I’m thinking a food entry is finally in order. Not that I know how to rate restaurants or give a relatively objective opinion, but just so it happens that I love food and can talk about food, any day and any time.
I was considering making this a somewhat useful blog entry, rather than my usual ramble, and including some links with locations, menus and contacts. But… well, figure it out on your own. I did.
Now brace yourselves for this is a long one.
Italiano. Home-made or freshly-made pasta, whichever one we use for not pre-packaged. A rather large menu, so again picking was a problem. Good pasta.
That’s the short version. I forget what I ate (some sort of pasta with some sort of sauce, the rest is details), but I rather enjoyed the atmosphere. If it wasn’t for the high concrete wall surrounding the compound and actually being in a compound), this could have almost been the real thing. But it’s not.
Nothing really that striking about this place. It’s famous for the fresh pasta. Yet the Italians here say it’s only okay. But they say that about most places serving anything remotely Italian.
The BBQ something place at The Mall
Right, I know. That place is actually called The Mall. Wonder if it was the first one in Nairobi? Google shows no preliminary data on the matter and I’m too lazy to look for more. It’s not that important.
So this was Indian buffet. Luckily for me, we were a group of Indian-food-loving-Fletcherites, so again there was someone to tell me what and what not to eat. That was clearly useless as I soon found that everything there was excessively spicy for me. So I moved on to the dessert with some decent flan/crème caramel (I only say decent, because I personally prefer it with a lot a lot a lot more sugar than what this one had. Otherwise it was great) and vanilla ice cream. There were also some more traditional Indian dessert – ya know, those deep fried things that are covered in sugar syrup?!
Going back to the food though, smashing diversity. This was a huuugee buffet and despite the spiciness, I tried (even if it was only a bite) several type of meat on a stick (I forget the Indian word), rice, the spinach paneer (this one I finally learnt) and other stuff. But the only thing I could safely eat without complaining and jugging down glass after glass of cold water was the naan. Good naan.
Don’t take cards, making the payment process as hard as it usually is in Kenya.
So when you look up things to do in Nairobi and you browse the restaurants on Lonely Planet’s website, this restaurant comes up somewhere in the top. The world-renowned chain has come to Nairobi, they say. Ok… never heard of it, but they could be good.
Nope, they really weren’t. I have to teach myself out of eating pasta prepared by non-Italians. It’s just not worth the trouble. Delicious, but excessively overcooked. Substituted asparagus with zucchini. Common! Ain’t the same thing. I think the non-pasta dishes were a little bit better, but overall everyone was unhappy, especially the Italians! It’s their food, they are allowed to have have high standards.
A Sicilian wine made things better, until we tried to pay.
- Oh we don’t accept cards.
- Not even Visa?
- No, we don’t have a machine
That’s right Visa, hope you area reading this. For everything else there is MasterCard. Well, for this there is no MasterCard. The world-renowned-visited-by-important-Europeans-who-open-events-at-the-Alliance-Francaise-restaurant La Trattoria does not accept cards! In other news, find an ATM.
This was a small surprise. After looking it up and discovering that this restaurant prides itself on 260 dishes in the menu, I was a little wtf, this should be awful. Choosing what to order alone would take an hour. And you cannot possibly be good at making 260 different dishes!
Things were made simpler by the significantly smaller menu and the fact that it was an Indian restaurant. Without any Indian friends around, it was impossible for me to order. I went for safety. Paneer. In a corn, coconut curry. I know it sounds weird, but it was actually delicious. The food was great!
A very extensive cocktail menu made things somewhat fun since this was a birthday celebration. I was boring as usual as went for some red wine.
To top it all you can take your leftovers in a true American style. And for the lack of plastic thingies and wraps or for some other unfathomable reason, they put the curry in a plastic bag… Yeah, one of those little ones. The leftover naan in a separate one. Safely wrapped in paper and a bigger plastic bag. So when I took this out to finish it, the bag of orange curry was not as appealing as the food inside it smelled and tasted the night before.
