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THE DISH: In search of great Italian cuisine

Tuesday March 5 2019

The breadsticks and chili butters I devoured before my meal.

The breadsticks and chili butters I devoured before my meal. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA 

ABIGAIL ARUNGA
By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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I'm still on the search for excellent Italian cuisine. A little birdie on Foodies Club Nairobi recommended two different places for some good Italian – Caffe Concerto, on Kirichwa Road, and La Terraza, at Greenhouse Mall on Ngong Road.

The night I decided to visit one of these, Caffe Concerto was already closing – they close at 9.30pm, and I needed a 10.30pm leeway. So La Terraza it was.

I've always thought of Greenhouse as a somewhat random mall, but in spite of what I think, it has continued to thrive, particularly with the introduction of the now ultra-supermarket chain, Naivas, and its 24-hour appeal.

My deadly margarita.

My deadly margarita. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

ALMOST GOT LOST

When we showed up, we were directed to the fourth floor. You can park in the basement or outside, depending on what time you get there and how safe you feel perambulating around Nairobi, and what's in your car.

When we got to the fourth floor, from the elevator, we turned right, as directed, towards what looks like panelled office windows – they're not. They're actually the restaurant, but without signage, you might think you're in the wrong place, as I did.

The outer seating area at La Terazza.

The outer seating area at La Terazza. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

They're big on security over here, I suppose, which is why we had to press a little button to be allowed inside the restaurant.

A friendly smiling hostess opened the door for us and led us through the restaurant to our table. There are several cool things about this place – one, that it doubles up as an art gallery, and so walking through the place and dining here is not only a tasty experience, but also a sensory visual one.

Two, they also have a beautiful display of authentic Italian wines flanking the walkway to the main eating area. You can eat at the lower area, near the paintings, or take the beautifully hewn wooden stairs to a different upstairs seating area, which overlooks Ngong Road. We chose to sit upstairs.

Place settings at La Terazza.

Place settings at La Terazza. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

Our waiter quickly brought us our menus, and we set about preparing our appetites for what was sure to be a delightful evening; we hoped. I decided to go a little Mexican with my drink, and have a margarita. For pasta – because you can't go to an Italian restaurant and not have pasta – I chose a tagliatelle, and my companion had a traditional lasagna. We then waited for the meal to be brought.

That margarita I had was the strongest one I've had in a long time, and had I had another one, the night might have gone in a different, less clothed direction.

The lower seating area at La Terazza, with some of the pictures from the Art Gallery on display.

The lower seating area at La Terazza, with some of the pictures from the Art Gallery on display. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

SERVICE IS KEY

The food came in a timely manner and I excitedly dug in, ready for some genuine Italian food – and I was actually disappointed. I could tell from my companion's face that he wasn't too enthused about his lasagna either.

The tagliatelle was a disappointment. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

The tagliatelle was a disappointment. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

My tagliatelle was underwhelming, to say in the least, lacking flavour and oomph. My companion's lasagna, in his words, tasted like it had been microwaved recently and then served onto his plate – down to the crispy edges that had moisture sucked out of them. Regardless of this possible microwave dinner, it still tasted better than my tagliatelle.

We didn't even finish our food, opting to pack it away after a few bites.

The lasagna bolognese at La Terazza.

The lasagna bolognese at La Terazza. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

Our waiter clearly noticed our displeasure, and told the owner that there was a table that hadn't finished their food. The owner graciously came over to listen to our complaints, and we told him about the microwave theory. He apologised and offered a drink on the house.

The entry to La Terazza.

The entry to La Terazza. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

Now, and this isn't the alcohol speaking, but the only reason I would give La Terraza another chance was that sterling service. That's what you're supposed to do when a client is not happy with their meal – offer to change it, or look like you're actually concerned about their experience. Service is what makes me come back – and I hope to have a better food story to tell the next time I do.

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Wondering where to get the 411 on what's happening in and around Nairobi's foodie scene? There's a lot of places you could go, but here's where we want you to be – getting the dish on the dish. Get it? We knew you would.

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