Norfolk became one of the first places in Nairobi to suffer a terrorist bomb attack — when 15 people were killed and 87 were injured.
But let me get down to the main point of this piece — the Terrace brunch.
Maqbul, the Capital FM presenter, was there. I heard him say to Njeri Chege, the Fairmont’s communications manager, as he arrived, “I made sure I didn’t eat dinner last evening; I’ve had nothing for breakfast this morning — so I can now enjoy myself!”
You had only to take a look round all the food stations on the Terrace to understand what he meant.
Like a bookshop that puts its best sellers on its prominent display stand, as you entered the Terrace you came first to the seafood station. It was stocked with all manner of fish and fishy things. There were whole crabs and crab claws, prawns, clams, mussels, oysters, smoked sailfish, smoked trout and smoked salmon.
SEAFOOD NOT ‘BESTSELLING’ WITH KENYAN DINERS
Not that seafood is so “best-selling” popular with Kenyan diners. As Doxis Bekris, the Fairmont Group executive chef agreed, Kenyans are still more into nyama choma dishes.
Sure enough, there were plenty of other meats on offer. At the carvery that Sunday (Chef Doxis rings the changes) there was a choice between roast leg of lamb and barbecued pork. Across the room, there was a whole fish, a tureen with aged beef medallions in a wild mushroom sauce, and the cold meat table had ham, chicken polony, and a variety of salamis.
For less carnivorous tastes, the salad station offered Greek, potato and tomato salads, with condiments such as garlic crowns, capers and marinated olives.
The sweets station tempted with chocolate mousse, berry and mango mousse, various sponge cake cubes, and something that sounded of more substance — the Millie Fillies.
For those still with a wish to be filled, there was the pancake station, where “hands-on”, and voted Kenya’s Top Chef of 2015, Chef Doxis was demonstrating his skills of making waffles.
But, after a very traditional and filling English plate of roast lamb, potatoes and brown gravy, I was drawn to the cheese table, heaped with Brown’s Cheddars, Emmentals, and an intriguingly named Black Maasai.
Now, the price of the “Brunch at the Terrace” is Sh3,800. That might sound rather steep; but take into account the variety of dishes I have described and, if you have a mind to it — or a stomach for it — you can eat away at the buffet from 11.30 in the morning till 4 in the afternoon.
Not only that, though some will regret the change of character since Fairmont Hotels took over, they have given their Norfolk a sense of elegance and serenity.
Inside the security fencing, you can not only feel very safe, you can relax in the plush comforts of the lounges, dine in fine style at the Tatu Restaurant, take a business lunch on the Lord Delamere Terrace, or, on a Sunday, enjoy what must be the best brunch of any place in Nairobi.
The writer is managing director, IDC