Okay, this alternation of Italian and Indian really doesn’t speak well about my culinary choices, but I had to mention River Café. It’s hidden way out of central Nairobi in a little forest area in Gigiri. So close that I even attempted to walk there, but I gave up on that stupid envdeavour quite quickly. Not the point of the story, so let’s set this aside.
Rive Café is nicely set outdoors in the forest, nice staff, they sell garden stuff as well. Quite pricey by any standard. I was at a point of my life when I was medically advised not to eat eggs. And this sounds a lot more serious than it actually was. Don’t eat eggs the doctor told me, they give allergies. I’ve eaten eggs all my life in a number of countries, doubt I’m allergic only to Kenyan eggs. But since you never know, I decided to play it safe and order what they called panini.
My oh my did my frustration with Italian cuisine in Nairobi grow! This was so remotely far from a panini that I don’t even know where to start. The form, the bread, the way it was cooked, the complete lack of cheese…. My last good experience with panini I remember well. It was in Venezia in 2009. Panini and coffee for breakfast before going off to the Murano and Burano. I remember it well for no other reason but that the bread had olives. Those that know me know how much I hate olives, but I still finished that panini. It was, simply put, amazing.
And it’s not that the River Café panini wasn’t delicious. It surely was. But why on earth wouldn’t you just go with “sandwich”. You probably couldn’t charge as much for it, but you are also not going to truly disappoint people like me who are now reluctant to go there.
For what it’s worth, good coffee. And also, if you go for any of the egg options, like Benedict (to state the best and obvious choice of eggs for brunch), you get an option of both sausage and bacon! Damn, I was so jealous!
To crown my found entry I have chosen Habesha. Truly impressed with this Ethiopian jewel in Nairobi. The place to go for Ethiopian food, this non-assuming restaurant provided mouth-watering deliciousness that I can still taste whenever I think about it. Yummmm
Again we let the experienced one order, so I have no idea what we ate. Or at least what it was called. I know damn well what was on the plate. Big dishes for everyone to share – in a bed of injera (which I just looked up as the name of Ethiopian bread) lay two types of minced meat, some sort of beef stew, potatoes, cabbage, green,… green… well something that was green. And this might have been it or it might have not. I was too hungry to listen to the waiter who was nice enough to tell us what was what.
Rewinding a little bit, first they bring the bread. Know what it looks like for the untrained eye? Warm, white towels to wipe your hands clean. And this totally makes sense, because the one thing I know about Ethiopian food is that you eat with your hands, scooping things up with the bread. Could have been embarrassing when I asked for a towel if I were the only one asking for one.
Luck again would have it, or positioning I guess, that I would sit on the meat-eating part of the table, smack in front of the big sampling dish. In the middle they poured our meat dish – some sort of goat. And in the middle of the other large platter to share they poured a chickpea thing, which I later learnt from an Eritrean friend is called shiro. Now those two are possibly the best things I’ve tried here so far. Sorry to say, but that includes the home-made nyama choma. The goat was melting in my mouth, soft and tender, with little spices to enhance the taste. Now, I like goat, but like any other meat it has a certain smell to itself that is particularly strong in kids and hard to get rid of. Suffice it to say, none of that was in the Ethiopian goat thing. The shiro was a little overshadowed by this and the other three types of meat on the sharing dish, so I can’t tell you much about what was in it other than chickpeas. But it was a little addictive as well.
This plate actually has both the goat on the right and the shiro (the orange creamy thing). I’d forgotten the thing in the middle. It was a hard boiled egg in something very spice. Hence, didn’t try it, don’t know, don’t remember. Got eaten though :)
Finally, the meat-eaters demolished our plate eating most of the bread that was laid on the bottom, while the non-meat-eaters (not all where vegetarian) were a lot more what’s that word… cultured, mannered, slow? in finishing their food. Wolfing food down just happens to be the way I roll, especially when it’s the best thing I’ve tried in ages. Sorry Boston, but you don’t cut it for me cuisine-wise.