I am not usually the biggest fan of Mambo Italia, and I'm not sure why I have never given it a proper chance.
I've been to two branches – the one at Lavington Curve, and the one at Garden City on Thika Road.
I remember being impressed with the portion sizes of the food – there's always way more than you can eat at any given time, and they're legitimately trying to feed you, unlike some restaurants which I do not need to name here.
But there was a time I swung by for the Nairobi Pizza Festival, and it felt a bit lacklustre to me – perhaps because Nairobi food festivals tend to be a bit of a hoax, whether it's burger week, or pizza week or whatever, so I can't blame that entirely on them.
That being said, I wanted to give Mambo Italia a chance to impress me, because it felt like I hadn't really been paying attention before. So, one night, when I found myself at Garden City and was trying to break out of my default go-to-Artcaffe mould, I decided to pass by Mambo Italia.
It's been a while since I've actually eaten at Garden City. I didn't know they had closed down that Jamaican restaurant, the one called Sugarcane that used to have some very tasty – but small-sized – oxtail. Now it's a clothing shop, I believe, called Dr Jays.
It's a pity how fickle the restaurant business is in Nairobi sometimes. You go to a restaurant once and it turns out you can never go again, but you didn't know that when you were chowing down the jerk chicken...
Anyway. As soon as we walked into Mambo Italia, the servers were aware of our presence and politely welcomed us with smiles, starting with the guy manning the gelato section to the hostess and our waitress, which I appreciated.
We were probably their last clients for the night, and they were probably thinking oh no, another hour we have to stay and wait for people to finish eating, haha, but they were very nice about the realisation, which a lot of wait staff usually are not.
We chose to sit inside, as it was a bit of a chilly night, and were handed menus by our waitress.
You know how when you're hungry everything looks good? They had a special offer for gelato and campari cocktails, which my eyes were immediately drawn to – who doesn't love a good special? And then there was pasta – it doesn't make sense to go to an Italian restaurant, in my opinion, and not order pasta. It's like going to a kibanda and not ordering chapo madondo, or some well-done lightly spiced matumbo. It's a cardinal crime.
Anyway, I decided to have a pasta dish and a side salad, because the amount of cream I was expecting in my dish meant I wasn't going to be the most healthy person after it. My companion ordered pork ribs with mashed potatoes and a dawa, because it's that time of the month when Nairobi weather can't decide if it wants to love you or give you a cold.
The salad was so delightful. I'm a fan of greenery, generally, and eating like a rabbit when I'm not being a carnivore, so I like a good salad. It was a very simple salad – just tomatoes, lettuce, onions and some poppy seed dressing that added a sweetness that balanced out the freshness of the flavours deliciously.
And my pasta was so good! Perfect portions of chicken, mushrooms and pasta in a creamy sauce, and more than I could finish, even. Of course I had to stop eating my pasta because I wanted to have space for the mint chocolate chip artisanal gelato – which was good, but not as good as gelato I've had before. Or maybe it was the mint chocolate chip that I didn't like? I mean, for the sake of science, I should probably go test the gelato again...
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.