This month Nairobi will be hosting its first-ever Nairobi Restaurant Week, following in the footsteps of other major cities around the world. Ami Doshi Shah sets the scene for this inaugural culinary extravaganza
With the phenomenal improvements to Nairobi’s infrastructure and economic developments in the last decade the city has become the hub of private sector innovation. Some would argue that its most successful execution has been within Nairobi’s restaurant scene. Kenyans are ready and waiting for new places to spend their hard-earned shillings – and food and drink is no exception. Nairobi has come of age when it comes to the culinary scene. The industry took centre stage earlier last year, with over 120 establishments participating in the second Taste Bar & Restaurant Awards in partnership with Heineken. And now, this February, 50 chefs from some of Nairobi’s finest restaurants are participating in the city’s inaugural Restaurant Week with 50 one-of-a-kind set price menus. The event takes place between 31 January and 6 February 2013; all menus are Ksh1250/Ksh1750. Go to www.nairobirestaurantweek.com for further details on participating restaurants.
Coffee Chains and Franchises
In the last two years Kenya has welcomed three new American fast food franchises, KFC, Subway and Naked Pizza, which may have just paved the way for mobile food units with the introduction of its pizza trailer this month.
Increased spending power among the upper and middle class Kenyan urbanites has seen the popularity of coffee joints steadily rise: Java Coffee House and Artcaffe are the longstanding contenders in this category, both set on opening new outlets in 2014. The aroma of the coffee appears to have lured South African franchise Mugg & Bean, which is due to reach our shores in the near future, along with sister seafood chain Ocean Basket.
The last five years have seen over 1000 beds introduced into Nairobi’s hotel market, covering both high and medium-end travel. Each establishment boasts trendy flagship outlets that offer innovative dining experiences.
New kids on the block this year will be Cut, Sankara’s latest steak- house concept, plus Soko and Soi at Dusit D2, the 88 Pan-Asian restaurant, and Tambourin at the Kempinski Villa Rosa.
Shopping malls /food courts
The new Thika Road Mall boasts a food court plus establishments such as Artcaffe and Java. Two new shopping malls with a huge range of restaurants are also set to open this year – The Hub in Karen and The Oval in Westlands. PWC Delta Towers in Westlands is launching a high-end food court – the Urban Eatery.
Here’s a guide to some of the top picks of new and popular places to head for a great bite or a good drink.
Best for fine dining…
01 Pango Gourmet Brasserie at the Fairview Hotel
The Pango Brasserie has established itself as Nairobi’s top lunch and dinner venue and has recently undergone a refurbishment. Pango has the distinction of being a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. Expect gourmet French-style cuisine, a fantastic selection of wine (the restaurant has its own wine cellar and Wine Bar) and the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.
02 The Moonflower at Palacina
Arguably one of Nairobi’s best-kept secrets when it comes to a quiet and intimate meal, Moonflower has also undergone extensive renovations. Expect understated African glamour, delicious grills and warm, friendly service.
03 Tatu at the Norfolk Fairmont
Tatu has built its illustrious reputation on its steak. Its speciality, Morendat Platinum Beef, comes from selected crossbred steers, which are fed exclusively on premium corn and dry-aged for 21 days. Also on offer is Kenya’s fresh coastal seafood including giant Tiger Prawns and Mombasa Spiny Lobsters, prepared using sustainable charcoal. Tatu has won a series of awards including Chef of the Year and a spot on the list of Exceptional Fine Dining Restaurants at the Taste Awards.
04 Jiko at the Tribe
Jiko holds true to the glamorous yet sophisticated feel of the Tribe Hotel, whilst maintaining the warmth and personality of Kenya. Its contemporary international cuisine focuses on
carefully grown fresh ingredients and specially sourced international imports. The extensive menu features grilled meats and vegetables as well as in-house pastas, breads, pastries and gelati.
05 Seven Seafood & Grill
One of Nairobi’s premier seafood destinations, Seven Seafood & Grill offers a sumptuous selection of the finest Indian Ocean seafood in one of Nairobi’s most innovatively designed restaurants. All delivered daily from the coast.
01 The Wine Shop & Bar
This is the newest venture from craft brewers Big Five Breweries (the founders of the hugely successful Brew Bistro and Lounge). Here you’ll find a vast range of New and Old World wines by the glass, plus arguably some of the most delicious pastries, cookies and savoury delights in Nairobi, courtesy of their in-house bakery. It’s definitely worth a visit.
02 Brew Bistro and Lounge
This extremely popular haunt gains uncontained energy after dark, teeming with professionals from all walks of life, fuelled by some of the best cocktails in Nairobi and fresh draft beer from the in-house microbrewery. A visit here gives a flavour of Nairobi’s unsuppressed style, spirit and swagger.
03 Sierra Lounge
Sierra was Kenya’s first boutique brewery where beers were brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, the German Purity Law which states that beers can only be brewed using four ingredients, malt, water, hops and yeast. The beer is now brewed off-site but the Sierra Lounge is a sophisticated and relaxing space to enjoy a refreshing sip of Sierra Blonde, Amber, Platinum and Porter alongside Nairobi’s glitterati and affluent working professionals.
04 The Champagne Bar at the Sankara Hotel
This bar may not be the newest on the block but it is tried, tested and popular with the demanding Nairobi social scene. It sits adjacent to the equally popular rooftop Sarabi Pool and Supper Club. Enjoy an excellent selection of champagne cocktails and champagne by the glass plus a range of high-end speciality spirits.
Best Alfresco dining …
01 Lucca at the Hotel Villa Rosa Kempinksi
Tantalising aromas from the show kitchen fill the air at Lucca. Fresh sandwiches and antipasti are on offer in the front part of the restaurant, which also boasts its own bakery, making the freshest Italian breads. Stroll through the back and find an al fresco balcony for a more leisurely lunch or dinner.
02 Jade Coffee & Tea House at Zen Garden
Jade is a popular haunt for Nairobi residents where the al fresco dining style is favourite thanks to our fantastic weather almost all year round. Zen Garden’s stunning landscaped gardens provide the perfect backdrop for Jade’s relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Expect great pizzas, fresh salads and brilliant desserts.
Talisman’s half-in, half-out al fresco layout has an innate ability to make you feel instantly at home. The crackling wood fires, affable staff and delicious food most certainly help. Manager/Owner Marcus Mitchell won the coveted award for Heineken Chef of the Year at the Taste Bar & Restaurant Awards 2013 and has a huge following thanks to his championing of local farmers, growers and makers, which reflects on the quality of food served up.
04 Mediterraneo, Westlands at 9 West
Mediterraneo is a long- established Italian restaurant with a huge following, having been voted Best Italian Restaurant at the Taste Bar & Restaurant Awards two years in a row. Its newest offering is a fresh and modern take on the classic Italian restaurant, encompassing the present-ation and ambience with a wonderful al fresco balcony dining area.
05 La Dolce Vita
This delightful Italian restaurant also has an avid fan following. Delicious fresh pastas, crispy pizza and a cosy al fresco dining area make it very popular among Nairobi residents. Make sure you top the meal off with the in-house Limoncello.