‘What is it about Juniper?” Kwame asked when I was at his Steak Out restaurant a couple of weeks ago. “I mean, the place gets overcrowded every evening with many sitting on beer crates!’
I told Kwame I didn’t know because I had been warned not to set foot at the place. When I asked my son, Jan about it as one of his latest late night favourite haunts he said: “I don’t think you would like it because you are not young enough.” In other words, he was saying I was too old.
Anyway, I decided to go. When I told Jan I was going he didn’t object.
I asked him to say something about the meals but he had no idea. In other words he was saying he only knows something about the drinks.
Before going, I asked Jan about his own view of the place. This is what he said:
“It may be called Juniper Kitchen but I don’t really picture it as a restaurant. This is based on the timing of my visits. I haven’t had a chance to sample their food. I have heard it is a good spot for brunch, so next time I will visit it at 11am on a Sunday rather than 11pm on a Saturday and swop cocktail for coffee.”
“That said, it isn’t a bad place to visit late on a Friday or Saturday night. I can appreciate why Juniper was an instant hit when it opened; partially because it offered something different.
Nairobians can be a fickle bunch when it comes to choosing a spot for a drink. The phrase ‘variety is the spice of life’ seems to resonate well with thirsty Nairobians, who flock newest watering holes simply because it provides a change from the city’s older and often tired establishments.
“Juniper offered something unique and it is fair to say the novelty hasn’t worn off. At its heart is a very distinct sense of ‘hipsterism’ – that pervasive subculture that swept across the West and which now seems to be seeping slowly southwards.
“It manifests in a variety of ways and at Juniper it includes serving cocktails in jam jars, having wooden crates as makeshift chairs beneath rows of fairy lights, menus on blackboards and waiters with straw hats, check shirts, bow ties and braces; the essence of hipster chic. I must say, I am a fan of its furniture. This provides a unique and enchanting setting.
“A key component of Juniper’s success has also been its variety of events; from hosting local and international DJs and bands, to coffee tasting, fashion and food markets, and a popular spoken word evening called ‘Story Slam’.
As a result, it also has a diverse clientele and it is popular with the expat crowd that has ditched Havana and now seems to switch between Juniper and The Alchemist.”
So I went, last Tuesday lunchtime. Jan tagged along, too. He was very right about the décor: the makeshift furniture: cushions on wooden beer crates, a settee made out of truck tyres, a fence of draped coffee bean sacks. I know nothing about the hipster culture – but the Juniper Kitchen is a relaxed place. I guess the youngsters would call it a place to ‘chill out’.
But, as we discovered, Juniper is not just a club for night-times – it is also a very good place for lunch. It has an interesting menu, catering for vegetarians as well as for carnivores.
I chose the dish of the day which was beer-battered tilapia and twice-cooked wedges. Jan chose fillet steak. My tilapia was firm but succulent; the wedges were not nearly as hard as once-cooked wedges can be. Jan said his fillet steak was good.
Jan also said that he had changed his opinion about Juniper as a daytime venue especially after we talked with Joe Holt, the CEO.
Joe has reworked the menu and this Sunday will be his second one for traditional Sunday roasts; beef and chicken and hopefully, the Englishman’s favourite, his Yorkshire pudding, without which there can’t be a proper Sunday roast.
But I haven’t told you where Juniper is. It is in a leafy house and garden plot on Waiyaki Way end of Muthangari Drive, so neatly slotted between Westlands and Lavington.
Yesterday Juniper held the Fafa Neighbourhood Market, a ‘fashion food demo’, which will be held again on Saturday 11 June. Next Saturday Juniper’s resident hip-hop DJ, DJ KACE, will be on the decks.
I might be there, if only to prove Jan wrong about my being too old.