THE DISH: Watch out for the food festival trap   - Daily Nation

THE DISH: Watch out for the food festival trap  

Wednesday March 7 2018

The exotic fruits dessert off the Sikia menu. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA

The exotic fruits dessert off the Sikia menu. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA  

By ABIGAIL ARUNGA
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Now that March is here, I can talk about Restaurant Week (and all those other weeks that are sure to be coming – pizza, burger, etc.) without getting things flung at me for committing foodie blasphemy. While many people love restaurant week for reasons unbeknownst to me, I am more often than not resisting all of the sudden plans that everyone has to go for the weeks when the specials are on like the plague, because to be quite honest, restaurant week is a con. It's like the kitchens aim to do the least work with the worst food to get rid of the stuff that's been sitting in the fridge alone and unwanted. I am always the first one to decry anything that even resembles a restaurant week, because that is what we usually get in Nairobi – a resemblance of what a restaurant week is supposed to look like.

WHOLE DIFFERENT FOODIE CULTURE

I know they say that we shouldn't compare and contrast what happens in other countries with ours, and that we're a whole different foodie culture on the ground, but even this our foodie culture leaves ever so much to be desired.

The setup and menu at Sikia Restaurant, Crowne Plaza, for NRW 2018. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA

The setup and menu at Sikia Restaurant, Crowne Plaza, for NRW 2018. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA

 

Don't get me wrong. I love what EatOut Kenya is doing with this idea. It's a sterling idea, in fact. When you want to try out new places, you're more likely to try them if there is a discount being offered. And, these offers offer an opportunity to the restaurants themselves to a, be completely packed on days that they wouldn't ordinarily be, and b, win over new customers in the process. Unfortunately, restaurants don't actually care about that second part of the equation.

MEDIOCRE EXPERIENCES

The problem here is not EatOut, no. The problem here is people – restaurants – who take on much more than they can chew. Either they don't have the capacity to handle the crowds, or they don't care enough about the crowds to give them the service they deserve. And this happens repeatedly. Every time I've tried to brave my doubt against my better judgement, my mediocre experiences leave me with a sour taste in my mouth. You go to a restaurant and you really feel like they don't give a flying fish about you, your expectations or your wallet, almost as if paying less means the service and quality is automatically degraded.

The barbecued prawn from the Anghiti meal. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA

The barbecued prawn from the Anghiti meal. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA

I have a host of stories – the time 12 of us went to Tribe and our food took 3 hours, on the first night of NRW, and the waiters were dressed in the clothing they got off their transport with as opposed to uniform (I've never gone back); the time I was hoping Thai Chi would deliver on its highly recommended reputation and not short-change us for our budget – it did; and even during Burger Week, another one of these festivals I don't participate in, when another group went to News Cafe and the burgers, usually nicely sizeable, were smaller than my palm. There are so many more misses than hits.

BACK INTO THE TRAP

And yet, once again, this year, I fell back into the trap. The first day of NRW, I happened to eat out twice on the same day. My first impulse was to refuse to go, but one was a media tasting, and the other was a friend's birthday, and I was trying not to be selfish. So when I was called by Sikia Restaurant at Crowne Plaza, I walked in with an attitude – and, thank goodness, I was pleasantly surprised.

Sikia is a fine dining restaurant, and the meals are portioned as such. The options I picked were the butternut purée (soup), the fish main course and the fruit dessert. And because there were other people at the table, of course I tasted everyone else's food as well. Everyone agreed that the butternut was fantastic. Opinions were mixed about the salad with the blue cheese. If you don't like blue cheese, you will be able to eat this salad because it has very little blue cheese, drizzled around the edges. So if you DO like blue cheese, don't order the salad because it was not nearly enough. I very much enjoyed both starters.

The fish was the piece de resistance. Tender and tasty, not overly seasoned, especially with the vegetables and cumin rice that came with it. I admit I was dharauing (despising) the quantity of the food when it came, but then realized that I was just being greedy. The beef tenderloin, even the well done tenderloin, which I normally can't stand, was so good! I wouldn't have picked burnt offerings myself, but I was eating with people who don't want to hear the cow moo when they bite, so I couldn't complain.

Naan and curry dish at the NRW2018. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA

Naan and curry dish at the NRW2018. PHOTO| ABIGAIL ARUNGA

As for the desserts, I felt the cake and fruit with ice cream options were a bit uninventive, but by the time we got to dessert, I wasn't in the mood to complain, so that was fine. I must go back to try their more extensive dessert menu. At the time, they were also doing a pairing with wines. The white was not very dry but also not sweet, which I appreciated. The red was much fuller, but since I don't like red wine, don't take my word for it. I think Sikia is worth it and I hope they maintain their standards, especially with their great service. Please don't come and crucify me if they don't, ha. To be fair, if Nairobi Restaurant Week is the basic level of what your standards should be, then there's nowhere to go but up!

I don't know if NRW will ever be what I dream for it, but maybe if we all write enough articles, these restaurants will do better. There are some restaurants that you should go to regardless, like Sikia and Anghiti, and Sierra whether or not it is Burger Week, because thankfully, festivals don't cap their flavours.

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Wondering where to get the 411 on what's happening in 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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