THE DISH: Of great food and selective service

Monday December 16 2019

The hardest working dish at Talisman - feta cheese and coriander samosas served with a sweet chili jam. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA


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.

There’s been a lot of furore in the social media streets about the good and bad of Nairobi eateries. The good news is, good stories are present, but the bad news is, bad news travels way faster.

Two establishments have come under fire in the recent past – Js, for an incident that happened over the last weekend, and Talisman, on a popular foodies group that took place a few weeks ago. In both cases, the owners were accused of racism and not doing enough to change the culture of these establishments.


I’m not particularly attached to Js, but I do love me some Talisman. I frequent there whenever I have enough fuel to get me on that side of town, but I also do understand that not everyone has the same experiences as I do. And so, I decided to do the usual undercover brouhaha and go check it out, post scandal, for myself.

When this complaint was posted on the Facebook group, the complainant intimated that the staff took very long to serve his group, and treated him with disdain. Several Talisman supporters echoed these sentiments, and others defended them; some saying they’re never going back, others saying that it was not a factor of race, but of understaffing.


Either way, the vote sounded pretty split down the middle. Talisman management responded saying they’ll look into it, which was not taken well by the group – so I figured it was time to go see if they had actually looked into it.

One of the subsidiary complaints included not being sat at a table in good time, which was responded to by mentioning the importance of making a reservation. On the morning of my intended visit, I did indeed make a reservation, which was an easy and painless process, and then proceeded to actually show up on time, which, for me, is rare.


We were shown to our table swiftly, before the madding crowds arrived, and we sat down, comfortable next to the fireplace. I was happy for this, because I had intended to have some gin, and I needed more than the liquid warmth to warm me up as well.


The original seating next to my desired fireplace. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

But then the hostess, Carol, asked us to move to a different table, because there was an older couple who wanted to sit next to the fire. Disgruntled and inherently African, we moved for the elderly couple to the fire closer to the entrance, which we were promised would be stoked periodically.

However, if you want that hearth experience, just request for the table closer to the inner fireplace – it’s more dedicated to the tables next to it, and there aren’t people passing behind you constantly to get to the outer seating area. Unfortunately, in spite of the stoking, we weren’t really feeling that warmth.

The service also felt a little jittery, perhaps from this last month’s events, but not disappointing in the least.


We ordered starters – the feta cheese samosas, which are a must have when you go to Talisman, if nothing else, and if you like cheese. They’re incomparable to any others in Nairobi – I’ve written this before, on this column, and I stand by it still. I decided to have a sushi dish, and asked for a sushi menu – remember to do that, as the Sushi Room choices on the main menu are not extensive – and my companion had the Kung pao chicken.


Kung pao chicken served with rice. There's cashew nuts in there too, which elevates any meal. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

I chose the Talisman Dynamite Maki, which is six rolls of salmon, avocado, cucumber, carrots, chilli and pickled radish (YUM). Both of our food orders came very quickly, within less than ten minutes of us making the order. We also had dessert – a moist and decadent chocolate brownie, served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

I am not entirely sure why people have so many different versions of the service and experience at Talisman. I do know, though, that there are staff members who have been fired because of these claims, which, in a country that has a majority count of black people, is an immediate and obvious choice. Luckily, our waiter, Washington, was great. I have been served by him before, so I was confident that he would be there on this night as well.

Consistency is essential for me at any restaurant I frequent, and maintaining that consistency should be essential as well. Hopefully with the new HR manager on deck, the restaurant will go back to the sterling standard we know and love so well, and we can enjoy our (endless) feta samosas in peace.