THE DISH: When the sweet aroma pulls you in

Saturday May 5 2018

The perfect lasagne at Lucca restaurant, in Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

The perfect lasagne at Lucca restaurant, in Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA 

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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Initially, I knew that I wanted to go somewhere that wasn't too far from everything, but was also a bit private. One of those places with the kind of parking where I knew that a) the side mirrors wouldn't be grabbed, and b) it was unlikely to be too noisy.

And now that certain establishments have started making people pay absolutely exorbitant amounts for the pleasure of dining in their institution, I was also undercover looking for a place that wouldn't surprise me at the end of the night with a parking charge equivalent to half of my meal.

And that's how I settled on Villa Rosa Kempinski.

DIVINE DINING

I've had pretty good experiences at Villa Rosa. There was a time the media was invited there to partake of their new menu at Lucca (this was years ago, when they were brand new and my eating habits had not yet added the extra pounds that are around my belly now – and they had that fabulous blueberry cheesecake, conveniently cut into small bite-sized pieces for the more greedy amongst us).

I had the chance to experience their wonderful Valentines offer, which I wrote about here. It was, as you can imagine, divine. Then there was the grand opening they had – or should I say, unveiling – of the new menu at 88, their Pan Asian cuisine themed restaurant.

Yes, I know, I tend to eat quite a bit. And then my cousin got married there last year at their glorious ballroom, which felt like an escapade into royalty.

The service was impeccable, and the buffet was actually tasty – which, if we're being honest, you don't get a lot of at a wedding buffet. But that's a whole other article – for next week, perhaps?

How cute was this Tiramisu presentation? Served at Lucca restaurant, in Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

How cute was this Tiramisu presentation? Served at Lucca restaurant, in Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

So on this particular evening, I had a yen for some Pan Asian, but my dining partner got to Lucca's level, and decided against going further up the stairs.

I smelt the sweet aroma of fresh bread wafting towards me from the entrance and capitulated swiftly.

Bread is a definite weakness of mine, particularly of the fresh oven baked variety. And, I reasoned with myself as we took our seats in the waiting area, it had been a while since I was at Lucca.

It was my responsibility, to my readers, as a food writer to check out what had changed. Right? Right.

GREAT SERVICE

As we entered, there was a rude customer leaving who was speaking to one of the staff, Benson, quite badly. It made me wonder about the principle that says the customer is always right – because in this case, the customer was clearly just being a prick.

Anyway, the lovely hostess erased that memory from our minds with her welcoming smile. We wanted a booth, so we waited as one that had just been vacated was cleared and cleaned.

What I like about the menu at Lucca is that it isn't too overwhelming. It's large, but not too large, and it's straightforward, and best of all, everything looks like it tastes fantastic.

I was tempted to order a starter, but my partner recommended that since they were going to bring bread before our meal anyway, we might as well just jump to the main course – and of course, order some wine.

They have a very competent sommelier over there, who recommended a medium-bodied merlot (as he said, merlot is mellow).

The wine was just as tasty as it looks. Served at Lucca restaurant, in Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

The wine was just as tasty as it looks. Served at Lucca restaurant, in Villa Rosa Kempinski, Nairobi. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

I'm a baby wine drinker, and my palate has not quite yet gotten accustomed to red wine. Each wine I have tends to feel like it's kicking me in the throat.

But this 2016 Franschhoek went down very well – surprisingly so, for a 2016 especially. I'll keep you guys posted on my baby wine journey, yes?

Peter, our waiter, was so helpful and conscientious – precisely what the service industry should be, really.

THEY GOT IT RIGHT

I had the lasagne, which came highly touted, and my partner had the pasta that came with the salmon – this is the point I know I should have taken pictures of the menu, sorry.

My lasagne was so flavourful. I like anything that has tomatoes in it, in plenty, and this was no exception. It has rapidly clambered up my choices of favourite lasagnes in Nairobi.

And the pasta with the salmon was not overwhelming at all – because that's what you would think, when you think about pasta with salmon. That it's a bit random, yes? Not at all. Lucca gets it right.

I had to leave space for dessert, of course – I'm still on the search for the perfect tiramisu, and I feel like they got pretty close.

I had a rather disappointing tiramisu at La Salumeria, but then maybe it was just an off day. But you guys should definitely visit and judge for yourselves. I was well pleased.

A bottle of wine, two main course and one dessert will set you back about Sh10,000, for the record – but the experience, the service and the food will be worth it, if you're looking for a Saturday night unwinding session. And you won't be paying for parking...

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